Tips for introducing a new baby to your pets

Pets are just as much a part of the family as parents, siblings and even children. In fact, over eight in 10 Australians (82.2%) say they love their pets as much as they love their family, and 87.1% agree that pets are “just as integral to the family unit” as partners and kids, according to the Real Pets Survey.

So when it’s time to bring home your human bundle of joy, how do you introduce them to your existing pets? It’s important to make the transition as stress-free as possible, so here are some tips and tricks that can help.

Give your pet something that smells like the baby before the first meeting

The time before bub arrives is critical to ensure your pet is calm and confident about the new baby. A great first step is to get your pet used to the scent of a baby. Whether it’s dad, a family member or friend, ask them to take home something from the hospital that smells strongly of the baby, such as their swaddle or onesie.

Let the pet take its time sniffing the clothes until it is satisfied – but don’t be so quick to remove it from the house. Place it in the nursery or main bedroom so baby’s scent lingers. This will help your pet adjust the new scent well before it’s home time. If possible, do this a few days before you bring baby home.

When you arrive home, spend some alone time with your pet first

Don’t go rushing into your home with baby in hand. In addition to stressing out your pet with this new human in your arms, they may be overly excited and want to jump, lick or play with you – which can overwhelm bub as well as the animals.

Instead, leave baby with your partner or family member – either outside or in the car – and enter your home as you normally would. Let your pet welcome you back, and spend a good few minutes patting them and keeping them as calm as possible.

If your partner hasn’t been home yet either, then get them to do the same thing. This will help relieve any pent-up anxiety your pet may have built up in your absence.

Let your pet smell baby’s feet, not their face

Now it’s time for first introductions. It’s important to make your home and your entry as safe as possible for the newborn. Even if your pet is highly social and loves other small humans, it’s better to take precautions – just in case.

Bring baby inside in their carrier, and place it somewhere off the ground, such as the dining table. This is a good height as it will allow your pet to sniff around your lap without gaining direct access to bub. Then, slowly lift bub into your arms and let your pet approach him or her at their own pace. Some dogs may want to sniff immediately while others may be standoffish. Patience is key here.

Most importantly, only let your pet smell baby’s feet. Face-to-face contact could cause your baby to scream, which may have a stressful impact on your pet. Use familiar commands with your pet at all times, and give them constant reassurance and praise when they are gently sniffing around bub.

Maintain your pet’s usual routine as best as possible

After the initial introductions are over and you start to fall back into a regular rhythm – or as regular as possible with a newborn – it’s recommended that you keep your pet’s routine as predictable as possible. That means normal feeding times, the same amount of time indoors and outdoors, and regular walks to keep them healthy and mentally stimulated.

Any break from routine could cause their stress levels to rise, which is exactly what you don’t want to happen when you are already sleep deprived from long nights with a newborn.

Spend time with your pet when baby is awake

For a happy and healthy growing family, your pet needs to know that this new addition is here to stay. They also need to be reassured that this new human isn’t a replacement for them. Spend time with your pet while baby is in the same room and awake so the presence of bub becomes normal.

While it’s important that you understand ways to safely separate your pet from your baby when necessary, it’s equally crucial that your pet recognises that the baby is here to stay – but that doesn’t mean your love for them and regular playtime will diminish.

Any major change to your pet’s home life will inevitably come with some hiccups, but you can reduce the chance of increased stress levels by preparing in advance (this informative video on dogs and newborns from the Brisbane City Council offers lots of practical tips). Just remember: confidence, positive reinforcement and regular routine.