Archive for the ‘Cat Behavior’ Category

Cats & Babies & Kids, Oh My!

Sunday, December 7th, 2008

In my last post, I mentioned that people often get rid of their cats because they’re having a baby. Having received yet another call from a couple who are looking to rehome their cat because they’re expecting a baby, I decided this issue desperately needs to be addressed.

First of all, let’s get the old wives tale out of the way. Cats do NOT “steal a baby’s breath”. This myth probably originated from a cat’s penchant for sleeping in warm, soft places - and what’s warmer and softer than snuggling up with baby in the crib? Obviously, although the cat means no harm, this could be dangerous for an infant who can easily be suffocated. The easiest solution to this problem is to close the door to the room where the baby sleeps so the cat can’t get in. Baby monitors make it so you don’t have to worry about not hearing your baby cry with the door closed. They also make nets that fit over the top of a crib, preventing the cat from getting into the crib.

The addition of a new baby to the house can be very stressful to a cat - they’re noisy, they smell funny, suddenly they’re taking a lot of the attention that the cat is used to receiving - so sometimes cats will develop negative behaviors as a result of this stress. They don’t hate the baby, and they aren’t doing anything out of spite - their minds don’t work that way. With some simple preparations, you can ease this transition period for your cat and avert a lot of problems.

First of all, prepare a place in your home where your cat can go to get away from the new baby and feel safe. This may be a spare bathroom, bedroom, the basement - wherever you can put a litter box, a bed, maybe a cardboard box to hide out in, and some of your cat’s favorite toys.

Next, start teaching your cat as soon as possible that baby’s things (crib, changing table, high chair, toys etc.) are “off limits”. If you let kitty play with/lay on these things before the new baby arrives, then expect them to understand they have to stop once the baby comes home, you’re going to have a confused cat. Start off by firmly telling kitty NO and distracting them with something they are allowed to use/play with. If they continue to go back to the off limits items, you can deter them with a squirt bottle filled with water, by shaking a can filled with pennies or pebbles to startle them, double-sided sticky tape (they don’t usually like walking on it), or by placing a citrus-scented candle or air freshener near the items (they don’t usually like the smell of citrus). If you start early enough, by the time your new baby comes home, your cat should know that baby’s things are off limits.

You can also do things to get your cat used to the presence of an infant in their home before your baby comes home, so there’s less stress for the cat when the real thing happens. They make cds that play the sound of a baby crying specifically for the purpose of getting an animal used to that strange new sound. You can also “borrow” a friend’s baby for short visits if feasible, so your cat can get used to the sounds and smells and presence of an infant. When your baby is born but still in the hospital, have a family member take home a blanket or some item of clothing the baby wore and leave it there for the cat to investigate, so they can start getting used to your baby’s smell in their home. Cats are especially curious about new smells, so you can trust they will investigate it thoroughly!

After the new baby comes home, don’t force your cat to meet the new little one until he’s ready to do so. Some cats are more timid and will want to hide out for a while after the baby arrives - this is why the “safe zone” you created earlier is important. Other cats are bolder and will want to check out the new arrival right away. Let your cat set the pace - if you force it, the cat is likely to associate the new baby with something unpleasant and frightening. When your cat does decide to come meet the new baby, try to stay calm and let him do his investigating without interference (within reason of course!) Pet him and reassure him. Don’t be upset with him or scold him if he hisses or growls - he’s scared, and scolding him will only frighten him more and reinforce his impression that the baby is a threat - just move the baby away calmly and reassure him some more. Be patient! Don’t expect your cat to get over his apprehension for the new baby overnight. This is a big change for a cat to adjust to - just keep reassuring and showing him that you still love him even as you love this new little creature in the home.

As the baby grows and begins to crawl and walk, and as curious little hands start going after kitty’s tail and ears and soft fur, begin teaching your little one how to respectfully handle animals. Babies have an amazing capacity to learn - so teach them to pet gently and not pull ears or tails. Teach them not to chase if kitty decides to run away. At the same time, reassure and praise your cat when he allows your child to pet him. You’re teaching them both how to interact with each other - be patient with your cat as you are patient with your child and you’ll see amazing results.

Older kids can be taught to play with kitty with his toys, which can be a lot of fun for both the child and the cat and can build a bond between them. They can also be allowed to be the one to feed kitty, so he starts to see them as one of his caretakers.

Just remember… Even though your child is the most important thing in your life (and rightfully so!), before that child came along you made a commitment to this trusting little cat to care for him for the duration of his life. He only knows you and your home. He needs you. It is your responsibility to do everything you can to make it work for him to stay in the home he knows. Also, I’m convinced it’s healthier for children to grow up in homes with pets. There’s a lot to be learned from caring for animals - compassion, patience and  responsibility just to name a few.