Cats are even more sensitive to changes in routines than dogs, and the introduction of a baby into a household can cause any member of the feline species to become uncomfortable. To avoid any jealousies or hurt feelings on the part of the cat, experts recommend introducing your cat to the idea of having a baby around long before the actual baby arrives.
“Similar to your dog, your cat needs time to adjust to the strange sights, smells and sounds of the new arrival,” said Dr. Tony Kremer, DVM, Chicago veterinarian and educator.
- Let cats check out the nursery during supervised visits
- Introduce your cat to the scents and sounds of a baby before baby’s arrival
- When baby arrives at home, be sure to give your cat lots of love and affection
Dismissing Old Wives’ Tales
Because cats are associated with magic and witchcraft, some strange stories have surfaced that cause unenlightened pet owners to fear the idea of having their baby in the same room with a cat.
“There are as many untruths surrounding cats and newborn babies as there are stories of black cats crossing your path,” Kremer said. “Many of these stories about cats are not based on fact and are usually old wives’ tales, exaggeration, or ignorance.”
Cats have been said to suck the breath out of or smother babies because they seek out the milk scent lingering on babies. Although cats are known to be crafty, the only mystical powers they possess are those found in works of fiction.
In real life, cats are curious and have been known to leap up into a cradle where a baby lies and cuddle next to a sleeping child. That is why a baby should never be left alone with any furry creature.
Getting Cat Used to Baby-Handling
The more a cat can get used to being around young children, the better. This includes learning to become accustomed to some uncomfortable handling that typically occurs with young children.
“The cat will need to get comfortable being touched in places where little fingers and hands will go, like between paw pads, on the face, tail, and underside,” said Kellyann Conway, of Tarpon Springs, Fla., director of animal training and behavior for Animal Planet Pet Video and Petfinder.com.
- Gently touch your cat in each of these spots
- If the cat resists, have someone help you by feeding the cat some extra special treats while you do this exercise
- Repeat this at least twice a day a couple of minutes each time. Mealtime is a great time to practice. Your cat will not only be motivated and hungry, but will also associate all of the touching with pleasurable moments.
Dispel Cat Fears with Pheromone
Cat owners may want to consider a Feliway pheromone diffuser that is plugged into a wall outlet and looks like an air freshener, said Jeff Nichol, DVM, a veterinarian in Albuquerque, N.M. who specializes in pet behavior.
As a synthetic analogue of the feline facial pheromone, the Feliway reproduces the familiarization properties normally produced by a cat when it deposits its own facial pheromones in the environment, and helps to calm the cat.
“It’s not pixie dust, but we use it for a variety of anxiety-related behavior, and it can be helpful,” Nichol said.
Pregnancy and Toxoplasmosis
Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by a parasite that can infect a cat if it is exposed to contaminated soil or if it eats prey—such as rats, mice, or birds—already harboring the parasite.
“Because toxoplasmosis can cause birth defects in children, pregnant women sometimes assume they must get rid of their cat,” Kremer said. “With a few simple measures and some planning, you can safeguard yourself from catching the disease, especially from your cat.”
Toxoplasmosis is rare among indoor-only cats. It is important to note that cats contracting toxoplasmosis do not always display symptoms. When in doubt, visit your veterinarian.
To prevent infection:
- Wear disposable gloves
- Wash hands immediately after cleaning the litter box
- Have another adult assume litter box duty while mom is pregnant
By establishing guidelines for safety and respect, you can ensure a lifetime bond of companionship between your children and cats.
By Silvia Foti for WebVet
Reviewed by Susan E. Aiello, DVM, ELS and John A. Bukowski, DVM, MPH, PhD