What Makes a Good Cat a Good KIDS' Cat?
Cats and children can be great friends, so don't hesitate to add a baby or a cat to your already happy family. And certainly don't imagine you need to get rid of the cat because you're expecting. Cats are not a danger to unborn babies, newborn babies, or children---although unsupervised children can be a threat to cats.
There are reports of babies affected by toxoplasmosis during pregnancy, however they are rare. In fact, studies suggest that more people get toxoplasmosis from undercooked meat and garden dirt than from their cats. If you take normal precautions of wearing rubber gloves when cleaning cat litter or gardening, and if you keep the cat off your cooking surfaces, the chance of you being affected by toxoplasmosis are remote. In fact, if you've had a cat for years, you've probably been exposed to toxoplasmosis and are already immune to it.
Another commonly heard warning is that cats "suck the breath out of babies." That's an old myth dating from the 1600s, and one that doesn't even make any sense. Another fear is that cats smother babies in their sleep. Cats do like to sleep with babies because they are warm and cuddly, and they may at times drape themselves over the baby's face just as they might do to you in your sleep. Some deaths that have been attributed to this have later been discovered to be caused by sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). If you wish to be careful, keep the cat out of a newborn's room when you're not there (a good idea with any pet) or place netting over the crib so the cat can't jump in. As the baby grows strong enough to move his head from beneath a cat, you can let them sleep together.
When introducing a cat to a baby, it’s tempting to be overly protective. But trying to hide your baby from your cat will only pique his curiosity and perhaps lead to jealousy if the cat is banished from the room whenever the baby is present. Lavish attention on your cat when the baby is around. You can hold your cat one on one side as you hold your baby on the other side of your lap as the baby nurses.
As the baby begins to reach and crawl, he may start to grab and squeeze the cat, but the cat can generally squirm away. If the cat already knows the baby, chances are he won't feel particularly threatened and won't feel the need to act aggressively to escape.
When the child reaches toddler stage, he is now strong enough to harm the cat. He may grab the cat and not let go, or pick it up against its will. The cat may in turn struggle to get free, inadvertently scratching the toddler. Toddlers must be taught as a first rule that they are never to hold a cat if the cat wants to go. If they continue to do so, the cat will always avoid them but if they let him go when he wants, he'll come back to play again. Toddlers can also inadvertently hit cats with thrown toys or run over them with rolling toys. You need to teach toddlers that they can hurt the cat, and supervise them because at this age the lessons don't last long. Kittens are not as good a choice for toddlers as adult cats are simply because they can be hurt so much more easily.
The cat should have several places where he can go to be out of reach of a toddler, and the toddler should be told never to try to get to the cat in these places.
Supervision should continue up to at least when the child is 6 years old. Before that age the child can still try to hold the cat and drop him, trip over the cat when running, fall on the cat, or try to stuff the cat into dangerous places or do dangerous things with him. Children do not understand the repercussions of their actions, and what may seem like innovative play to them may be deadly to a cat or kitten.
Show your child how to hold a cat safely by supporting the chest with one hand and the back legs with the other. If they cannot support the cat this way, they are not old enough to pick the cat up.
Some parents ask about declawing their cat for the protection of their children. It's true that children that hold a cat against its will, or children who hand wrestle with their cat in fun, can be scratched, but declawing is not the answer. Many cat owners believe that declawed cats seem less secure and more likely to bite, which is much more serious than scratching. It's better to teach your child not to do things that encourage the cat to scratch. Encourage the child to instead play games with cat toys that encourage pouncing on toys, not hands.
Although children often enjoy feeding and grooming the family cat, and sometimes even cleaning the litter box, a parent should always oversee these activities to make sure the cat is not the one to suffer from a child's lapsed memory or lack of skills. A cat should not be used as an object to teach a child a lesson about responsibility. Some children also enjoy accompanying the cat on veterinary visits. While it is educational for a child to accompany a cat to the veterinarian, the child must be under control around the other patients. Especially if your cat is there for a serious problem, make sure your child isn't distracting to you or the veterinary staff when you are trying to make a serious decision.
Cats and children can grow up together. Start them off well, and they can form a friendship that can span the cat's life and the child's childhood.