If you’re preparing to welcome a new baby into your home, both you and your cat will benefit by preparing your cat for the event before the baby’s actual arrival.
Cats are creatures of habit. Typically, they don’t like much change in their daily routines. However, the addition of a new baby brings a lot of change, as well as new sounds, sights, and smells, especially for cats that have never been around children before.
Start by introducing your cat slowly to baby items such as furniture, toys and other supplies. Introduce these items one or two at a time, preferably long before you actually bring the baby home. Give your cat plenty of time to get used to the new items. Consider using things like baby lotions and shampoos on yourself so your cat gets used to their odor.
You can also purchase a CD with baby sounds and play it so that your cat gets used to the sounds of having a baby in the house. Start by playing the CD softly and gradually increase the noise level.
If possible, before you bring your new baby home, introduce your cat to a T-shirt, cap or other item of clothing your baby has worn or a blanket your baby has used. This will allow your cat to get used to the smell of the baby.
Once the baby does arrive, remember to spend some individual time with your cat. Otherwise, he’s likely to feel left out and forgotten.
It’s a myth that your cat will try to smother your baby. However, common sense dictates that you should never leave your baby alone unsupervised with your cat — or with any other pet.
Be sure all of your cat’s needs are being met. Don’t forget to provide perches at eye level or above for your cat and hiding places where he can retreat if need be. Be sure to place litter boxes in quiet areas of the house where your cat will not be harassed or frightened while using the box. Be sure food and water stations are also easily accessible in an area where your cat can eat and drink without interruption. These things will become increasingly important as your newborn progresses to the toddler stage.
As your child grows, teach him or her how to interact with your cat. Encourage gentleness and make sure your child knows not to pull your cat’s hair or tail. Also, make sure your child knows not to pursue or otherwise harass your cat if your cat prefers not to be social at any given time.
It’s best to keep very young children away from litter boxes. Start teaching proper hand hygiene at a young age also. Doing so can help prevent the spread of zoonotic diseases (diseases that can be passed from pets to people) to your child, as well as other non-zoonotic infectious diseases (like the common cold.)
With just a little advance preparation and some basic teaching and/or training, cats and children can live together in harmony.
Dr. Lorie Huston