Cats and Babies – Can they Cohabit?
For many households, a pet cat represents another family member and as such is treated with affection and respect. However when a new baby is introduced into a family unit, many cat owners feel it necessary to surrender their pet into shelters or alternative care.
There are many horror stories regarding the safety of cats around newborn babies and lots of people are fearful of them smothering the baby, passing on diseases or scratching them. Whilst the safety of a new baby must always be paramount, it is worth keeping in mind that these horror stories are not always accurate. By exercising patience and logic, there are ways to ensure the safety of a new baby around a cat while simultaneously introducing this new family member into the household with the minimum of stress to the existing feline one.
Prepare Kitty for Baby’s Arrival
Cats are naturally territorial animals and any change or disturbance to their territory can cause stress and anxiety. A new baby will certainly change the dynamic of their environment and preparation for these changes will help kitty adapt to the transition more easily, making them less likely to feel and act threatened, anxious and defensive.
If your nursery is a room that kitty has previously been allowed free access within then cease this as early as possible, ideally way before baby moves in. Keep the door closed and consider using artificial cat pheromone products such as Feliway on the door and doorframe to prevent barrier frustration.
To get the cat used to the scent of the baby, have someone bring a blanket or soft toy with the baby’s scent on from the hospital before mother and baby return home. Encourage kitty to sniff it and put it in his basket or a familiar place. Give them a treat when they approach it to encourage a positive response to baby’s scent.
Having young children visit your home or even playing a recording of baby noises (crying, gurgling etc) can also help prepare your cat for his new housemate. Like their sense of smell, a cat’s hearing is much more sensitive than ours therefore a sudden presence of loud noises may frighten them.
Consider Safety Equipment and Practices
If you have a particularly exuberant or inquisitive cat, then it may be worth considering specific safety equipment and practices to prevent accidents happening. This is not always necessary but it may give you peace of mind should you feel that precautions need to be taken.
You can purchase a net that fits over baby’s crib to prevent a cat jumping in but remember that these need to be fitted so that they are taut, otherwise they won’t work. Also available on the market are ‘Soft Paws’ which are plastic caps used to glue over kitty’s paws to stop them scratching (although regular trims work just as well). You should also make sure that your cat is regularly de-fleaed and de-wormed with products that are safe to use around children. Finally, ensure that kitty’s litter tray and feeding bowls are kept somewhere that baby can’t reach easily when he/she begins crawling. This will help prevent them picking up any nasty diseases from kittyâ€™s leftovers.
It is important to remember that all animals are intrinsically wild and owners can never be 100% certain of their behaviour or temperament. Therefore babies and young children should never be left alone with a cat or any other animal.
Encourage interaction between the two, particularly as baby grows into a toddler but always watch on and encourage mutual respect. Teach baby, in an age appropriate manner, that he/she has to handle kitty gently to avoid any defensive or aggressive behaviour and make them aware that sometimes kitty needs to be left alone altogether. If you can supervise this and encourage positive, gradual contact between the two then ultimately a mutual tolerance and gradual friendship will be born.
For families thinking of introducing a new cat into their family, there are also a few things you need to consider if you have small children. Firstly if the cat is mature you need to question its history. Has it ever been aggressive? Has it been around children before? Has it had any past experiences that may make it vulnerable, temperamental or less likely to cope well with the noise and chaos that children can create? If you are thinking of getting a kitten then remember that while they may be more adaptable to new environments, they will need be trained appropriately which can be time consuming.
It may also be worth taking your children to see the cat before bringing it home to see how they react to one another. This first impression can give you an insight into whether this animal is the right one for you.
Remember that insuring new pets is always a good idea. Don’t automatically buy the product offered by your veterinarian as many options are available to compare pet insurance online and cat insurance can even be bought in many superstores as well as insurance brokers in the city.
Pet Guardian Angels of America This work may be shared through the Creative Common License only if attributed to Pet Guardian Angels of America