For years, your cat has been your baby – the center of your attention, love and devotion. Now your first human child is on the way, and youve got some concerns. Youve heard all the scary stories – can your cat really be dangerous to the baby?
Animal shelters are full of cats needlessly given away by well-meaning but misinformed parents who panicked after hearing some frightening tales. People should not have to give up their cat because they are having a baby, says Christina McClure-Lorenson, DVM, a graduate of Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine and now in private practice in North Providence, Rhode Island. The exception is when there is a cat with a serious pre-existing behavior problem, such as aggression.
Even though your cat will probably need to go through an adjustment to the newcomer, chances are both your cat and baby can grow up together very comfortably.
Ignore the Myths
Perhaps youve heard horror stories about cats smothering babies, especially when they smell milk on the babys breath. Or that when a cat hears the baby cry, he will jump into the crib and do some harm. The good news is that most worries about cats and newborns are born out of myth and old wives tales. Although there is no hard documentation on these incidents, says Dr. McClure-Lorenson, I am sure that these occurrences are infrequent to rare. These stories most often derive from unexplained instances of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) in which the cats presence was a complete coincidence.
Most Cats Dont Like Change
An important thing to remember during this (and any) transition is that cats are creatures of habit. They simply like things to stay the same – the same feeding time, the same food bowl, the same litter. Imagine your cats perspective should you bring home a tiny, strange smelling and sounding creature – your baby!
You can expect your cat to be curious, as most cats are when something new and unusual appears in the household. Therefore, you may initially find your cat slinking around the house and trying to appear invisible as she attempts to make sense of the drastic change that has occurred in her environment.
This is normal cat behavior and does not indicate any dangerous motivations of your cat. Not only has your cat lost her territory – from her perspective, anyway – but you likely have changed, as well. Because of the baby, you probably have a much different routine, including less time to spend with your beloved cat.
Cats may behave differently according to their personality. According to the reports of human companions, a timid cat that is very dependent on you – but hides from others – may become jealous and spray the furniture to cover up the scent of the baby. A more outgoing cat may act strangely for a while, but then join in family activities with the baby. A cat that is pretty independent may simply ignore the baby, if he receives his usual accommodations at the regular times.
Some cats may temporarily refuse to use the litter box – especially if its been moved to make room for the baby or baby items – or may start scratching the furniture, seemingly acting out against the change in their lives.
Prepare for Success
There are several actions you can take to get you, your home and your cat ready for a smooth transition before you bring your baby home from the hospital.
Encourage your favorite feline to help you fix up the nursery. In order for your cat to get accustomed to the new room, do things in steps – paint first, then wallpaper and furnish. If possible, set up the crib early so that you can train your cat to stay out of it before your baby arrives. (One suggestion is to fill the crib with empty soda cans so your cat will find it uncomfortable to nestle in there.)
You can simply close the door to the babys room when youre not present, says Dr. McClure-Lorenson, who raised her own daughter along with her cat. Your cat will get the idea hes not allowed in there unless youre with him. Another idea: Install a locking screen door so your cat can still see whats going on in the babys room.
For general safetys sake, no pet should be left unsupervised with the baby or allowed to sleep with the baby, says Dr. McClure-Lorenson. There is the remote chance that a cat may bite or scratch, even accidentally, in response to the babys cries or movements.
Start During Your Pregnancy
Introduce your cat to the new scents she will encounter on the baby – from lotions, baby wipes, powders – by letting her sniff them on you, suggests Dr. McClure-Lorenson.
Get your cat accustomed to the sound of a crying infant. Play a tape (at a low volume) of a baby crying while you spend some fun time with your cat. Or invite a friend over with a baby so your cat can get used to this type of human presence, which is especially important for a cat that hasnt been exposed to children before.
Cut Back on the Attention
You shouldnt lavish extra attention on your cat before the baby comes, even though this may seem like the natural and kind thing to do. Instead, wean your cat from a lot of your attention because youll definitely have to cut back the time spent your cat once the baby arrives. If possible, encourage other family members to get more involved with the cat.
Just before you bring the baby home from the hospital, have your partner bring the cat an unwashed towel or piece of clothing from the baby so your cat can get used to the babys scent. If you are the new mother, have someone else hold the baby and give your cat a good cuddle when you come home.
Allow time for the baby and your cat to get to know each other. Let your cat sniff the baby while you calmly hold him or her. Again, dont be alarmed at your cats natural curiosity! Instead, give your cat praise and affection – and some delicious treats, like pieces of chicken – when he observes the baby because he will begin to associate good things when in company of the baby.
Be alert to temporary signs that your cat may be experiencing stress, such as hiding, excessive grooming or a change in litter box habits. Talk to your cats veterinarian if these signs persist.