iCatCare Advice: Cats and Babies

This article first appeared on iCatCare here.

Having a baby is a time of big change as you adapt to the seemingly huge needs of a very small new human. It is often all-consuming and you worry about everything. As with all things, a bit of planning and thinking ahead can make a lot of difference and also give you some peace of mind. Often the cat has been the baby of the household before the real thing comes along, so most owners want to ensure that this does not create any problems.

Cats are creatures of routine and predictability. Furthermore, their primary attachments tend to be to their physical home rather than the people within it – thus disruptions to the home, such as new furniture and baby-related paraphernalia, can cause some cats anxiety. However, many take it all in their stride and enjoy the fact that the new mum will be around more and often be sitting down for long periods feeding the baby.  They can be great company for a mum at home and can be amazingly good with children if they are introduced carefully and the baby is taught to respect the cat.

Why a baby may seem a little daunting for your resident cat(s)?

  • Cats use their excellent sense of smell to help them know what belongs to them. They rub their faces on items around the home which then begin to smell of the cat (we cannot sense these smells at all) and thus become familiar and secure. New items with changing baby smells can also disrupt this familiarity.
  • Along with the baby comes a whole host of new items to the home, small and large, such as the cot and pram and others smaller such as toys. Often these toys have flashing lights and make strange noises.
  • Babies smell different from adults – the prominent smells are of milk and dirty nappies!
  • Babies require a lot of their parents’ time and, as a result, the care-taking routine for the cat(s) can often be disrupted and certainly, in the early stages of parenthood, there is less time to devote to the cat(s).
  • Babies are more unpredictable in their behaviour (including the noises they make) in comparison to adults and older children. Therefore they can be a bit more daunting to cats. For example, babies often place their faces very close to the object/person/animal they are investigating and at a certain age, everything is explored by grasping and putting it in their mouth.
  • Most cats enjoy physical interaction in the form of stroking on the head and face regions. Such an interaction is most favoured when the cat itself chooses when it occurs and for how long. However, baby/cat interactions can be difficult for the cat – how they are handled, for how long and the type of interaction may be unpredictable and varied with a baby. Cats should never be left unattended with babies so that such physical interactions never occur outwith adult supervision.

What can be done to help the cats feel safe and secure before the new arrival comes home?

  • Ensure that any changes made to the home occur in a gradual fashion.
  • Give the cat(s) a chance to investigate and accept new items to the home
  • Make the new item smell like part of the home by rubbing a cloth gently on the cat’s cheeks and the area in front of the ears during a relaxed time when you are stroking the cat. Then rub this cloth on new items. The cloth will pick up chemicals known as facial pheromones that your cat produces. The cat recognises these chemicals as familiar and they encourage the cat to feel safe and secure.  Do not worry about these chemicals smelling on the new items, we as humans, cannot smell them.
  • Ensure your cats have plenty of places to feel safe and secure out of the baby’s reach – cardboard boxes made into hidey holes, perches, shelves, igloo beds are all really useful.
  • You may wish to change who feeds the cats before the baby is born if the new mum is unlikely to be able to continue to do so in the early days after giving birth.  This minimises disruption to the cat(s) at a time when everything else is changing too.
  • Let your cat(s) hear the sound of a baby’s cry by playing an audio clip (there are many freely available on the internet). Play it at a volume only just audible and, if your cats show no interest, you can gradually increase the volume. The idea is to help the cat to learn that such a sound is nothing to worry about – this is important it is going to be a very common noise in coming months!
  • Once the baby is born, he or she may spend a night or two in the hospital. It is a good idea to bring home a worn babygrow at this time to let your cats sniff and investigate. Getting them accustomed to the smell of the baby before he/she arrives home will help the cats feel less daunted by the new presence.

Bringing baby home

Bringing your first baby home can be another fraught time – how will the cat react?  Once again, stay calm and don’t create a tense atmosphere. Let the cat sniff the baby and find out just what this strange-smelling noisy little creature is.

The wonderful thing about cats is that they usually adapt to almost any situation and go back to their bed next to the radiator, curl up and go to sleep! Very occasionally a very sensitive cat may become stressed and urinate in the house, but this can be overcome by increasing its sense of security (see urine spraying and house soiling) and maintain a good hygiene regimen.

As you sit with the baby and the cat gets used to its presence and the baby’s smell is integrated into the house, most cats will just get on with life.

Common sense and safety first

  • Wash you hands after handling the cat or cleaning litter trays etc.
  • Keep cats off kitchen surfaces.
  • Keep the baby’s room as a no-go zone for the cat for your own peace of mind, especially when the baby is very small.
  • Put a net over a baby basket or pram to prevent the cat from getting in.
  • Keep up your cat’s preventive health care – flea and worm treatments.

What do I need to think about as my baby grows?

As your baby begins to become more mobile, he/she is more of a hazard to your cat than the other way around! It is especially important during this time that your cat has plenty of places where it can get to away from the baby. The use of vertical space (shelves, cat trees, perches) and baby gates can greatly help with this.

Babies and small children should always be supervised when close to cats in case they try to grasp the cat. The last thing your cat needs is his tail pulled. However, working together, you can teach your children that touching a cat needs to be done gently and with a flat palm. Placing your hand under your child’s hand can help with this while protecting your cat’s fur from any pulls.

By following some of the advice and trying to meet your cat’s need for safety and security, predictability and control, you are on the right path to ensuring your baby develops a long and lasting friendship with your cat(s) – after all, he or she is our part of our next generation of cat owners!

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