Cats are uniquely different from dogs in many ways. They are often compared to their distant relatives (lions and tigers) from the way they stalk and play with their prey to hunting small rodents and tiny little fuzz balls on your living room floor. Cats are little hunters, so what does this mean for you and your family when it comes to owning a cat and having small children? Believe it or not, children and cats can not only coexist but thrive together! Whether you are introducing your baby to your cat for the first time or deciding to adopt a new pet, children and cats can bond positively. Let’s take a look at some tips and tricks from our walker Amy F., on how to create that special bond between your child and your kitty.
How can I prepare my cat to meet my child?
You might already have a cat but are expecting a little bundle of joy, and you’re worried the two won’t get along. The best way to prepare your cat is to allow it to become familiar with the new nursery. Set up the crib and allow them to explore. You might want to introduce your cat to small children by setting up a “kitty play date” with a friend who has a youngster. What’s important here is that you know your cat better than anyone. Is your cat shy, or is it curious and interested in meeting this little one? This technique can acclimate your cat to the company of tiny little humans and help you better understand how they will react.
How should I introduce my child to a cat?
Cats interact on their own terms, so never force interaction between them and your child. Anytime they interact, supervision is necessary. Children, especially toddlers, do not understand how to pet a cat at first, so they will need to be taught how to do so properly. Toddlers tend to ball their hands up, so try to teach the “open palm” technique. It is recommended that children only be allowed to pet the cat with a flat hand on the back, shoulders, neck, and top of the head where they will tolerate it most.
“One finger petting” is also recommended: have your child hold out a finger and allow your cat to sniff it. If the cat rubs against it, that’s great! However, if your cat backs away or hisses, it is not comfortable or ready for interaction. You can tell your child to sit on the floor or couch and “lure” the kitty over into their lap with treats or toys. Again, never force the interaction and always allow the cat to leave if they choose to.
While your child needs to build up time with kitty, they should never be left alone together. A toddler’s odd movements, squeaks, and screeches can make them seem like prey to some cats. They can trigger playful pouncing, swatting, nipping, or even more intense hunting behaviors which can be scary for both children and parents. Remember, supervision is key!
How do I create a safe environment for everyone?
To make your home environment positive for both you and your child, teach them to be “cat aware.” Cat-proof your home and remind your children that it is important to close doors behind them when entering or leaving, and not to leave tiny toys or sharp objects lying around. If your family has decided to adopt a cat, explain to your child that bringing a new cat home for the first time can be very stressful for the pet.
Your kitty needs their private space where they can “escape” if they wish, so create places for your cat to hide. Set up a cat tree or perch for them to climb. Place their litter pan and food in a quiet place away from the commotion of small children, and explain to your child that these spaces are off-limits. Small children need to be kept away from the litter box because they might want to play in it. Your cat also needs to feel safe in order to do their business, or you might find a surprise elsewhere! The use of a baby gate may be a great idea for separating this space from others.
Can children be taught how to take care of cats?
Owning a cat can be a great teachable experience for your child. A pet teaches your child to be responsible, patient, and compassionate. If your child is old enough, involve them in choosing the cat if you can. Keep in mind that nervous and timid cats find living with children incredibly stressful, so cats with these types of temperaments should be avoided. Additionally, kittens have sharp little teeth and pin needle-like claws, so maybe an adult cat would be an ideal choice. It is best to engage with the cat before adopting and see how they and your child get along.
After adopting, get your child involved by bringing them along for vet visits and trips to the pet store to pick out toys. Give your child age-appropriate duties to care for your cat. These activities can teach them responsibility, but they are still a child and may forget or neglect, so be prepared to step in if necessary.
It may seem scary at first when it comes to children and cat interaction for the first time. Remember always to supervise and provide a safe space for your cat to call their own. Build up the time your child and cat spend together by using toys and treats to make it fun for both of them! Creating a positive environment can lead to a long and everlasting bond between your child and your cat. Good luck!
Thank you Amy for sharing advice on introducing cats to children! Windy City Paws is a Chicago dog walker and petsitter committed to providing helpful information to Chicago dog owners through its blog
Written for Windy City Paws by Amy Fenderson