This is Part 2 (Click here for Part 1) of a small advice series from International Cat Care on how we can help cats and babies live amicably alongside one another.
Last time we wrote about how you can help prepare your cat for the arrival of a new baby by getting your cat accustomed to the new sounds, sights and smells a baby brings as well changing routines.
In this article we will cover how to go about the first introductions of baby and cat. The early months fly by and it is not long before your baby is mobile and showing interest in the family cat. Thus, we provide some easy-to-implement ideas to keep interactions between a toddler and baby safe and fun for all.
Introducing cat and baby
Commonly, a mother will spend at least one night in hospital with her baby after giving birth. This provides the ideal opportunity to gradually introduce the cat to the new baby, first by smell then by sound and sight. Asking a family member to bring home a blanket or clothing the baby has worn and place it on the floor will allow the cat to investigate if it wishes. The ideal response is the cat sniffing the clothing and then carrying on with what it was doing before.
When the baby comes home, it is a good idea to keep him or her in a different room from the cat initially, particularly if the cat is nervous or timid. This allows the cat to hear the baby without seeing it. By introducing the cat to the baby one sense at a time, the introduction becomes more gradual and minimises the chances of the cat finding it overly stressful.
How and where in the home you go about these introductions very much depends on the cat and the layout of your home but an introduction should never be forced, a cat should always be able to move freely away from a baby and the cat should never be held. Introductions should be quiet and calm, ideally initially occurring when the baby is sleeping.
A developing baby’s interest turns to the cat
A baby changes enormously during the first year of its life, developing from being relatively immobile and focusing on feeding and sleeping to a curious, interactive and mobile little person. During this time, the amount of attention the baby shows the cat is likely to increase. As a result the amount of attention your cat shows the baby is also likely to increase. It is a good idea to ensure the cat’s resources are in inaccessible places to the baby. Cats should have the opportunity to rest, play, eat and toilet in peace, away from a curious baby and its wandering hands. Baby gates are useful to aid this and for kittens or geriatric cats that find jumping over the gates difficult, those with integrated cat flaps can be used.
Physical interactions at this stage are inevitable and it is really important they are managed carefully. Cats and babies do not innately speak the same language. During interactions babies can be noisy, often full of squeals, cries and laughter.
A baby’s typical greeting and exploration of a cat can involve:
- placing their face very close to the cat
- reaching out and grabbing whatever is closest to them
- placing what they can hold into the mouth.
Cats interact with people very differently. A cat’s typical greeting involves:
- a brief sniff
- sounds are kept to a minimum and generally only involve a brief chirrup at the beginning of the interaction and/or a gentle purr.
If the cat feels that the person is safe after a brief sniff, they may rub their cheeks against the person’s hand or legs. However, contact is generally of gentle pressure and short duration.
Therefore, unsupervised interactions between a cat and a baby are ultimately going to be unsafe and leave at least one party distressed. It is better to place the baby on a parent or known person’s lap to be able to guide the baby’s behaviour while keeping the baby’s hands occupied with a toy or book. This allows the cat to approach freely if it feels confident enough to without risk of being grabbed or poked.
Play ‘toss the treat’
Once your baby has mastered the art of throwing, you can also give them cat treats to toss to the cat – this is great entertainment for your baby while teaching your cat that the baby brings rewards. Be sure to supervise this to prevent the baby from placing the cat treats in their mouth.
As the baby gets older he or she can also be involved in playing with the cat as a hands-free form of interaction with the cat. Always keep the cat and baby toys separate and if you find the cat playing with the baby’s toys, redirect onto its own toys by getting it to follow a wand toy. Likewise, you should teach your baby which toys belong to the cat and that they are not for playing with. Swapping the cat toys for one of the baby’s toys will help prevent a tantrum if you need to remove a cat toy from their grasp.
Let’s play together
You can adapt cat wand toys to allow a cat and baby friendly game. Use wand toys with extra long wands and place a band of coloured tape round the wand where the baby should ideally hold the wand (keeping little hands well away from swiping paws), encouraging your baby always to hold the wand at this point. Tying a piece of string to the wand, which you hold to help direct where the wand goes, encourages the baby to make the right movements with the wand. Using this technique, babies and cats together can enjoy play.
It is always important to remember that even a happy cat can become quickly over-aroused and bite or scratch, can accidentally scratch during kneading or can knock over a sitting baby with over-zealous head bunting. Planning, supervision and early intervention is key. With these in place, cats and babies can get along amicably and grow up together forming a life-long bond.