Bringing a new baby home is a big change both for you and your pets. Growing accustomed to new smells, new off-limit spaces, less attention, and a new routine can be quite a lot of work for your pet. Preparing your furry friend before baby’s arrival, as well as having reasonable expectations, helps sets you both up for a positive postpartum!
Dreaming of Baby discusses pets and kids with Michael Rueb, Operations Manager for the National Cat Protection Society in Spring Valley, CA.
Charles: Hello and welcome to Dreaming of Baby, the source for the answers to questions mothers and fathers-to-be ask! We have with us today the Operations Manager for the National Cat Protection Society in Spring Valley, CA. to discuss pets and kids! Would you be so kind as to tell our readers a little about yourself and your experience with pets and parents?
Mike at National Cat Protection Society: Hello, thanks; I’m happy to be here. I’m Mike Rueb, and I currently work with National Cat Protection Society in Spring Valley, CA as the Operations Manager. I’ve been in the field of animal welfare for approximately 16 years. I’ve mainly worked in rescue/adoption centers where the main goal is to take in dogs and cats that do not have homes and place them in appropriate forever homes. Parents with kids of all ages commonly come to us to adopt, so navigating these situations is very interesting and gratifying.
Why do pets end up in a shelter with the addition of a child?
Charles: Excellent, so I am actually going to take a slightly different tangent with you. I would like to learn a little about the reasons why pet-parents sometimes wind up having to bring Fido or Puss in Boots to an animal shelter after the addition of a child, especially when it is due to lack of planning.
Mike at National Cat Protection Society: Unfortunately we do see this happen quite a bit in this field. Preparation and education is very important in order to avoid this heartbreaking occurrence. Often, it’s due to an unforeseen allergy with the newborn child. These cases are tough obviously because there is little you can do to prepare for that unknown entity, although I often advise these parents to discuss this with their Pediatrician as there may be things that can be done. There are things that you can control and prepare for, however.
Charles: What would you say are the most common reasons? Beyond allergies which unfortunately do happen and are beyond the control of a parent-to-be…
Mike at National Cat Protection Society: Often the resident dog or cat does not “take” to the new child well. Having a new person in the home, with different smells and sounds, can create anxiety for the dog or cat. Certainly, some anxiety is normal for the animal, but sometimes it can be excessive, thus too overwhelming for the parent. There are some things that can be done before the baby arrives, like conditioning the dog or cat to the noises and smells that a baby brings, but we still do not know exactly how the animal will react until the child is there. Other times it’s a misunderstanding of the expectations that a parent has when it comes to managing a newborn child and keeping the routine of the dog or cat intact.
Charles: How can this be improved or planned for? Since it is also interconnected, what advice would you give to a parent-to-be interested in adopting a dog or cat?
Mike at National Cat Protection Society: Well, first thing that I always advise the expecting parent is to try to visualize and be specific when it comes to how they want their household to be when the baby arrives, and start practicing. For example, months before the new baby arrives you should think about having one room (where the baby sleeps) that you keep off limits to the animal. Any routines and smells such as changing diapers and lotions should be simulated to get the animal used to it (basic conditioning and desensitization). Sounds such as a baby crying can be played occasionally over a radio to get them used to the sounds. Having a planned out routine as to who will feed, play and socialize with the dog or cat before the baby comes is also very important. The parent has to try to keep the routine of the animal as consistent as possible as to not cause any confusion and anxiety.
Mike at National Cat Protection Society: If a parent-to-be asks me what they should do when it comes to adopting a pet, I will usually advise them to wait until they have the baby, get into their routine, then consider adopting. It usually works out better that way due to there being less surprises.
Michael Rueb: “Having a planned out routine as to who will feed, play and socialize with the dog or cat before the baby comes is also very important. The parent has to try to keep the routine of the animal as consistent as possible as to not cause any confusion and anxiety.”
How can I prepare my cat for a new baby?
Charles: Considering you work at the National Cat Protection society, can you also give us a bit of a playbook with cats, what to expect and how to prepare?
Mike at National Cat Protection Society: Yes, cats tend to be very sensitive to environmental changes. So, when it comes to preparing them for a new addition to the family, the conditioning to noises and smells is very important. Fortunately, with careful introduction of the baby to the cat, things usually work out pretty well. In the far majority of cases, the cat will either be curious or perhaps a little nervous with the new child. Associating the new child with pleasant things for the cat-like petting, grooming, and feeding when the child is around can be helpful. Basically, you want the cat to think that when the baby is around, good things happen. A positive association is likely to form. But do not push it. Take it easy and give it time.
Charles: As a pet owner with two dogs and a cat I definitely found that the cat was less accepting of the boundaries set especially rooms she was not allowed in; of course, those were the rooms she wanted to be in! However, she was absolutely amazing with our daughter and did understand not to go near her till she was older. Cats though worry me a little as they are harder to train, is this an incorrect assumption I have or generally true?
Mike at National Cat Protection Society: When it comes to changing their routine, environment and overall situation, yes I would agree that cats can be generally more difficult in this area. Fortunately, the far majority of them adjust over time and learn to love the new family member. As someone who has a background in dog and cat behavior, I will say that because of these facts, preparing months before the baby arrives is important to lower the possibility of a negative outcome.
Michael Rueb: “When it comes to changing their routine, environment and overall situation, yes I would agree that cats can be generally more difficult in this area. Fortunately, the far majority of them adjust over time and learn to love the new family member.”
Charles: Excellent, we have covered quite a bit of ground here today. If you had to give parents-to-be your best piece of advice about pets as they relate to a growing household, what would it be?
Mike at National Cat Protection Society: There are a lot of things you can do to prepare your household for changes, but do not overthink it. Have proper expectations in the fact that you do not know exactly how things are going to go, have fun, and a sense of humor. Believe it or not, statistically, dogs and cats do very well with children, so certainly be smart, supervise their interactions, but also enjoy the awesome relationships that pets and children tend to have.
Charles: It has been a pleasure having you here with us today! On a final note, if our readers wanted to reach you or get to know more about you and your organization what would be the best way?
Mike at National Cat Protection Society: It was my pleasure as well. The readers can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our website where they can learn about what National Cat Protection Society has to offer, such as adoptable cats and our Retirement Center is www.natcat.org