If you are bringing a new bundle of joy home from the hospital soon, you might wonder how your feline family members will get along with a newborn. Will they hurt the baby? Worse yet, can the mere presence of a cat in the home make your baby sick?
Cats pose multiple potential health risks when you have young children in the home. Keep reading to learn more about the dangers cats pose to babies and what you can do to minimize your child’s risk.
The 11 Dangers Cats Pose to Babies
There are several dangers cats can inflict on babies, so you want to think about whether having your cat around your baby frequently is a good idea.
Cats can carry many infectious diseases that could be harmful to your baby. These diseases can be passed on to humans through scratching or feces. For example, your baby could develop an infection if you clean the cat’s litter box and then touch your baby or feeding equipment without first washing your hands.
Toxoplasmosis is a real concern for families—especially pregnant women and young children. This infection can cause flu-like symptoms like aches, swollen glands, and fever. To reduce the risk of developing this infection, keep your kitty inside and away from stray cats, use gloves when changing its litter box, and don’t feed your pet raw meat.
Toxocariasis is a human illness caused by the Toxocara cati roundworm. Eggs from the roundworm will pass into your cat’s feces and can live for a long time. People, or babies, can swallow these eggs if they touch a contaminated surface. This happens more often in playground-age children, but it’s not impossible for babies to develop toxocariasis.
When the eggs are swallowed, they pass into the intestines and hatch into larvae. The larvae will enter the intestinal wall and bloodstream, allowing them to travel to other areas of the body. They can live for months or even years in humans.
4. Cat Scratch Disease
Cat scratch disease is a bacterial infection that spreads when infected cats lick a human’s open wound or bite or scratch them hard enough to break the skin. The infection can cause fever, headache, exhaustion, and swollen lymph nodes. CSD is caused by a bacterium known as Bartonella henselae, and approximately 40% of cats carry it at some point during their lives. However, most cats infected with the bacterium do not show symptoms.
5. Parasitic Infections
Fleas are one of the most common external parasites of cats. Their bites can cause itching and inflammation in both humans and cats.
Scabies, an infection from the mange mite, is sometimes found on a cat’s skin. They can be passed from your kitty to you or your baby, where they will burrow into the skin, causing itchiness and raised lesions.
6. Fungal Infections
Ringworm is a common skin infection easily recognizable by the red ring-like rash it produces. It’s caused by direct contact with the group of fungi known as dermatophytes. Cats with ringworm will likely need to be treated with topical and oral therapy.
Unfortunately, ringworm can easily be transmitted to humans, but children are especially vulnerable. Therefore, it is important to wear gloves when handling your infected cat and thoroughly wash your hands after doing any cat-related care.
7. Viral Infections
Rabies is the most well-known viral infection spread through the bite of an infected animal. Though most viruses only infect the natural host species, rabies is an exception.
Cats are especially susceptible to this central nervous system-attacking disease. This condition is almost always fatal. Luckily, rabies is very rare, the CDC reports. There are typically only one to three cases reported every year. There were only 25 human cases in the U.S. between 2009 and 2018.
It’s important to keep your kitty up-to-date on its rabies vaccine, even if it’s an indoor cat. This is because cats can sometimes escape outdoors, and rabies-carrying creatures like bats or raccoons may occasionally enter homes.
You mustn’t ever give your kitty access to the room with your sleeping baby inside. You never know when your well-meaning kitty might feel it necessary to snuggle up with this warm human. This can interfere with your baby’s breathing and even suffocate them.
Don’t let your cat sleep on anything that belongs to your baby, including the crib, swing, or bassinet. The sooner you can set these boundaries, the better.
Up to 20% of adults are allergic to cats, and up to 40% of kids with asthma may develop allergy symptoms when exposed to cats.
Unfortunately, all cats produce allergens. When they groom themselves, proteins in their saliva are deposited in their fur, which can then easily spread wherever your kitty wanders.
10. Bites & Scratches
Cat bites and scratches can cause cat scratch fever if your kitty has the Bartonella henselae bacterium. But even if your kitty doesn’t have the infection, bites and scratches can still be harmful to your baby as they hurt. In fact, between 50-80% of cat bites on humans are serious enough to seek medical attention.
If your pet scratches or bites your baby, wash the wound under warm, running water even if the skin didn’t break during the attack. Cats have a lot of bacteria in their mouths that you don’t want to be transferred to your baby. For example, Pasteurella multocida is found in the mouths of up to 90% of cats. Bites from cats infected with this organism can develop swelling, redness, and pain within the first 24 to 48 hours. They often need to be treated with antibiotics to prevent more serious complications.
11. Salmonella Poisoning
Salmonella poisoning, or salmonellosis, causes symptoms like fever, diarrhea, and stomach pain. This is most often contracted from eating food contaminated with the Salmonella bacteria, but it’s possible to get the disease from infected cats.
How to Keep The Baby Safe Around Your Cats
You don’t need to rehome your cat just because you’re bringing home a newborn. Let’s look at what you can do to ensure the transition home is harmonious and safe.
Never leave your newborn in a room alone with your cats unsupervised. As much as you think you know your cat’s personality inside and out, it can still be unpredictable. It may have never lashed out at you, but you also likely don’t scream and cry all day and night or smell like pee or poop throughout the day.
Provide a Safe Place for Kitty
You should also give your kitty a safe, baby-free place to retreat when needed. If you have kids already, you know how overstimulating a newborn can be (if you’re a first-time parent, you’ll soon find out). You are capable of understanding that babies crying is just a normal part of parenthood, but your cat has no way of knowing that. Having its own sanctuary to retreat to when it’s overstimulated will give it a place to cool down when things get loud.
Prepare Kitty in Advance
A newborn throws a wrench into your kitty’s predictable life. Your pet won’t be used to the new smells and sounds that accompany a baby, so the more preparation you can do before the baby is born, the better.
Play recorded sounds of babies crying so your cat won’t be as startled when it hears this sound every day. Turn on your baby’s electronic devices (e.g., infant swings) for several minutes daily.
Bring out some of your baby’s clothing to allow your pet to sniff them. Even once your baby comes home, you can leave out an article of its clothing for your kitty to get more accustomed to its scent.
If your fur baby is your cat, consider handing over some of its daily care tasks to your partner. This will hopefully help prevent feelings of jealousy your kitty may develop once your baby is home, as it won’t think you’re rejecting it if your partner takes care of your typical cat-related tasks.
Spend Time With the Cat
Your attention will be solely focused on the tiny human you brought home from the hospital for the first several months of its life. You need to set aside some time every day to spend with your kitty without the baby in tow. Your pet will appreciate having your undivided attention, which may make it less likely to feel abandoned or lash out aggressively.
Cats can pose health risks to newborn babies and children, but with proper hygiene and care, the chances are minimal. Make sure you wash your hands after petting your cat and changing its litter box. Don’t let your cat come too close to your baby when you’re not actively supervising. Stay up to date on your kitty’s vaccines. If you notice it exhibiting any strange behaviors, take it to the vet sooner than later to rule out any potentially contagious conditions.
Featured Image Credit: aprilante, Shutterstock
- 1 The 11 Dangers Cats Pose to Babies
- 2 How to Keep The Baby Safe Around Your Cats
- 3 Final Thoughts