One of my son’s first words was “kitty.” At the time, my parents had a cat named, fittingly, Kitty. As soon as he could crawl, my son would chase after the cat to the best of his ability. Luckily for him, Kitty had reached her senior years already and didn’t seem to mind his uncoordinated toddler hands. Unluckily for me, this friendship (and the dangerously laidback attitude of Kitty) led to me following the two of them around a lot.
Kitty may not have cared when my son picked her up upside down, but I’m sure that wasn’t the best option for her 15-year-old joints.
When my son was 1, he discovered a black cat hiding in the storm drain at the local park. The cat shared Kitty’s hazardously laidback temperament and spent the rest of the trip following my toddling son around—who made every attempt to scoop the cat into his lap. Next thing I know, I’m the proud pet parent of a new feline, who we named Binx. So in my experience, cats and babies can absolutely be friends!
Can Cats and Babies Be Friends?
If my son and his kitties are any proof, cats and babies can absolutely be friends. Of course, there are always some complexities to these relationships. Babies don’t understand cats, and cats don’t always understand babies. For this reason, supervising babies and cats is vital—as it is with any animal. You don’t want the cat hurting the baby, but you also don’t want the baby hurting the cat.
Keeping a cat may be a bit more complicated if you have a baby, but it isn’t impossible. Introducing your baby and cat together is an important milestone to nurture their relationship. However, there are several other factors to keep an eye on, too.
Introducing Cats and Babies
Introducing cats and babies isn’t terribly difficult. However, it’s an important first step to limit possible negative reactions. The last thing you want is for the first impression to be a bad one.
Whether you bring the cat home or the baby, you should set aside a quiet time for introductions. Your routine may be thrown for a loop and you may have a lot of visitors coming and going. Therefore, you should try to set aside stress-free time, especially from your feline’s point of view. You don’t want the cat associating the baby with stress.
Try to only have you, the baby, and the cat in the room for the introduction. Having an extra helper can be useful, but you don’t want to crowd the feline.
Next, give your cat a baby-related item to explore. Your cat may not come up to the baby during this introductory meeting. However, if you have a blanket or piece of baby clothing, the feline can sniff the blanket and explore it without coming up to the baby. This process allows the cat to get used to the baby slowly. Don’t force the process.
Once you’ve given the cat the opportunity to explore the baby, you can go about your normal routine with one caveat—don’t leave the baby and cat unsupervised. The cat may decide to interact with the baby at any time. However, cats can inadvertently suffocate the baby by laying too close to their face. Of course, smaller babies are more at risk, especially if they can’t move their head.
Always teach your cat to stay off of the baby’s sleeping area—no matter which one is in the house first. Older cats need to be trained before the baby is born. Newer cats can be trained as soon as you get them. Simply discourage them from getting into the crib or other sleeping surface, removing the cat if it does crawl into the crib. Always restrict the cat’s access to the baby’s room, especially when the baby is in it.
However, this training can be a helpful backup (and it prevents cat hair from building up in your baby’s crib, too).
On top of the introduction, there are some other factors you need to consider when you have a baby and a cat in the same household. These factors aren’t hard to control, but they can pose a risk to the cat or baby if you don’t consider them.
You should never leave your cat in the room alone with the baby. As we’ve stated, the cat can accidentally lay on the baby’s face or even next to their face, potentially causing breathing issues. Whenever your baby is unattended (like when sleeping), close the door to prevent access for the cat and ensure the cat isn’t hiding under the crib or dresser.
Luckily, your baby won’t be left unattended all that much. Therefore, the main risks come when the baby is asleep. Even when supervised, be sure to watch the baby and cat closely. These friends may not always understand each other, which can lead to accidents.
Be sure to keep your cat clean and flea-free, especially with a baby in the house. Always ensure your cat is vaccinated and maintains regular screenings. While illnesses can’t usually jump from cat to baby, it isn’t impossible. Keep the litter box clean and away from the baby, too.
Always throw away your baby’s dirty diapers as soon as possible. While not all cats will mess with dirty diapers, some will shred them. This mess is the last thing you want to clean up.
Toddlers and Cats
In many ways, toddlers and cats have a more complicated relationship than babies and cats. Toddlers often act a bit wild, making all sorts of different noises and erratic movements. Cats often see these as prey-like, which can lead to scratches. Training your cat to only play with toys can help prevent these misunderstandings—but not always.
Toddlers also like to mimic adults when interacting with cats. However, this isn’t always practical due to their small size. Toddlers may try to pick up the cat, as they’ve probably seen adults pick up cats. Their small size and uncoordinated hands put the cat and them at risk for injury. Therefore, you should teach your toddler how to interact with cats carefully and without picking them up.
Be sure to allow the cat to escape and hide if they want. Giving the cat somewhere to escape prevents them from feeling cornered. Even a tall cat house or raised perch can help with this without completely sectioning off a “baby-free” part of the house.
If you can, put the cat’s food and other needs behind a gate or on a raised surface. If your toddler tries to play with your cat every time they go into the litterbox, your cat may just use the bathroom somewhere else. Always leave multiple exit points so that your cat can escape if your toddler takes a sudden interest.
For younger cats, try to wear them out to prevent them from trying to “play” with your toddler. Accidents are bound to happen. However, multiple scratches and injuries can quickly lead to the toddler avoiding the cat or even not liking cats at all.
Cats and babies can absolutely be friends if my son and Binx are any example. However, this relationship can be a bit complex and often involves a lot of intervention on our part. Therefore, it’s important to watch your cat and baby (or toddler) interact and not allow them around each other unsupervised. Training the cat to interact correctly with the child and vice versa is vital to helping their relationship flourish.
Above all, you have to be patient. Your cat and baby may not become best friends overnight. However, if proper care is taken at the beginning, their relationship can flourish as they grow older.
Featured Image Credit: Sharomka, Shutterstock