To mark International Cat Day – celebrated every year on 8th August – we’ve been looking into the kind of questions and concerns that come up when you’re a parent to both human and furry babies!
In most families, the cat is king – or queen. Humans, or other animals of a different furry variety, may think they run things. But it’s the cat or cats who really rule the roost. So, if you’re pregnant, or have recently had a baby, how do you make sure you keep all the members of your family happy and safe when your best furry, purry friend meets your tiny bundle of joy?
Are there any risks of having a cat when you’re pregnant?
Cat feces is known to be potentially harmful to unborn babies. The cat poop contains microscopic parasites that can cause toxoplasmosis. It’s usually a mild, often symptom-free illness if contracted by healthy adults. But if you’ve not had it before and you pick it up in early pregnancy it could cause serious health problems for your baby or miscarriage. It is rare, but it does happen, so it makes sense to take precautions.
Cats aren’t the only source of toxoplasmosis. The parasites are also found in raw, cured or undercooked meat, unpasteurized milk and cheese, and unwashed fruit and veg. So, as well being careful with all of those, here’s what you can do to reduce the risks from your cat if you’re pregnant:
- If possible, get someone else to clean out kitty’s litter tray while you’re pregnant.
- If you have to deal with the litter yourself, use gloves and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards with hot, soapy water.
- Use gloves while gardening too, as cats often like to use soil as a litter tray.
- Empty the litter tray and clean it out with hot, soapy water every day. The toxoplasmosis parasite in cat poop becomes infectious after 24 hours, so you don’t want it hanging around.
Is it safe for a cat to be around a baby?
Millions of cat owners who have successfully had kids too would say, “YES, it’s perfectly safe to have a baby and a cat in the same family.” Cats are the most popular pets on the planet. So, chances are, even if you don’t have cats yourself, someone in your extended family does. Cats and babies are living happily side-by-side all over the world. But, as with most things to do with getting ready to have a baby, common sense and a little preparation goes a long way.
Cats are creatures of habit. They’ll have put a lot of work into getting their humans into their desired routine. So, if a strange new creature shows up, it makes sense that they may see it as a threat to their comfortable way of life. Especially if they’ve only ever been around adults before. The good news is, there are plenty of things you can do to help prepare your puss for the big change that’s coming.
What preparations do I need to make before baby arrives?
You know your cat best. How do they react to change? Cats with different temperaments will respond to a new baby in different ways. If your cat basically treats your house like a hotel, so as long as the service they get from you remains unchanged, they may pretty much ignore the new arrival. If your kitty is more possessive of its humans, you may need to be more cautious and take extra steps so they are reassured and don’t act out of fear or defensiveness.
- Start early and makes changes to your cat’s routine gradually. For example, if their litter tray or bed is going to be moved, do it a little at a time. The ASPCA recommends making any switches to your cat’s care routines at least two months before baby is due.
- Let your cat sniff and investigate any new items you bring into the house for the baby – like the crib, stroller, changing table, baby bath. Then teach them these areas are off limits. The Spruce pets advice site suggests making these surfaces actively unwelcoming to your cats by covering them with a plastic carpet protector, nub side up.
- Try to wean your kitty off getting your undivided attention by spending less time petting them as your due date arrives. If your partner will be mainly responsible for feeding and caring for your cat after the baby arrives, make the switch one or two months before so it’s not a huge, unwelcome change associated with the baby.
- If your cat is used to playing games involving your hands, you could encourage them to play with toys instead. No matter how gentle your cat is with you, you don’t want them targeting your little one’s hands and fingers when they arrive.
- UK charity Blue Cross for Pets suggests using sounds and smells in advance to help your cat get used to the new baby’s arrival. Starting quietly and for a short time, play the sound of a baby crying, gurgling and screaming so they’ll know what to expect. You could also start using baby shampoo or putting baby lotion on your skin, so they associate the new smells with a smell that’s already safe to them.
- Make sure your cat will have a quiet, safe space to retreat to should they need to. Here’s what the Blue Cross for Pets charity suggests, “Cats prefer high, dark, secluded places that have a good view of the household activities. A tall scratching post with extra tiers or a high shelf is ideal for this, as your cat will be able to get used to what’s going on at a safe distance. Encourage your cat to use these areas by placing a few tasty treats and bedding on them.”
What’s the best way to introduce my new baby to my cat?
When the time comes to bring your non-furry baby home, showing your cat respect as a member of your family will go a long way to smoothing the transition. Expert advice is to not make too big a deal of introducing the baby, just treat it as a matter-of-fact part of family life.
When you first come home from the hospital, greet your cat for the first time on your own in a quiet space so you can reconnect. Then allow everyone else in, including the baby. It will help if they meet for the first time away from places that the cat eats or sleeps.
Smell is your cat’s most important sense, so you could also take a piece of clothing or blanket that the baby has been using and put it on the floor in a quiet place for your kitty to have a good sniff and paw. Another suggestion is to use your baby’s sock to pet your cat, before you put them on your baby. Then hold your baby in your arms and allow the cat to sniff your baby, including the familiar-smelling foot, so puss realizes this new creature is a member of the family.
Reward your furry baby with treats and gentle praise when it reacts calmly around the new baby.
Encourage family and friends visiting to pay attention to the cat as well as the baby. But if your cat wants to retreat and meet the baby in its own time, don’t force it to be involved.
Can cats harm babies and how do I keep my baby safe?
You might have heard horror stories about cats suffocating babies by falling asleep on them. