How to make sure your cats get on well with your kids
The privilege to grow up with pets is a marvelous experience. There is nothing more pleasing than seeing your human children playing peacefully with your feline children, but unfortunately, the relationship between kids and cats is not always a harmonious one. You’ll need to take the necessary precautions and plan ahead.
Whether you have children and are adopting a cat or kitten, it is important to create harmony. Children raised with pets have been shown to be more sociable as adults, both with people and animals. They also tend to have better communication skills and are much less likely to develop allergies towards pet fur and dander. Even so, children can often be over enthusiastic in developing a relationship with a pet, so a little education can go a long way. Children and cats can share a relationship that is mutually beneficial provided each is old enough to respect the other. The good-natured dog may put up with a child’s playful tousling, but the dignified cat may be less tolerant.
Helping the child see things from the cat’s point of view will not only ensure a healthy relationship between pet and child, but it will help to build empathy for all living creatures. Nothing is more satisfying than loving and being loved. If you teach your children correctly, you have a win-win situation.
Before getting a cat
Sometimes children beg their parents for a kitten or cat and promise to take care of her. Most children have good intentions, but they are children and sometimes they may lose interest in the kitten as it gets older, or they forget to do the chores. There is some balancing here because having a pet can teach a child responsibility, but if the chores are onerous of if there is constant conflict, there may be resentment. Before you buy a pet, discuss the aspects of being a responsible pet owner with your child. Get the children to agree to accept the chores that they can handle according to their age and level of responsibility. As a parent, be prepared to be the primary caretaker. Nurturing the bond that develops between cats and kids and setting a good example will teach them lessens that they will benefit from all their lives and will help them to be responsible pet owners and caretakers when they have children of their own.
Remember it is best to acquire an adult cat if you have a toddler, as it can take only one unsupervised moment to severely injure a small kitten. Protect your children and cat by choosing a fully grown cat if adding a feline to your young family.
Preparing for your baby’s birth
Before the baby arrives allow your cat into the nursery to inspect the new furniture and changes you bring about to that room. Do not refuse her access to this re-decorated room. It was, after all, previously part of her roaming territory. She will love exploring and familiarizing herself with what’s new.
Cats, like humans, find satisfaction in the act of ‘inspecting’ any modifications to their homes. Enjoy watching her; it could bring about a lot of laughter as you watch her extra alertness and curious dinner-plate eyes as she explores each metre of the room. Discourage her if she shows an interest in lying in the cot. Chase her off and reprimand her in a firm tone. She will ascertain quickly that the cot is not made up for her at all.
Put a bit of the baby lotion on your hands and allow your cat to small and experience the fragrance she’ll later associate with the baby. It is a slow introduction to the new presence that will be in your home. Once the baby is born and not yet home, perhaps your hubby can bring a used item of your baby’s clothes back home and allow your cat to smell the scent on that. This way, your cat will have a chance to recognise the smell of your newborn when you first bring him or her home.
When cat meets baby
The arrival of a new baby brings much happiness, but if you are a cat owner you need to take care of certain things so your cat and the baby can get used to each other. Make the introduction a gradual one as cats take time to adjust to a new family member. Maintain positive interaction with the cat in the presence of the baby. By doing this, the cat is unlikely to view the baby’s presence negatively, which could result from reduced attention. Cats may urinate or defecate on baby blankets, clothes, on your bed or even on yourself. Territorial marking relieves a pet’s anxiety, covering the baby’s scent or yours with its own. If she does, prevent access to such targets and spend more time with the cat. Also speak to your veterinarian about an anti-depressant for your cat. As the baby becomes more aware of his or her surroundings, take the baby’s hands and rub them against the cat’s fur. This way the baby gets a chance to know your cat, while kitty becomes used to being touched by little hands. If you are up to the challenge, it might even be a fitting time to welcome a new kitten into your home, as your baby will not yet be a danger to the kitten.
From the moment children begin to crawl, they investigate everything, including your pets. Your cat’s toys, food or water bowl and litter box are targets. It is better to place these on a higher level or prevent your baby from getting access to that area. You will have to train your child to behave when around the cat and to interact appropriately. Children must learn that cats are not toys, but living beings. You have to teach your baby not to harm the cat by pulling her hair, tail or ears.
Soon enough baby will understand that this is something you will never allow, so be very firm. Hopefully the cat will not be annoyed by then and scratch the baby. Even if this happens, you should not scold the cat, it is normal self-defence behaviour and the baby will have learnt something anyway. Children must be shown which part of a cat’s body can be touched and how to gently pet them. The child at this age poses no threat to the cat and cannot prevent the cat from leaving when she wants to. A loved cat that feels secure in the household will usually keep out of the baby’s way or will manage to escape when grabbed or squeezed, normally without showing aggression.
The toddler stage is a time of transition and the cat will now need to be actively protected from the child. As a toddler, the child becomes strong enough to inadvertently harm the cat. It is best to adopt a kitten older than four months when you have children that can walk. If you still decide to get a kitten, you will have to be present at all times when your child and kitten are together, as the child can unknowingly seriously hurt the kitten. Toddlers are not yet aware of their own strength and an overly affectionate toddler can injure a small kitten with a well-meaning hug. A more mature kitten or cat can better withstand a young child’s noise and quick movements.
I only allow my own 20-month old son to hug and ‘love’ my kitten when I’m around. I normally hold the kitten against my chest, protecting her with my hands and chin, while my son snuggles up to the kitten. This way he can be affectionate towards the kitten and not feel left out. I taught him how to blow kisses and pat the kitten gently, always under adult supervision.
I also taught him how to put dry food pellets into our adult cats’ bowls, this way he is learning how to not only love our pets, but to care for them as well.
Always remember that a young child can not take the responsibility for feeding the pets on his own – they can be forgetful or give too little or too much. Allow your child to participate, but always make sure the experience is positive so that both your child and cat enjoy the times of interaction.
Five golden rules
Make your toddler aware of the following (always keep this learning experience enjoyable for both your cat and child with lots of praise) :
- The first rule a toddler should learn is to never try to hold a cat if the cat wants to go. As long as the cat can leave when she wants to, she will never have a reason to scratch.
- Show your child how to gently stroke the cat (only the head and along the back as many cats are sensitive about their tummies).
- From the start the child should be taught how to properly hold the cat, providing support under the chest and under the back legs.
- Teach your child that the cat should always be left alone when eating, toileting or sleeping.
- Teach them not to ever chase the cat.
A safe haven
Always provide places of retreat as your cat will need a quiet and safe place where she can relax undisturbed. Toddler gates help with children too young to understand that kitty needs a rest. Older children should be told that when kitty goes to his place, it is time to rest and leave her alone. Creating high perches or a cosy corner for your cat in a quiet corner will help a new cat settle in or make an existing cat feel safe.
Text: Yolanda Wessels and Kim Roberts