The excitement around bringing home baby may be lost on one important family member: your pet. Dr. Andy Rollo, a vet with Madison Veterinary Hospital, offers some tips.
"Many people don't give their pets enough credit for how observant they are," he says. "They can sense when things are changing starting during pregnancy." Rollo suggests setting up baby gear like swings or a pack 'n' play in advance of baby's homecoming.
"This way, your pet can sniff it out and get used to it before the baby is in it," says Rollo, himself a father of three.
Given the smell-oriented nature of dogs and cats, Rollo suggests after baby is born (but still at the hospital), dad or another family member bring home a blanket the baby was wrapped in, so pets can sniff.
When baby first comes home, let pets have a closely supervised chance to see and smell the baby. When bringing home his own newborn son six years ago, Rollo placed the infant carrier on the floor with baby strapped inside and let his two dogs sniff while he sat closely next to them.
"Pets need to know that they are safe," he explains. "Some pets may come right up to the baby, sniff him or her and walk away. Others will hide or run away. Let them approach on their own terms but absolutely be present."
If a dog growls or snaps, look at your pet's past behavior as a guide.
"Remove the animal from the situation and reevaluate. Growling is sometimes a way an animal communicates. Take a break from introductions and slowly acclimate your pet again later."
If, however, a dog bites or snaps, Rollo insists it can't be allowed again.
"One incident is too many," he says. "Try to prevent aggressive behavior before it happens, but if in the rare event that it does happen, you need at look at re-homing your pet or seeking behavioral therapy for him or her."
As for cats, Rollo advises not to force a cat to interact with the baby.
"A lot of cats are shy," he says. "They may hide for months before getting curious enough to meet the new family member. Be patient."