If you have a cat and are expecting a baby then you may have already been told by many of your well-meaning friends that you should ‘get rid of the cat’.
They have probably told stories about cats sitting on babies and suffocating them as well as telling you how dangerous their sharp claws can be for small children.
While it is true that caution should be exercised with young children and cats, having a cat and a baby in the same house shouldn’t be a big problem.
To paraphrase George Bush; I believe that babies and cats can co-exist peacefully!
In order to ensure that your cat is ready to meet your baby and that they get on well there are a few things you should do to help minimise risk.
Preparing Your Cat To Meet Your Baby
As soon as you find out that you are going to have a baby then you should begin preparing your cat for the arrival of your new offspring. Don’t worry this doesn’t require an intensive training course, just a few simple steps:
Keep Your Cat Indoors
Problems can occur during pregnancy if a cat picks up dangerous parasites and exposes a pregnant mother to them.
The parasitic infection which is best known and most concerning is toxoplasmosis.
The parasites which cause toxoplasmosis are often caught from eating live prey such as birds and rodents so unfortunately for your cat you should ensure that they remain inside for the duration of your pregnancy to avoid coming into contact with these parasites.
Be Consistent With Your Cat’s Routine
Big changes will unsettle your cat and there are few changes bigger than bringing a baby into your home.
It is important that you try to keep your cat’s routine consistent especially when the baby arrives, get in the habit of feeding them at the same time and emptying their litter tray at the same time.
It may be a good idea to get an automatic feeder to help you keep your cat’s feeding on schedule.
You should allow your cat to get used to the new baby furniture, baby clothes and baby toys that are probably piling up in your house.
If your cat is familiar with all of these it will be less of an adjustment for them to get used to the small person who will be using them.
Crying can be unsettling for cats who are not familiar with it, so play them some videos of baby noises (like the one below) to help them to adjust before the baby comes.
Introducing Your Baby To Your Cat
When the times comes to bring your baby home and introduce them to your cat try and find a room which your cat is less familiar with. Don’t use a room where your cat spends a lot of time and may feel territorial about.
Allow your cat to come and smell your baby as you hold them, whatever you do don’t force your cat to smell or take an interest in your baby as this will cause your cat to have associations negative experiences with your baby.
When your cat does show interest encourage calm behaviour by stroking them and giving them a small treat.
Using Scent to Help Your Cat Get Used To Your Baby
It is often said that cats strongest sense is their sense of smell, they rely heavily on it for all sorts of things. There are a few simple things you can do with scent to help your cat and baby get along well:
- Take a cloth and stroke your cats cheek with it to pick up their scent, wipe this cloth over your babies clothes and baby furniture to help your cat accept this change more quickly.
- You can also do the same with your baby when your baby first arrives, don’t wipe the cloth on their skin just their clothes as your babies immune system is very immature when they are newborn.
- Consider installing a pheromone diffuser to help calm your cat down during this period of change.
- Make sure you don’t leave your babies smelly nappies laying around as it is not uncommon for your cat to take the smell as a sign that they should go to the toilet in the same place!
Health Risks With Cats & Babies
Have a cat in the same house as your baby is not something which you should worry about. Cats are great companions for babies and children and pose little risk to them. However, there are a few health risks which you should be aware of mentioned below:
As soon as you find out you are pregnant you should prevent your cat from going outdoors. This is because a cat which catches and eats something like a bird or mouse could be carrying a parasitic infection known as toxoplasmosis.
Most cats develop an immunity to toxoplasmosis over time however if your cat is not immune to it they will suffer from diarrhoea, low appetite and vomiting. Toxoplasmosis in cats can be treated with a course of antibiotics.
If you are a pregnant human then Toxoplasmosis can have very serious repercussions for your baby. Including causing miscarriages, stillbirth and defects such as blindness, deafness, hydrocephalus or epilepsy.
Toxoplasmosis is commonly spread through parasites in faeces, so in order to avoid coming into contact with this parasite make sure that you do not clean out the cat litter when you are pregnant (you now have the perfect excuse!).
You should ensure that whoever does do the poop scooping, does so at least twice a day as leaving faeces for a whole day will allow the cysts within the faeces to become infectious.
You should also:
- Avoid feeding your cat raw meat.
- Wash all vegetables and fruit thoroughly so that no soil traces remain on them.
