Do You Have to Give Up Your Cat When a New Baby is On the Way?

Lorie Huston, DVM
February 21, 2014
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The simple answer to that question is no. Unfortunately, there are many people out there who think that cats are dangerous for babies. These people believe that a new parent must get rid of their family cat to keep the baby safe. In fact, I got a phone call just yesterday from a woman who recently found out she is pregnant and she’s looking for help in rehoming her cat.

Let’s take a look at some of the reasons these beliefs persist and why they are untrue.

  • Toxoplasmosis, pregnant mothers, and newborns. Yes, toxoplasmosis can be a threat to an expectant mother and her unborn child. However, the chances of getting toxoplasmosis from a pet cat, particularly if that cat is housed exclusively indoors, are pretty low. In actuality, infection from eating uncooked or improperly cooked meat is much more likely than becoming infected from your cat’s litter box. If you are pregnant and have no choice in cleaning the litter box, scooping the box daily, wearing gloves when doing so, and washing your hands thoroughly afterward will prevent infection. Or, if you can talk him into it, it’s a great excuse to turn the litter box duties over to the man of the house.
  • Stealing a baby’s breath. I’m not really sure where this myth originated but your cat is not capable of stealing your baby’s breath. Cats do not possess this (or any other) mystical power. One note of caution is warranted here though: Your cat should not be allowed to sleep in your baby’s crib. Though stealing your baby’s breath is not possible, it is possible for your cat to cuddle too near your baby’s face and block your baby’s airflow, making it possible for your baby to suffocate. Have you ever had your cat curl up next to you for warmth and/or companionship? Well, your cat may desire to do the same with your baby. It doesn’t exhibit any malicious intent on the part of your cat; just the desire to be near. But while you can push your cat away if necessary, your baby cannot.
  • Biting and scratching. Potentially, your cat could bite or scratch your infant. But that’s true of any pet. Pets should never be left untended with an infant. That is true regardless of the species of pet and is not exclusive to cats. Grasping baby fingers and kicking feet can frighten or even injure your pet. And, like any other pet, if your cat is frightened, injured, or feels threatened, she may strike out. Adult supervision is necessary any time there is interaction between a pet and a child to prevent injury to both parties. On the other hand, it’s unlikely that you will leave your new baby unsupervised or unmonitored anyway. So, this really shouldn’t be an issue in most cases.

One of the best things you can do for your cat is to prepare your pet for the new baby. This should start long before the baby actually arrives. Set up the crib and other equipment you’ll need for your baby ahead of time and give your cat time to adjust to its presence. Use a recording of baby sounds to allow your cat to become accustomed to the noises of having a baby in the house. Before you actually introduce your cat to the new baby, allow your cat to get to know your baby’s scent by first introducing an item of clothing or a blanket that your baby has used.

Above all, make sure your cat has a private place of her own to which she can retreat when she feels overwhelmed with the new activity in the household. And don’t forget to spend a little extra quality time with your cat so she doesn’t feel left out or neglected.

Oh, I almost forgot. After a long conversation with the expectant new mother who called me, she has elected to keep her cat. She truly believed she had no choice in the matter. Plus her mother and mother-in-law were both telling her the cat “has to go.” She’s now educated. Armed with accurate information, she has discussed the issue with her husband and, together, they have decided that their cat will remain a member of their family.

Dr. Lorie Huston

Image: Magdalena Szachowska / Shutterstock