I felt major dog guilt after my baby was born in March.
As I’m writing this my son is about 4 months old.
I’m in the thick of the new baby stage having just survived “the fourth trimester.”
Caring for a new baby is no joke!
But, the new mom phase is also an amazing time in my life.
I am thankful I get to spend so much time caring for, cuddling with and feeding my son.
I already look back on those first few weeks and miss it. Every day is special.
It’s just that … I also feel guilty my dogs are not getting the same attention from me that they’re used to.
My dogs are not deprived by any means.
They are fine!
It’s just that I feel guilty.
I’m one of those nutty dog ladies whose social life and identity are closely linked to her dogs.
Things like dog agility practice, dog obedience classes and trail running with the dogs are some of the most important and enjoyable parts of my week.
Now, all of those things have nearly disappeared.
So, I thought I’d write about how I’m dealing with this dog mom guilt because I know it’s something so many new moms and dads feel when they love their pets but add a new baby into the mix.
I have a 6-year-old weimaraner named Remy and a 1-year-old yellow Lab named Rip.
We also had a 17-year-old cat who just passed away this week. I’m glad Scout got to spend 4 months with the new baby.
How long does it take for a dog to adjust to a new baby?
Each dog will adjust to a new baby at his own pace. There is not a timeline.
It takes as long as it takes. We wrote a whole series on introducing your dog to a new baby if you need further resources on this.
I’m lucky my dogs adjusted really well to our new baby.
Remy is a high-strung dog who is, shall we say, extremely energetic.
However, he’s usually pretty calm in the house and loves most people of all ages. He is an overly friendly guy!
When we introduced him to our son, he barely sniffed him and then just trotted around wagging his tail.
Remy was way more interested in checking out our hospital bags and where we’d been the last few days than checking out the actual baby.
When we introduced our Lab to the baby, he was a little more surprised by the baby sounds at first but has also been very gentle and good with him.
The biggest problem we have with the dogs is I’d prefer they would not lick the baby in the face, which they both love to do any chance they get!
But things are going really well between them overall. Our cat also took to the baby really easily and did not seem fazed by the crying.
How to get over dog guilt after a baby
You are probably going to feel guilty for awhile, but here are some things you can do or keep in mind.
1. Prepare your dog and cat for a new routine in advance
Dogs and cats are creatures of routine so try to think about how you can adjust that routine in advance, before the baby is born.
You won’t be able to predict everything, of course. Babies are good at NOT having a routine.
But here are some things to consider:
Dog feeding and potty schedule to help dogs adjust
If your dog is used to eating immediately when you get up, you might want to start waiting an hour or so to feed him. Same story for the cat.
Once the baby arrives, you’ll be focused on the baby first thing in the morning and the pets might have to wait a bit.
Dog walking schedule after a baby
Before the baby, I would take my dogs for a walk first thing in the morning. Now that we have a baby, their walks are usually in the late afternoon and it’s usually with my husband.
Think about changing your dog’s walking schedule before the baby arrives so that he’s already used to the new routine.
Where your dog will sleep after a baby
We did not have to make changes to our dogs’ sleeping schedule because they have always slept in a crate or on a dog bed outside of our bedroom. That’s where they still sleeps now that we have a baby.
If your dog is currently sleeping in your bedroom and you want him to sleep somewhere else, it’s best to make that transition before the baby arrives so he’s used to it and doesn’t feel as jealous later.
It’s fine if you want to continue having your dog sleep in the bedroom. Just make sure you are the one to decide your rules. Your dog doesn’t get to decide.
Also see: My dog is jealous of my new boyfriend
Where your cat will sleep
So many people allow their cats to sleep with them and cats can be very disruptive of your sleep. They are also good at demanding breakfast early in the morning! Plus, they might try to sneak into the baby’s basinet.
Do not feel bad about putting your cat in a downstairs bathroom or different bedroom at night if it will help everyone sleep better.
Sleep is so, so very important and so hard to come by when you have an infant.
We put our cat in a bathroom at night with his water, food and litter box, and he was just fine!
That way he didn’t wake us up at night, we didn’t have to worry about him walking on the baby or throwing up on our bed or demanding to eat at 5 a.m.
2. Ask for help with dog care
I am the dog person in the family, but my husband is now the primary dog care person.
I used to do 99% of the dog care. Now he is doing most of it.
This is a big adjustment for all of us.
I wish I could spend more time walking and training my dogs every day.
But, for now I am the one who must spend hours a day feeding our baby. So this is the temporary compromise we all have to make.
There are other ways to ask for help, too.
You can take the dog to a professional dog daycare or hire a professional dog walker.
Or you could ask friends or family to take the dog for an afternoon or to come walk him or even just come over and spend time with him in the house or yard while you feed the baby.
If your friends and family are not dog people (or if your dog is hard for them to manage), you can also ask people for help with other tasks.
Maybe your friend could stay with the baby for 30 minutes while you take your dog for a quick walk.
3. Remember this is temporary and the time with your baby goes fast
I am already missing those first few weeks and months where my baby was so tiny and we had so many hours of cuddles.
