How to Introduce Your Cat to Babies and Children
Introducing a new baby into your household can be a concern for parents and may seem overwhelming. If you plan ahead prior to the baby’s arrival and provide a slow and steady introduction, the result can be rewarding and enriching for both your pet and child.
Always remember that a pet should never be left alone with an infant at any time. An infant is incapable of pushing the animal away if it cuddles up to them too closely, and the baby’s sudden or jerky movements or vocalizations can startle some pets.
Talk to your physician and let him or her know what type of pet you have. Toxoplasmosis, a parasitic infection of cats, is often a concern for pregnant women, as the disease can cause birth defects. Mothers-to-be often find this to be their greatest fear, and many cats are given up because of this apprehension. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides tips to reduce your risk of environmental exposure to toxoplasma:
- Avoid changing cat litter if possible. If no one else can perform the task, wear disposable gloves and wash your hands with soap and warm water afterwards.
- Ensure that the cat litter box is changed daily. The parasite does not become infectious until one to five days after it is shed in a cat’s feces.
- Feed your cat commercial dry or canned food, not raw or undercooked meats.
- Keep cats indoors.
- Avoid stray cats, especially kittens. Do not get a new cat while you are pregnant.
- Keep outdoor sandboxes covered.
- Wear gloves when gardening and during contact with soil or sand, because it might be contaminated with cat feces that contain toxoplasma. Wash hands with soap and warm water after gardening or contact with soil or sand.
For more information, visit www.cdc.gov.
Prepare Your Pet
Before the baby arrives, it’s important to take several precautionary steps to ensure your pet is ready. A slow and steady transition can have great results, so start preparing your pet early.
You can begin by getting your pet used to the new baby supplies. Rub baby lotion or baby powder on your hands so your pet associates a positive connection with the smell, and make sure your pet is used to any new furniture or baby items that may frighten them. Give your pet a lot of praise near items such as baby tables and cribs to avoid pet anxiety, but do not allow the pet to sleep or jump on them. Pets tend to avoid sticky surfaces, so if your pet views the new furniture as a napping place, consider a double sided-adhesive to make the new items undesirable.
Any pet routines that may be shifted once the baby arrives should be switched a few months in advance. These include play sessions, walks, feedings, grooming, sleeping, and other daily schedule shifts. Pets need some quality time with your undivided attention for a short period of time daily. Plan ahead to determine the best time for this so that you can maintain the new schedule when the baby comes home.
When the Baby Arrives
After arriving home from the hospital, greet your pet in a quiet room so you can reconnect and bond. After you’ve had a few minutes of undivided attention with your pet, you can let everyone else, including the baby, in the house. A dog might get very excited and love the attention, whereas a cat might flee and hide because of the commotion. Once things settle down, your pet will want to investigate. Place an item that smells like the baby, such as a receiving blanket or article of clothing, in a quiet place for your pet to smell and get acclimated with the item.
Baby naptime is the perfect opportunity to spend some quality time with your four-legged friend.
Babies and pets can live in unison, so please don’t give up on your pets when you are expecting a new baby. If you have any questions or need further assistance, call our free Behavior Helpline at (312) 644-8338, ext. 8253.