Is your cat ready to meet your new baby? Is your child ready for the responsibility of pet care? Kids and cats aren’t always natural companions, but with a little guidance from you, the two can become fast friends.
We’re offering our top tips to help cats and kids feel comfortable and enjoy each other’s company.
Coach your cat to welcome a new child
Expectant parents no longer need to worry about the myth that cats and babies won’t adjust to each other easily, but a resident cat does need help getting used to a new family member.
Prepare your cat for baby smells and sounds. It can be a good idea to offer your cat a blanket that smells like baby so he can get used to the new scents. Before baby comes home, try playing a recording of soft baby sounds.
If you are adopting an older child or bringing stepchildren into your home, make sure your resident pet has a safe space such as a cat tower or other high perch for time away from his new friends.
Train your child in the art of cat ownership.
Maybe your children are pleading to bring home a cat, or perhaps you’d like kitten and baby to start out life together. Either way, introducing cats and kids takes time and effort.
Choose the right cat for your family. When adopting a pet, be sure to notice your prospective cat’s personality. Is the cat laid-back and chill? Does she get agitated easily? In general, choose a relaxed cat that’s at least three years old instead of a tiny kitten as a companion for children under age six.
Teach your child to respect the cat’s boundaries. Obviously, that means no tail pulling or whisker grabbing—even if the cat annoys you. It also means learning how to pick up a small kitten gently, play with cat toys, and recognize the signs of a cat ready for some me-time such as hiding or ignoring you.
What if your home is child-free but friends with kids come to visit?
Entertaining guests with children can either be a ton of fun or a highly stressful experience for your cat. Thankfully, it can be easy to make the experience pleasant.
Be sure to inquire about allergies, but also realize that children without pets may not know they have a cat allergy. To be safe, clean your house thoroughly before entertaining young guests. For overnight visitors, it may be a good idea to keep a children’s antihistamine on hand.
Keep an eye out for unintentionally aggressive behavior such as pulling the cat’s tail or blowing in its face. Enlist parents’ help to put a stop to it right away. Be equally attentive to signs that your cat may be aggressive toward children. In either case, you can put the cat in a private room with a toy and shut the door during the visit.
And if you’re expecting a new child
Pregnant women should avoid cleaning the litterbox due to the risk of toxoplasmosis. While the disease is rare among indoor cats, it does exist and can cause injury or even death to a developing fetus. At minimum, wear a mask and gloves while changing the box to keep yourself and your growing baby safe.
Cats are long-lived creatures who can still be around to celebrate their 20th birthdays. For many kids, a pet cat was a memorable presence during the milestones of childhood. With some pre-planning and early vigilance, you can make sure this long relationship is a healthy and happy one for everybody.
Adopting a cat can be one of the best choices you ever make. Not only do you gain an entertaining companion who will (probably) be glad to see you at the end of a long day, but you'll be saving a life, too.