- Use gloves when gardening (as cats may have used your garden as a toilet).
- Avoid getting a new cat (especially a stray) while pregnant as they may already be parasite carriers.
- Find out more at www.nhs.uk/conditions/toxoplasmosis/
Cat Sitting On Your Baby
There is a myth that cats will happily sit on a newborn baby because they love a nice warm spot to relax in. This is simply not true and is based purely on hearsay rather than on evidence or facts.
Cats do not like unpredictable and unfamiliar things, a baby is both of these!
You will generally find that once your cat realises how much noise your newborn baby is capable of making they will mostly keep their distance, only coming close for a rare sniff.
There are also no documented cases of a cat having ever suffocated a baby in this way.
However caution is always advised.
One thing we noticed when our son was a newborn was that while our cat would stay well out of his way when he was sleeping she would quickly jump into his cot when we took him out of it because it was so warm and comfortable.
The problem with this was that she would leave a lot of cat hair inside his cot which was frustratingly difficult to clean out!
To avoid this many people resort to getting a net to cover the cot as a deterrent, however this is not advised as there is a danger that if the net falls off it could be a suffocation risk. Instead simply close the door to your babys bedroom so that the cat doesn’t get in the bed. It’s a bit of a pain but is safer than risking using a net.
The Myth of Cats Sucking Your Babies Air
Cats have been blamed for many infant deaths over the years as people believe that they sit on your babies chest and suck the air out of their lungs. This ludicrous myth appears to have been part of the history of cats for a long time, going back as far as the dark ages when people lived in fear of witches and cats were closely associated with them. Infant mortality was high at this time so cats and witches were blamed for many deaths.
In more recent times the theory behind the myth has developed so that people now say that a cat is likely to be attracted to the smell of fresh milk coming from your babies mouth and may be drawn to sit on their chest and potentially suffocate them. There are no documented cases of this ever occurring, there was one case back in 2000 where a parent believed that this was what had happened however it was later found that it the babies death was caused by SID.
Cat Scratching Your Baby
It is extremely rare for cats to maliciously attack a baby but cats are curious creatures so if they see foot or hand dangling from a pram they may take a playful swipe at it which may result in tears and some nasty scratches.
In order to minimise the risk of your baby getting scratched by your cat make sure that your cat and baby are never left alone.
You may trust your cat completely however if your baby accidentally kicks your cat in the stomach or grabs their tail your cat is likely to be surprised and may respond aggressively.
Cat Scratch Fever
If your baby or child does get scratched by your cat you should watch out for warning signs of cat scratch fever.
Cat scratch fever is caused by bacteria known as Bartonella (you can read more about cat scratch fever at heathline.com) which is commonly found on fleas and can easily transfer onto your cats.
Cat scratch fever can be identified by:
- A swollen or excessively red skin around the scratch mark.
- Swollen lymph nodes.
- A mild fever (above 37°C)
- Headaches and body aches (similar to flu)
In more severe cases some people may experience back pain, stomach pain and big rashes.
Cat scratch fever can be usually be successfully treated with an antibiotic cream however if the wound does not start to heal after a few days and appears to be getting infected they you should consult a doctor immediately.
To minimise the risk of your baby getting cat scratch disease you should:
- Ensure that your baby and cat are never left alone.
- Closely supervise all contact between your baby and cat.
- Regularly use treat your cat for fleas to reduce the risk of them carrying Bartonella bacteria.
- Hoover and clean carpets frequently to get rid of any lice and fleas which may be carrying Bartonella bacteria.
Why Cats Are Good For Babies
There are plenty of reasons why growing up with a cat is brilliant for your baby. Here are a few reasons why your baby should have a cat:
- The first year of your babies life has a big impact on the allergies that your baby may develop later in life. Research has shown that babies who are introduced to cats in the first year of their life have a significantly lower likelihood of developing pet allergies in later life.
- The same study also found that exposure to cats reduced the likelihood of developing asthma later in life too.
- It is also worth mentioning that growing up with a cat is great for your child’s mental and emotional health. Encouraging your child to feed the cat can be a great way of helping to encourage your children to take on more responsibility as they grow.
With a bit of preparation and pre-planning there is no reason why your cat and your baby can’t get along great, no need to give your cat away to someone else or keep your cat confined to one room, just exercise common sense and a bit of caution and we are sure all will be well between your cat and your new baby!