By Christina Elston
Although we often think of kids and pets as a natural mix, bringing them together requires planning and preparation.
If you're bringing a new baby into a home where pets are already a part of your family, The Humane Society recommends a veterinary exam, vaccinations and spaying or neutering for pets prior to the baby's arrival. Address any pet training or behavior problems early - preferably before the baby is born. Get your pet used to baby equipment and even the sight of friends' babies. Bring an item of your newborn baby's clothing home first, to let your pet take in the scent, before you arrive with the infant.
On arrival day, keep your first interactions with your pet positive. "Let Dad carry in the new baby and Mom can greet the dog," says Bonnie Beaver, M.S., D.V.M., president-elect of the American Veterinary Medical Association. While the baby is around, have plenty of pet treats handy, and make sure there's "happy talk" going on, so your pet learns positive associations.
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If you're bringing a new pet into your family, discuss appropriate behavior toward the animal with your children. Make sure they understand the rules of interacting with, caring for and protecting the animal. "The two watchwords here are responsibility and communication," says psychologist Patricia Farrell, Ph.D.
Be aware that your pet might be fearful in a new place. Find a quiet place in your home where the animal can relax and become more accustomed to its surroundings. "Give it time without a lot of interaction," suggests Beaver.
Christina Elston is a health writer and senior editor at Dominion Parenting Media. Read her blog Health-E on Parenthood.com