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Caring for your dog -- and the new baby

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Twelve glorious weeks of spending time with a new baby and dog are sadly coming to an end, and it's time to prepare for the inevitability of returning to work.

While most mothers are focused on how difficult the separation might be for themselves and the baby, they should also keep in mind how the transition will affect their pet.

One of the first decisions to consider is who will watch baby and pet. Will this person be comfortable watching both? While considerations for the baby will be kept at the highest priority, remember to factor in the pet’s feelings and need for belonging.

Babysitting baby and pet

Currently, 63 percent of all American households have pets, according to the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters. The U.S. pet population includes some 73 million dogs, 90 million cats and 16 million birds plus fish, hamsters and other animals. These pets are happiest when they're home, surrounded by familiar sights, smells and sounds.

The petsitting industry is noticing that people who provide babysitting or housesitting services are often unqualified to offer care for pets.

If the babysitter is watching both baby and pet for the first time, an introductory meeting should be required, said Dr. Tony Kremer, a Chicago veterinarian and educator. This introductory meeting between infant, pet and babysitter should be supervised by an adult who will carefully observe the interactions between the three parties. Consider the following questions:

  • How does the babysitter feel about dogs?
  • Have you provided an area where the dog can be placed so that the babysitter can focus on the baby?
  • If there is a thunderstorm, how will your dog react? What should the babysitter do?

Separation anxiety

As the mother prepares to return to work, she might be conflicted and have separation anxiety related to leaving the baby. During this tense period, the dog may be shunted aside and may also begin to show signs of separation anxiety.

"One cardinal sign of separation anxiety is when the dog begins to destroy things in the house while you're away," said Stephanie LeFarge, director of counseling services at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. "The dog is so stressed he tears things up, defecates, urinates, and messes up the environment because it is anxious."

This can occur if the mother leaves for two hours, or if she is away from the home for most of the day. When these signs begin to appear, they should be addressed immediately. The dog will need extra attention to help it calm down and should be taken to a veterinarian or trainer for guidance and advice.

When leaving the home, avoid making a huge fuss over leaving the dog. Ideally, the dog will be busy and distracted with an activity, perhaps with the babysitter, as you quietly walk out the door.

Guidelines for a petsitter

In order for your petsitter to provide the best care for your pet while you return to work, he or she will need to know your animal very well, according to the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters.

Provide your petsitter with answers to a number of questions:

  • What are your pet's routines and schedules (eating, sleeping, walking, playing)?
  • Does your pet have major or minor health problems? 
  • Does it require medication?  If so, provide a location and schedule for the medicine. Make sure the petsitter knows how to administer the medication.
  • What should be done in case of an emergency?
  • Where do you keep your pet's favorite toys?
  • Is your dog a chewer? If so, make sure you provide the location of its chew toys.
  • What are your pet's favorite hiding places? (This will prevent a panic if your animal is nowhere to be found)
  • Does your pet have any unusual habits (changes in bowel movements, eating habits, fears, etc.)?

Also provide the petsitter with written verification of up-to-date vaccinations (collar tags or copy of vaccination certificates).

When parents leave baby and dog with someone else, the dynamics of the interactions can change, causing some confusion for the dog, particularly if mom has been home every day for the past 12 weeks. By planning ahead, separation anxiety can be kept at a minimum for baby and pet.

Credit: Reviewed by Amy I. Attas,V.M.D.
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