Fido, meet the new baby!

How to successfully introduce a pet to your newborn

Bringing a newborn home from the hospital is a challenging time for any new parent. And, for a lot of families, there is the added stress if there are "fur babies" awaiting the arrival of the newest member of the family, too.

"As parents, we know and expect that our lives are going to change, but our pets have no idea what's about to happen," says Hopewell Junction-based veterinarian Dr. Hope Jankunas. "Bringing a new baby into the house means there's a whole new set of rules (for them).

Dr. Alex Barrientos of Earth Angels in Wappingers Falls says with the arrival of a newborn comes the arrival of new toys, diapers and midnight feedings.

"It's a huge change for a dog's routine," she says.

Dr. Barrientos suggests training the dog prior to the baby's arrival. For instance, sit in the nursing chair in the baby's room and teach the dog to sit next to you, not on you.

Advice on the introduction

Although there are many hilarious and adorable moments, fostering a safe and comfortable bond between baby and pet is also serious business.

"It is a whole new world to be a parent. You do everything you can to protect and care for your newborn," Dr. Kahn says.

Corizzo advises that parents' display a casual demeanor as a pet and a new baby grow accustomed to one another.  

"Animals can sense our emotions and feed off of them," she says. "So, it's important to stay calm and relaxed when it's time to introduce your baby to your pet." 

A dog's excellent sense of smell and hearing can help familiarize the animal with the child.

"Let your dog sniff any baby items as soon as the baby arrives," says mom Marysol Rosales of Newburgh. She says doing this can alleviate some of a pet's anxiety about the newest member of the pack.

Dr. Barrientos says parents can also use outgrown onesies and other items of clothing to line or wrap a dog's bed, which will have a bonding effect between animal and child.

Putting the pet first 

Although the baby will be a priority, it's important that a pet doesn't feel as if it's competing too much to get its owners' attention.

"The biggest thing is that if the dog was there first, you still greet the dog first," says Lagrangeville resident and dad Mike O'Donnell. "The dog must know that he or she came first. That way, the dog will never feel left out or have any ill will toward your newborn."

Dr. Barrientos says it's important to let the dog follow you into the baby's room and to be present during changings or feedings.

Dr. Jankunas says focused time is key.

"Scheduling one-on-one time with your pet is super important," she says. "Dogs especially need to know they will be able to spend time with you."

Dr. Jankunas and her husband enjoy spending time as a family with their 18-month-old son and their dog, Stella. Their favorite activity is taking long walks. The family also includes a cat, who sometimes needs a place to retreat to, away from his human companions. 

The ability for a pet to hide out from time-to-time is important, according to Poughkeepsie resident and mom Tracy Keck.

"I recommend that you have an area for your pet that is theirs that they can 'escape' to," Keck says. "All of us need to escape, even our pets, when they feel stressed." 

Fast friends

Eventually, all members of the family - human, canine and feline - will, in almost all cases, form a strong bond. Many cats and dogs become highly protective of the children they live with. 

O'Donnell describes his dog Gus as being like a second parent to his two children.

"He's really taken on a parent-like role," he says. "When my oldest was born, Gus would take on the father role and lay with my baby." 

Mallika Rao is a freelance writer and a recent college graduate. She lives in Fishkill.