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5 Tips for Teaching Your Kids How to Properly Handle a Cat

Using gentle handling and respect, children can learn to be the best of friends with cats.

Angie Bailey  |  Aug 8th 2013


Like humans, each cat has a unique personality. Some crave lots of affection and love to be held and cuddled, while others are more independent and don’t enjoy much handling. Kids love pets and, of course, are usually eager to shower them with love and cuddles. It’s essential that we educate children of all ages on proper cat-handling techniques. This will help the bonding process, as well as ensure safety for both the cat and child.

My kids grew up with cats so they had to learn how to properly interact with them at an early age. There were some ups and downs during this process, but eventually they learned that gentle behavior meant the cats wanted to spend more time with them.

Here are six tips to help teach children proper cat-handling.

1. Set the mood

Cats are excellent mood readers and pick up a lot about us by our voices, actions and general vibes. When we are stressed, they sense it. If a child wishes to connect with a cat, it’s important that she approach him in a relaxed manner, using a calm voice tone. Younger kids can be energetic and loud, which scares cats. On that same note, teach children they should never chase kitty. This “game” only teaches the cat to fear the child. My daughter was very calm as a young child and my son was a little more rambunctious, but in time, the cats wound up feeling comfortable with both of them.

2. Take time to become acquainted

Cats feel more comfortable when we greet them on their level. Encourage the child to lie on the floor and slowly offer the cat her hand so he can smell her. Kitty may positively respond by rubbing his face on her hand or pressing his head against her hand, encouraging her to pet him. This is a good sign! If he acts apprehensively, be patient. Forcing affection on a act who doesn’t want it will only push the bonding process in the wrong direction.

3. Gently pet kitty’s back, shoulder to tail

If the cat is responsive to the child’s touch, it’s usually safe to pet him gently from the shoulder to the tail. This is not the time to try and rub the cat’s belly. Some cats enjoy tummy rubs, but many do not, and it’s definitely not a great way to make initial contact with a cat. Over time, if you discover the cat enjoys pets to the belly, go for it. One of our cats loves it, while the other two will bunny kick your face off if your hand lands anywhere near the gut. Again, honor the cat’s individual personality and preferences.

4. Use caution with picking up kitty

If the cat has shows signs of warming up to the child — and you know kitty likes to be held — you may choose to take cat-handling to the next level. Also remember that, along with respecting the cat’s personality, make choices based on the child’s personality, age and demeanor. You know what you can probably expect from your child, and if you believe the cat may not be safe in your child’s arms, don’t place him there.

Older children or ones who’ve demonstrated they can responsibly hold a cat may next learn how to properly pick up kitty. Cats like to feel stable and secure, so it’s imperative to pick them up correctly. Make sure kitty is relaxed — picking up an agitated cat could mean scratches and tears. Always use both hands: Press one hand flat against kitty’s chest and use the other to support the hindquarters. Hold the cat securely — but not too tightly — against your chest so he feels safe and comfortable.

Do not cradle a cat like a human baby. A few cats enjoy being held that way (one of mine loves it), but most do not. The cat feels unstable and his paws and face are perfectly positioned for scratches and bites. Don’t try this position until the child and cat feel completely comfortable together and you are absolutely certain kitty enjoys this position.

5. Sit or stand

Especially at first, children should sit or stand while holding a cat. Motion may spook a cat who is just becoming accustomed to this up close and personal relationship with a small human. Younger children also may have the tendency to take off running, which will definitely make kitty feel scared and unsafe.

Do you have tips for teaching kids proper cat-handling? Tell us about them in the comments!

About the Author: Angie Bailey is a goofy girl with freckles and giant smile who wants everyone to be her friend. Loves pre-adolescent boy humor, puns, making up parody songs, and thinking about cats doing people things. Writes Catladyland, a cat humor blog, and authored whiskerslist: the kitty classifieds, a silly book about cats wheeling and dealing online. Partner in a production company and writes and acts in comedy web series that may or may not offend people. Mother to two humans and three cats, all of which want her to make them food.

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