Preparing Your Cat for Baby’s Arrival
Updated: Nov 10, 2022
Cats and babies can get along great with some easy preparation to help things go smoothly, build positive relationships, and ensure safety.
My son will be 13 years old next month. When he was born, we had 3 cats, all of whom have since passed. Bill (pictured above) and Sarah (last picture below) loved all the baby blankets, baby gym, and other paraphernalia so much that they tolerated being next to my son in order to sit on the blanket too. My son would wave his arms around, sometimes grab a handful of fur, which the cats didn’t particularly like, but they stayed. When they had enough, they would get up and leave. Abby, however, was more nervous around our son, and she kept her distance, staying on vertical spaces where she could watch what was going on, but she was out of his reach.
Top 5 things to consider prior to bringing baby home:
DO NOT give extra attention since that will be confusing when the baby arrives. Some parents lavish attention on their cat prior to the birth thinking this will last for a year, but it’s really just confusing when the attention stops;
Consider a schedule of feeding and play that you can maintain once baby is home and stick to it - cats thrive on routine so this will help decrease stress for your cat when they can anticipate what comes next in their day. Your cat is an important member of the family too, and their physical and emotional needs should be on the schedule such as feeding, playtime, litter box scooping, cuddling, etc.;
Introduce the baby’s scent to your cat before she arrives home, if possible, by bringing home a hat or blanket that smells like your baby - provide praise and treats for your cat remaining calm;
Baby Items shouldn't be off limits - It’s ok to let your cat hang out on the baby items such as the crib - let him get used to them. The novelty will likely wear off before the baby comes home. The more you resist this, the more your cat may show interest and feel frustrated that he cannot check out the new items;
For Noise Sensitive cats, desensitize to Crying - before the baby comes home, you can play crying sounds from the internet, and pair with treats. If your cat is reactive, start at a low volume at first, and have sessions where you gradually increase the volume. As your cat listens to the crying sounds, give her treats to create a positive association with the sound. If your cat is noise sensitive, this is great to do ahead of baby's arrival.
Once baby comes home, supervise interactions between your cat and baby to ensure safety. Typically, cats will watch from a distance but stay away from the baby’s erratically moving arms and legs. My cat Abby lived in my son’s crib until she saw him moving around in there. She moved on to a new favorite spot.
Changes to the Home Environment to consider. You should already have vertical space and hiding spots for your cat, but if you don’t, now is a good time to add those.
Vertical Spaces - ensure there are safe places for your cat to be when the baby arrives so he can be in the same room, but watch from a safe place. This is particularly important when your baby becomes a toddler and is mobile.
Hiding spots in case your cat needs time alone to decompress such as spaces under the bed, in a closet or other cubby type spaces where your cat will not be bothered.
Toddlers and Kids - It’s up to you to teach your child how best to interact with your cat. Some basic considerations are:
Asking for consent to pet - teach your child to hold out her fingers to let the cat sniff them and see if she leans in for petting. Cats tend to enjoy frequent, but low intensity interactions, so a few strokes around the head is great to start.
Respecting a sleeping cat - No one likes to be woken up from a deep sleep. Respect your cat enough to leave him be when he’s sleeping.
Gentle touch - No grabbing, hugging or squeezing - I see a lot of this when meeting with families and it really bothers me that we are not teaching kids not to do this. It’s not ok to grab cats in a way that not only do they not like, but may actually hurt them. This is a great opportunity to teach your child to respect other living beings, ask for consent, and then touch gently if the cat is receptive. It's ok if your cat does not want to be touched. That's their decision. Forcing touch is stressful and can negatively impact relationships and your cat's emotional health.
Does your cat have behavioral issues? You might consider addressing those before the baby arrives. Things like inappropriate elimination or aggressive behavior may be worse with the additional stress of changes in the home. See your veterinarian for a check-up first and then a certified feline behavior consultant, if needed.
Jennifer Van de Kieft is a Certified Advanced Feline Behavior and Training Professional residing in Brooklyn, NYC and providing services worldwide virtually.