When pets meet new baby: love or jealousy?

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Of all the things that keep me up at night, the subject of introducing my cat and dog to my new baby is a big one. There are the old wives’ tales: the cat will smother the baby, the dog will be jealous. And then there are the realities: the dog is horribly spoiled and the cat is an ornery 20 lbs of undisciplinability. But anyone with a cat can relate to this anecdote from Rita Arens, “I had read that when you bring the baby home for the first time, you're supposed to walk in without the baby in your arms and immediately greet your pet. So I walked in without my baby and went over to hug my cat at the time. Anyway, there I am hugging the cat, and the baby started crying. The cat jumped out of my arms and under the bed once she realized IT WAS ALIVE.”

I knew my husband was my perfect match when, six months into our relationship, he offered me up to cat sit some friends’ Russian Blues for four months when the friends traveled. For fun, we look through pet adoption websites and visit animal shelters. Our animal family is Uno, a ginormous former alley cat, and Rascal, the world’s greatest (yet spoiled) dog.

I always wanted my kids to grow up with animals, but started to worry when every single time we set up a new piece of baby furniture, the cat would make a beeline for it. He never misses an opportunity to sleep in the co-sleeper, glider, or Pack N Play. No amount of water I throw at him or yelling dissuades him from the homey escape of a bassinet. And the dog: I hope he will welcome our son as one of the pack, but I do worry. He is a terrier with a serious sense of entitlement. Our animals like to sleep on the bed and on laps and I do worry they will hate the new primary lap occupant.

In trying to prepare, here is what we’ve learned.

- There is a popular CD called “Preparing Fido.” The CD is about an hour of a baby crying. After playing it, the cat and dog were completely nonplussed but my husband and I were shell shocked.

- Megan's Minute shares this, and it’s something you’ll hear a lot: “have someone bring an item of clothing of the baby's [from the hospital] to the dog or cat's house, before the baby comes home. Have them sniff it and then just leave the item around. That way when the baby does come home or in my case to visit, the animals are already used to its scent.”

- Introduce the animal to other babies in a monitored setting. Other suggestions include carrying around a swaddled doll to get animals used to the sight of a baby, and applying lotions and baby stuff to your skin to accustom cat and dog to the smell.

- The Humane Society suggests “because your new baby will demand a lot of your time and energy, gradually accustom your pet to spending less time with you. Drastically decreasing attention and frequently scolding, ignoring, or isolating your pet after the baby comes home will likely make your pet feel stressed. If your pet is particularly attached to the mother-to-be, another family member should develop a closer relationship with the animal. That way, the pet can still feel loved and provided for while mom is busy with the baby.”

The fantastic animal charity Best Friends has a helpful .pdf on how to introduce your pets and baby. It suggests you take a training refresher course with your dog well before baby, so the dog is ready to obey when the baby comes home. It also stresses that when the baby first comes home, Mom greets the animals as normal, while someone else holds the baby. This way, the animals know Mom still loves them and everything is going to be ok.

Who’s going to make sure I’m not feeling neglected? And what if they all love my husband more than me anyway?? The dog certainly does.

Honestly, animal-meet-baby advice is similar in some ways to the brain-dead husband-meet-baby advice I’ve been getting and reading (even Dr. Sears is not immune from giving this kind of advice). It usually goes like this: Just make sure he knows you still love him. Don’t let him feel neglected. Include him in supervised baby activities.

Yet again, I have had it with the advice. Surely a little common sense will go a long way? Surely, in the cave, animal, man and baby all slept together peacefully in front of the fire?

Just in case, I have a pet therapist on call (not really, but read this profile in NY Magazine of pet therapist Carole Wilbourne- don’t you want to hear her words of wisdom?). And there is my favorite cat guru of all time, Pam Bennett Johnson, author of the seminal Think Like a Cat.

What were your experiences when pet met baby?

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