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Kids and Cats

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young girl cuddling a cat

Children and their pets can form an incredible bond and become the best of friends throughout their life. Whether introducing your cat to a newborn or showing your teenager how they can help take care of the family cat, there are many steps you can take to help with these introductions and responsibilities.

Babies and Cats

If there’s one characteristic that most cats share, it’s that they are creatures of habit. Cats enjoy having a schedule and find comfort in their predictable environment. It is easy to see why cats could become stressed or leery when a new baby is brought home. Babies look, smell, and sound differently than the type of person your cat may be used to (such as adults). Not to mention, babies also mean the addition of numerous items around the house, like strollers, high chairs, cribs, and toys.

Before you bring your baby home, many things can be done months ahead of time to help prepare your feline friend for their new family member.

  • Set aside “baby time” when your cat will not get attention from you. Slowly introducing this new part of their schedule will hopefully help your cat adjust whenever the baby arrives and they are suddenly not receiving your undivided attention.

  • Decide amongst the family if the cat will or won’t be allowed in the nursery. If they won’t be allowed, begin restricting their access to that room by closing the door or installing a tall baby gate (but note that some cats may still jump over or slip through the bars).

  • Include your cat in the changes occurring around your home. When you set up new baby items (like strollers, high chairs, or play mats), allow your cat to investigate them. Toss a few treats to them whenever they choose to explore these new items to build a positive association with these potentially scary additions to your home.

  • Introduce your cat to the many new smells associated with the baby. A few weeks before your baby is brought home, you and your family can try adding some baby lotion, soap, or powder to your hands or arms. Showing your cat that these scents are something they can expect in the home could help them become more comfortable with the baby.

It can also be helpful to get your cat used to new sounds that may become common in your home. New mobiles, play mats, or toys that make sounds or play music may cause your cat to be nervous. Try playing these sounds around your cat while reassuring them with praise and rewarding them with play and treats. You can also play some recordings or videos with baby sounds around your cat. Start by playing the sounds on low volume for a few minutes at a time. Then slowly work up to louder (more life-like) volumes, continuing to reward your cat with treats and play while the sounds are on.

How To Introduce a New Baby to Your Cat

After taking some time to prepare your cat to meet a baby, the next step is introductions. In a calm and quiet setting, you can bring your baby and cat into the same room, allowing your cat to check out the baby at their own comfortable pace. You can let your cat sniff your baby’s foot and give your cat a few tasty treats for their good behavior around the baby. Rewarding your cat with a treat or two each time they calmly explore or choose to relax near the baby will help them quickly associate the baby with good things.

As you go through your baby’s routine, try to allow your cat to be involved in some activities. For instance, if you’re in the nursery rocking your baby, maybe include your cat’s bed in the corner if the cat is allowed in the room. If the cat isn’t allowed in the room, place their bed just outside the door so that they can see you through the baby gate. Toss your cat a few treats periodically while they’re relaxing on the bed, away from you and the baby. You could also give your cat a treat when it’s time for your baby to have a bottle.

One of the most valuable items to keep in mind as your household adjusts to having a baby is to continue giving your cat plenty of love and attention. Your cat should learn to love their new little sibling and begin associating the baby’s presence with positive things. Along with giving your feline pal attention when the baby is around, it’s still good practice to provide them with one-on-one time, reminding them that they are still important too.

Is It Safe for Babies To Be Around Cats?

By preparing your cat and doing proper introductions, your cat will learn how to act around and get along with a baby. However, it is important that you never leave your baby unsupervised with your cat.

Toddlers and Cats

As your baby grows into their toddler phase, they will become much more curious about the world. Toddlers are notorious for exploring items by either grabbing them or trying to put them in their mouths. As any parent could imagine, this age requires a few extra precautions that should be taken to ensure that your toddler and cat have safe interactions.

With toddlers crawling and walking more, chances are you will already be childproofing your home. While going through this process, consider items of your cat’s that may also require childproofing. For instance, small cat toys could become a choking hazard to your toddler, as could any cat food left in an easily accessible bowl on the floor. Be sure your cat’s litter box is somewhere your cat can feel safe and secure, and your toddler can’t stumble upon it. Double-check that cat towers are either out of your child’s reach or are secured to prevent accidental tipping.

For your cat’s sake, it’s crucial that they still have an area or two that they deem their safe space. No matter where this spot is in your home, its purpose is to allow your cat the opportunity to step away from the possibly noisy and grabby toddler. Give them a comfortable bed, a separate litter box, and some fresh water in this safe space. Even if your cat loves their young sibling, children can still be a lot for some cats, and they may require a little break occasionally. Be sure to include multiple perches throughout the house as well, so they can easily hop onto a perch and get up out of the toddler’s reach.

Toddlers will continue to explore their home with their newfound mobility, and this would be an equally perfect time to show your child how to interact with the cat gently. Helping your child with their arm and hand, teach them how to roll or toss a treat to the cat, or wave around a long wand toy for the cat to play with.

If you allow your child to pet the cat gently, always supervise interactions and ensure they are only petting when the cat is soliciting attention, not when the cat is showing signs of nervousness, fearfulness, or uninterest. If you know your cat is already a bit fearful or uninterested in touch and petting, teach your child to give them space because poking and prodding them could increase their fear or distaste for touch.

girl sitting at kitchen table with cat

Kids and Cats

Once your child is a bit older, it may be the perfect time to show them some responsibilities of caring for a cat and having them help you with a few of these tasks. Although you will likely still have to supervise their job, giving your child a role in caring for the family cat can be beneficial. A simple job such as feeding the cat, putting clean water in their bowl, or brushing them once a week could be the ideal task for a kid.

