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Cats and kids – Part 2

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 less attention.

Cats may urinate or defecate on baby blankets, clothes, on your bed or even on you. Territorial marking relieves a pet’s anxiety, covering the baby’s scent or yours with her own. If she does, prevent access to such targets and spend more time with the cat. Also speak to your veterinarian about an antidepressant 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.

Moving about

From the moment children begin to crawl, they investigate everything, including your pets. Your cat’s toys, food and water bowls 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 the 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 as it is normal self-defence behaviour and the baby will have learnt something anyway.

Children must be shown which parts 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 who 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.

Running around

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 who 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 care for them as well. Always remember that young children cannot take the responsibility for feeding the pets on their 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

  • 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 him or her 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 her place, it is time to rest and leave her alone. Creating high perches or a cosy area for your cat in a quiet corner will help a new cat settle in or make an existing cat feel safe.

Text: Yolanda Wessels


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