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Veterinary Medicine

Animal Behavior Column: Introducing a new family member to your pet - Part I

February 3, 2012

As I prepare to add a new little one to my human family, I think back to the day I brought my oldest son home from the hospital almost nine years ago.

Boy and puppyI could not have imagined how tired I would be and how much effort recovering and taking care of a newborn would be. People tell you that having a baby changes everything, and until it happens to you, I don’t think anyone really knows what that means.

My house until that point had been Noah’s Ark.  Animals of all shapes and sizes dictated my daily routine. I had read and prepared, and thought I had done everything right. There were still more than a few adjustments as my new routine became dictated by my son.

One of the biggest worries a new parent may have is whether their dog or cat will adjust to the new baby. The introduction of new family members (of any kind!) is a big stressor on the current residents. I have found both personally and professionally that this is the hardest to predict ahead of time. I had a dog who was very stressed by young children who visited, but was patient and tolerant of mine as they grew up.

If you are expecting a new baby and your pet displays these behaviors, you will want to address them in the months before baby:

·        Reacts to strangers and other children with discomfort.  Pets may be uncomfortable with new people, particularly if they move suddenly. Helping pets coping with their nervousness can be key to a good adjustment to a new addition.

·        Competes over “resources.”  A pet may perceive that a child is competing with them for a toy. Kids want to play with the toys with the pet, and often the pet doesn’t view it the same way.

·        Aggressive toward other animals in the home. Not all aggression towards other pets translates to the potential to act aggressively toward children, but when pets compete over your attention, they may develop a problem competing over your with young children too.

·        Fearful of noises. If household noises and sounds scare your pet now, imagine their stress level when crying, banging and stomping are daily additions. 

·        Habitual barking or meowing. Imagine laying your child down for a nap after an hour of trying to get him to sleep, and having a barking dog or loud cat wake him up. Tired parents might revolt! It is very helpful to get your pet’s vocalization behavior under control before baby comes.

·        Out of your verbal control. If you don’t have verbal control over your pet now, you are going to be very frustrated later when you don’t have a hand free and can’t run after them. Basic obedience and cooperation between you and your pet is so important.

More next time about actually making the adjustment to bringing baby home!

This column is written by Dr. Jennie Willis, an instructor of animal behavior at Colorado State University and owns a private consulting business, which provides counseling for problem pets and their people. 

Contact: Dell Rae Moellenberg
Phone: (970) 491-6009