So, as difficult as things feel in the moment, remember that everything is temporary. Some day, believe it or not, you will miss this time.
For example, those first few weeks after our son was born I was so stressed out about feeding him and if he was getting enough, how often I should pump, when to wake him up, when to give bottles and was he gaining weight fast enough?
I wish I would’ve just relaxed more and spent time holding my baby and appreciating the moment. So, I try to make a point to do so now.
The dishes will pile up. The dog will not get walked. The dog might chew up a few burp cloths or even your flip flops (Remy!) It’s OK.
4. Remember that dogs usually adapt better than we think
In our case, I remind myself that my dogs are totally fine.
Yes, they’re usually under-exercised and they’re not getting the “enrichment” and training they’re used to.
But on the other hand, I’m home with them all day every day. They gets plenty of interaction and attention.
They get a long walk a few days a week, and of course they have food and water and shelter and they are loved family members.
Most dogs will do just fine with a little less than what they’re used to.
5. Hire a dog trainer if you need help
Managing your dog’s behavior vs. training is probably more realistic when you have a new baby.
By management, I mean you are doing what you can to prevent or control your dog’s behavior.
For example, keeping items picked up and out of your dog’s reach if he tends to chew them. Keeping the trash behind a closed door if your dog gets into garbage. Or using a crate/kennel as needed to keep your dog out of trouble.
Or when someone comes to the door, you put your dog in another room or in his crate to prevent him from jumping.
On walks, you might use a Gentle Leader or no-pull harness to manage the pulling.
These are not “training” techniques but are smart management tools while you’re dealing with a new baby.
A trainer can help you come up with a management plan for now and a training plan going forward if you decide you need it.
6. List out what your dog needs
I listed out what I thought my dogs would need as a minimum as far as exercise, training and “enrichment.” Then I shortened that list even more.
I decided my goal would be to shoot for these things, and if I missed some that’s OK but I would do my best.
My list includes:
- 5 walks or runs a week (with me or my husband)
- A few minutes of basic training most days (usually with me)
Nice to have but no pressure:
- Off-leash run or hike once a week
- Agility practice once a week
- Retrieving practice once a week
We’ve been pretty good at providing the walks and and basic training most days.
My dogs definitely do better when we meet these minimum goals. But if we miss a day or two in a row, it’s OK. We do our best.
Some weeks we get to do agility or some retrieving work or off-leash running. Sometimes not.
Shooting for small, basic goals has really helped me relax about the dogs.
They do pretty well with this, and I feel less guilty.
Now I do want to write about the more difficult side of pets and babies, and that is if you truly think it might be best to find your dog a new home.
Re-homing a dog after having a baby
I can imagine this situation would be so hard, and I’m sorry to anyone who is thinking about this decision.
I used to judge people for re-homing their dog or cat after having a baby, but not anymore.
You never really know someone’s situation from the outside.
Now I know how stressful it is caring for a newborn on little sleep while also physically recovering from labor myself.
It was painful for me just to lift my baby for the first 4 weeks, and I could not worry about much else other than caring for him and trying to recover.
I love my animals and I’ve never thought about re-homing them, but man, they really made things more stressful!
My senior cat needed IV fluids twice a week and thyroid medication twice a day. He was always throwing up everywhere.
He even puked all over the baby’s bassinet, which by the way, he was definitely not allowed in!
Remy the weimaraner has been good overall but it’s stressful trying to meet his exercise needs.
And every day he steals baby burp cloths or laundry and drags them out onto the patio refusing to drop them. He also chewed up a special baby toy we received as a gift.
Yes, of course these problems are minor in the grand scheme of things. And management is the key here, I know.
But when you’re going on little sleep and you spend the majority of your time breastfeeding and pumping and barely have time to take a shower, the stress adds up.
I know I lost my shit at my cat more than one time for little things like stepping on the baby while I was trying to feed him or for walking across my clean baby bottles on the counter.
In the moment, the stress just adds up.
What I’ve learned now is that mom and dad’s mental health are important.
Yes, there is a difficult transition period that all new parents have to work through. That transition period might last months or even a year, not weeks.
Most of the time, you can figure things out and everything is fine with a baby and the existing pets.
Sometimes, the stress of the dog or the cat on top of a new baby is just too much and it’s a better option to find the pet a new home.
This is especially true when the dog is showing any amount of aggression, stress or fear around the new baby. But it can also be true if the dog is perfectly well behaved.
It’s not fair to the pet if his caregiver is always feeling anger and resentment towards him. And this sometimes happens when the animal has done nothing wrong.
So yes, sometimes I think it is absolutely in everyone’s best interest to find the dog or the cat a new home.
Mom and Dad’s mental health are important and no one should have to “put up with” a dog or cat for years if the animal is causing that much stress. This is not healthy for a family – pets included.
So while I hope you are not in that situation, I did want to mention it because sometimes re-homing the pet is truly the best option for everyone.
In the comments, please share your experience about bringing home a new baby when you have pets. Did you have dog guilt after bringing home your baby?