Bringing a Child into a Cat's World
As a cat lover, you're no doubt concerned about how your cat will adapt to having a child around. More than likely, they'll take to one another quickly and become fine friends, since most children have a natural affinity for animals.
In addition to the pleasure of having animal companionship, your child may become healthier because of it. Research suggests that children who are in contact with animals have stronger immune systems and suffer fewer upper respiratory tract issues than those without a pet.
Babies & Infants & Cats
One or two months before you give birth, start making changes in the cat's regimen, such as changing the feeding time and the location of the litter box. For best results, only move the latter a few inches every day.
Help your cat become familiar with the scent of a newborn by using the same baby powder or lotion that you plan to use on the child. After lightly applying the lotion, pet your cat so that he will have a good association with the smell.
After you set up the crib, your curious cat may want to investigate it and decide the mattress pad is an ideal place for a nap. While your cat may be gentle, it is still a bad idea to allow her to sleep with your baby (although there's no truth to the myth that a cat will suck the soul out of a sleeping baby!) Most pediatricians agree there should be nothing in the crib with the child.
To make your cat avoid the crib, changing table and anywhere else you need to be off limits, line it with aluminum foil or balloons before the baby arrives. Having her associate it with an unpleasant experience can teach her to stay away. Alternately, install a crib tent and make sure the nursery door is closed when the baby sleeps.
Once the baby arrives home, your cat may want to get close to the small, warm human. That's fine, as long as their interactions take place in your presence. If you have an outdoor cat, make sure he is free of fleas and ticks before you allow access to your baby.
Toddlers & Cats
To prepare for bringing a new cat into your home, create a kid-free zone where your cat can sleep, eat, drink water and use the litter box undisturbed.
Since young children with undeveloped motor skills can unintentionally harm a cat or themselves, supervision remains essential at this age. It's not too early to start teaching kids compassion. Many children's books are about animals, and reading one at bedtime is a good way to start the conversation.
Even the mildest cat can react defensively if startled, so teach your little one not to touch a pet when she is sleeping. Do teach him the right way to pet by taking his hand in yours and slowly stroking the animal. Talk about how soft her fur is and how important it is to be tender.
Cats are objects of curiosity, and developing children may do odd things that adults find revolting, such as attempting to play in the litter box or eat the cat's food. Solutions include putting up a child gate or installing a cat door so that the cat is left alone when desired.
School-Age Children 6-12 & Cats
School-age children can be gradually taught to take on responsibilities of cat ownership. Depending on the child's maturity, age-appropriate tasks might include filling the water bowl and scooping the litter box. Yet the responsibility is ultimately yours.
Equally important is setting examples of good behavior for the child to mimic. One cat-loving mom brings her daughter to an adopt-a-stray facility inside a pet store every week and supervises as she fills their bowls with food and water.
Her little girl developed such a love for cats that she celebrated her last birthday in a private party room at a humane society. The cost of renting it went to the society, which provided a brief talk about the importance of caring for animals, and guests got to choose items from society's wish list as party gifts.
As a child grows, a pet can become a best friend, particularly for kids who don't have siblings. As a ten-year-old recently said, "I love our cats. They each have a personality. When I'm sad, they comfort me and when I sleep I know they guard me."