If you have a cat and are expecting a baby, you might wonder if allowing your pet and your newborn to hang out together without supervision will be safe. While newborns and kitties can interact safely, it’s usually best for them to do so with an adult close by to intervene if necessary. Babies’ natural tendencies to explore the world with their hands can stress cats out, leading some pets to lash out when feeling threatened.
And a calm, well-meaning cat can accidentally suffocate a napping baby who is too young to move their head. Cats generally don’t do well with routine changes, and new babies often cause feline stress. But there are things you can do to create a safe environment for your new baby and help your cat stay relaxed through the changes in the coming months.
Read on for a few suggestions on how to get the feline-newborn relationship moving in the right direction.
Avoid the Absolute No-Nos
Cats shouldn’t be allowed to sleep with babies too young to move their heads, as it poses a risk of suffocation. While it’s okay for cats to investigate and cuddle up with babies, cats and newborns should only be allowed to interact when an adult is keeping an eye on everyone.
Children shouldn’t be left alone with the cat until they are old enough to understand how to interact properly with animals, as children’s natural tendency to chase and touch can become stressful for some pets.
Prepare Ahead of Time to Minimize Feline Stress
Cats often become stressed out when a new baby arrives. Many cats react badly to environmental changes, such as a new guest in the house. Stressed cats may urinate outside of the litter box 1, groom excessively, and hide. Other behaviors that sometimes point to an anxious kitty include excessive vocalization, repetitive scratching, and a decreased appetite.
Getting your cat used to the sights and smells of your new baby ahead of time can go a long way toward reducing your pet’s stress and keeping them happy once the big day arrives. Here are a few specific things to take care of to prepare your cat for your baby’s arrival.
Move the Litter Box
Move the litter box immediately if it’s currently located in the room where you plan to have the nursery. Cats sometimes head back to where their litter box was located to pee, so consider locking the door of the old site until your pet adjusts to the new location.
Set Up the Nursery
Set the nursery up well ahead of time to give your cat time to explore and get used to the new sights and smells without having to worry about your buddy knocking something down or hurting your baby. About a month before your baby is due, limit your pet’s access to the nursery.
Get used to shutting the door when you aren’t there, and you can cover the surfaces your cat will not be allowed on, like the crib and changing table, with sticky tape or tinfoil to encourage your pet to set up shop elsewhere.
Get Your Cat Used to the Sights, Sounds, and Smells
You can purchase baby products, like lotion and shampoo, ahead of time and use them every once in a while instead of your usual products so your cat begins associating baby smells with something warm and familiar.
You can assemble products like electronic swings ahead of time and consider running them for a few minutes every few days to acclimatize your pet to new noise makers. Also, you can play recordings of crying babies while your cat is around to prepare them for what’s coming; this can go a long way toward keeping your pet calm when your baby starts to cry.
Make Routine Changes Early
Make any changes to your pet’s routine at least a month before your baby comes home to give your cat time to adjust. Cats are particularly sensitive to changes involving food, grooming, and activities they are accustomed to doing with their favorite human.
If you’re usually the one who feeds the cat and don’t expect to be able to do so regularly after the baby arrives, have whoever will be taking responsibility for your pet’s meals begin doing so about a month ahead of your baby’s anticipated arrival. Starting these transitions early gives you time to identify any problems with the new routine and rectify them in time for the big day.
Create a Safe Space for Your Cat
Create a safe space for your cat where they can retreat if they become anxious or stressed. Opt for a location relatively far from the baby’s room, as cats’ spectacularly good hearing can make being around crying babies particularly stressful.
Outfit your cat’s hideaway with a comfortable bed, an enclosed place for them to tuck into, and an elevated spot from where they can feel safe and in control. Spice it all up with a bit of catnip to give your cat an extra bit of relaxation.
Introduce Your Cat to Your Baby Slowly
Cats rely heavily on smell to identify family members. Before leaving the hospital, set aside a blanket your baby has napped in or something they’ve worn for your cat to take a few introductory sniffs of after you’ve reconnected. Spend time with your cat as soon as you come home without the baby. Give your buddy lots of love and ensure they feel secure.
Once your cat feels good, introduce them to the object that smells like the baby. If everything seems to be progressing well, allow your cat to investigate your baby while you look on. After getting your baby settled in the nursery, spend more time with your cat. If you can manage a few minutes of dedicated cuddle or playtime, it will establish a foundation of trust and love between you and your feline companion.
Don’t forget to take a few precautions to ensure your cat and baby remain healthy. Wash your hands after handling your cat, and ensure your baby’s little fingers and hands get cleaned if they’ve touched the cat.
Cats and newborns can interact safely if you plan and take a few precautions. Cats and babies should never be left alone since some kitties find interacting with children stressful, and cats shouldn’t be allowed to nap with babies who aren’t strong enough to move their heads—to prevent suffocation.
Because cats sometimes struggle with environmental changes, it often helps to introduce the baby’s clothes to your pet before they come home to reduce the stress your cat may feel about its new roommate.
Featured Image Credit: Julieta Fotografia, Shutterstock