Continue to encourage positive interactions between your child and cat. Occasionally, remind your child about certain rules regarding playing, petting, or picking up the cat. Reward your cat with their favorite treat when they show good behavior and patience around children.

Learning how to create a calm environment for a cat with small kids in the house may not be the easiest, but there are many helpful steps you can take.

  1. Learn how your cat prefers to relax.

    Some felines may want to be left alone in a room, under some furniture, or undisturbed on their bed. When they feel ready, they will join the family again. With younger children, ensure they do not have access to this space. If you have older kids, explain why their kitty sibling sometimes wants some quiet time.

  2. Recognize your cat’s body language.

    Although cats communicate with us through their hisses, purrs, meows, chirps, and many other sounds, they also relay how they feel through their body language. For example, when a cat’s ears are back, flat against their head, their tail is flicking around, eyes wide, and they seem overall tense, this indicates that they are stressed and overwhelmed with their current environment. By recognizing these signs, you can remove the item causing anxiety, direct the family to give them some space, or help your cat get to a new area where they could feel more comfortable. On the contrary, if your cat is feeling relaxed or friendly, you will notice their ears are in their relaxed, neutral position, their eyes are soft, their tail may be held up with a curve at the top (like a question mark), and their body will overall be more relaxed.

    With your younger kids, when you supervise their interactions with the family cat, keep a close eye on these body language indicators. It could be beneficial with older children to explain what it looks like when their cat is upset and when it’s time to give their pal some space.

  3. Take things slowly.

    To help keep your household a calming environment, which may be easier said than done with multiple kids in the house, it may be helpful not to rush any introductions. Anytime your child has a new friend over, allow your cat to approach them first and explain to other kids why your cat may not want to be petted or picked up at that moment. Instead, ask the kids to toss a few tasty treats or play with the cat using a wand toy, so the cat can play at a distance and learn that new people aren’t bad. If your cat is nervous around visitors, put them in their safe room with the door closed before the visitors arrive with a water bowl and a litter box.

One of the best ways to help your cat feel more comfortable around kids is to have the kids be involved. Children may love the opportunity to help. You can also talk to your kids about why a cat feels or acts a certain way and what’s essential in caring for a cat—each are topics that even younger children can begin to understand.

Teenagers and Cats

If your teenager has grown up with a cat in the house, they are most likely already familiar with how to handle a cat properly, their basic needs, and how to recognize cat body language. However, a significant part of becoming a teenager is gaining more responsibility.

With a teen in your home, it may be time to ask that they help out taking care of the cat more. Although when they were younger, they may have helped feed the cat or fill up their water bowl, now that your kids are older, you could also have them assist in brushing the cat (if this is something your cat enjoys), cleaning the litterbox, and helping provide playtime, enrichment, and exercise on the daily.

Even chores that aren’t directly related to the cat could be helpful. These could include picking up the cat toys around the house, running the vacuum, sweeping off the furniture, dusting, and, if your teen has their license, running to the pet store to pick up cat supplies. Even if your teenager needs a reminder or some assistance with some of these chores, it can still be beneficial to begin teaching them more about the responsibilities that come with being a pet parent while also relieving you from a few of the duties.

If you don’t already have a feline family member living in your home, then there’s a decent chance that, at some point, your teen is going to approach you with the idea of adopting one. Whether they see a post on social media from the local animal shelter, they find a stray in the neighborhood, or they know someone looking to give kittens a home, teenagers can be notorious for wanting to bring a new pet into the household.

There are many considerations to mull over before taking in a new pet, but it may be worthwhile to hear your teen out before directly telling them ‘no.’ Sit down with your teenager and talk about the responsibility and commitment (in time, energy, and money) of adopting a cat. Explain to them ahead of time what your expectations are and what they would be responsible for when it comes to taking care of the family cat. Talk to them specifically about how this might change their morning or after-school routine.

Keep in mind that if this is the first cat your teen has had much interaction with, it will still be helpful to go over the basics for caretaking, including grooming needs and how to pick up and play with their new feline friend gently.

Why Cats Are Good for Kids

Giving your child the opportunity to grow up with a cat by their side is a special thing to witness. Not only can they become the best of buds, but a pet can become a child’s confidant, source of comfort, and partner in crime.

Cats in the household can also provide health benefits. Not only do kids with pets have better health in general, but they can have a stronger immune system, a decreased chance of developing allergies, a reduced risk of acquiring asthma, and, on average, are more likely to be physically active. Having pets in the household can also positively impact a child’s or teenager’s mental health.

Having the opportunity for your child to grow up with a cat by their side could also boost your child’s confidence and self-esteem. Some younger kids can feel much more comfortable practicing their reading and speaking skills with their pets rather than in front of their peers at school. Allowing your child or teen to help care for their cat can also be an insightful lesson on empathy, patience, and unconditional love.

Cat care for kids can look different depending on your child’s age. Encourage young kids to help you with simple tasks like refilling the water bowl or giving your cat a treat. With teenagers, explain to them the importance of cleaning the litter box, grooming a cat, and providing basic needs. With multiple kids, they could even take turns with some chores, especially the less favorable ones, such as cleaning the litter box.

If your cat finds comfort in your kid’s presence, you could even have them join you when you take your cat for their yearly veterinary check-ups. This can also show your kids or teens another essential part of being responsible for an animal. Although it is undeniably significant to teach your children all that it takes to be a great pet parent, it can also be fun to include your kids and teens in the exciting parts of having a pet. Have them join you next time you go to the pet store and pick out new toys and treats. They can offer their opinion on your cat’s new collar or even your new cat’s name.

An ASPCA Pet Health Insurance plan can help you with eligible costs for covered conditions like surgery expenses for accidents and help provide peace of mind that your pet can receive the care they need. Check out our online resources to learn more about your insurance options and get a free quote today. The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.

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