There are a lot of myths that exist about having cats in a household with an expectant mother, newborn babies, and even toddlers, which sadly, through ignorance, often results in a wonderful cat losing her home. All can live side by side and enjoy each other quite safely. It’s simply a matter of the new parents putting some rules in to play and understanding what is going on in the feline mind.
There is absolutely no reason to re-home a cat just because there is a baby in the house or one on the way. Cats are very perceptive creatures. And, if you add their innate curiosity, very little escapes them! Most cats simply “know” when you are having a baby and it often brings out their nurturing instincts. That’s why they love to nuzzle close to an expectant mother’s tummy. And when the baby arrives, their the curiosity extends to wanting to investigate the new comer. Often this is perceived as interfering but nothing could be further from the truth.
Prepping for Baby's Arrival
It’s a good idea to allow the cat into the nursery when you are in the process of setting it up. This way you can override innate feline curiosity and your cat's determination gain access to the room on her own. This way, when Baby arrives, there will be nothing new for your cat to to investigate—she will already be familiar with the territory.
At the same time, set up the No-Go Zones such as the crib and the changing table from Day One. There are products that can help train your cat to avoid certain areas; try a can of compressed hair that emit a hissing sound which will definitely teach the cat to stay away from prohibited areas. Cats are smart, eventually you will only have to show the can and your pet will head off in another direction.
While you are expecting, if friends with babies visit, keep the cat around and let her get used to the sounds of crying and gurgling. In fact, take a tape recorder on a visit to the gynecologist’s office—there’s bound to be a crying baby you can record (alternately find these audio recordings online). Play these sounds at home, especially when you are working in the nursery and in the room in which you intend to feed and entertain the baby.
Because scents are very important to animals, it’s a good idea for the mother-to-be to start wearing baby powder, lotion and any other baby-related products. Again by the time the baby does come along, the feline curiosity will have worn off.
While you’re pregnant it's a really good idea to enlist your spouse or any other teenager or adult in the household to take over certain cat responsibilities such as the feeding schedule to prepare them for the time you are away in the hospital. Also, make sure that feeding time and any other routines don’t change.
The subject of Toxoplasmosis, the parasitic disease that can be past from cats to humans via fecal contamination always comes up with reference to pregnant mothers and cats. In all honesty, who actually handles feces in a litter box? These days, there are excellent long-handled scoops, automated litter boxes, and gloves if you really feel the need for extra protection. However, just to be safe, pregnant women should not handle the litter box at all; the best thing to do is to get someone else in the house on litter box duty!
While you are out shopping for baby, shop for kitty too. Buy new cat toys, even a new kitty condo. But keep these items hidden and only bring them out when the baby actually arrives home to create a diversion. It’s the same thing you would do if there were older children in the house who may be apprehensive about a new baby’s arrival.
“However, don’t lavish an overabundance of attention on your cat before the baby arrives,” advises feline behaviorist Pam Johnson Bennett, author of Think Like A Cat: How to Raise a Well-adjusted Cat Not a Sour Puss. “Chances are you won’t be able to maintain that schedule when the baby is home and this could cause some feline anxiety.”
Bringing Baby Home
When the baby actually arrives, it's time to take out the new kitty toys. Also if an increase of visitors into your home makes your cat anxious, spray a feline pheromone spray that will relive anxiety to soothe feline nerves.
The best way to ensure your baby is always safe around the feline members of the household is to introduce the baby to the incumbent felines under controlled circumstances. If you include the cat by stroking and petting when it while you are holding a baby, the cat will automatically associate the baby with behaviours that feel good.
Now, let's address the myth that cats like to lay on a baby’s face and smother him. The reason a cat may sniff a baby is that they usually smell of milk or baby food and that again piques feline curiosity. If you are particularly concerned, in this day and age of baby monitors, when the baby is sleeping simply close the door to a nursery to keep the cat out and keep an eye on your child with the monitor.
If anyone in the household is tense and worried, the cat is likely to pick up on these feelings. So remain calm and let your pet and your child get to know each other, particularly during feeding and changing routines. This is a time to nurture bonds that will become more evident when the baby reaches the toddler stage. If the cat is investigating, don't move suddenly and give her a fright because the cat’s first reaction will be to leap away and, in so doing, could dig in claws or accidentally scratch your little one.
As the baby becomes more mobile with age, make sure she doesn’t reach out and grab your cat's tail. Cats have long memories and instead of nurturing future bonds, the relationship may regress.
And when a child enters the toddler phase, it’s time introduce the Don’t Do This, Do That rules using the show and tell principle: Say ‘Don’t pull the cat by the tail, but stoke her like this,’ and immediately offer praise letting your toddler know that the cat is pleased and shows pleasure by purring.
Also teach small children the Five Simple Rules for Harmony:
• A cat is not a toy.
• How to read cat body language that indicates, annoyance, anger or fear.
• How to recognise that the cat has had enough and wants to be left alone.
• Never hold a cat against her will or corner her.
• Never bother a cat when she’s sleeping, eating or using the litter box.
It’s obvious that when there is a baby in the household, that there often isn’t a lot of play for feline play. But it’s important to still schedule playtime to keep your cat happy. Remember to ensure that your cat has her own space whether its a bed or a nice tall cat tree so that she has somewhere she can go and chill out when the noise and the crying becomes all too much!
Apart from the fact that having pets in a household teaches children to love and respect animals, there’s the fun factor. And now, medical researchers are saying that children brought up around animals have higher IQs, and, that those brought up around cats stand a less likely charge of suffering from allergies later in life because their immune systems are better attuned.
Sounds like a win-win situation. And it certainly can be, so follow these rules and live together in purrr-fect harmony!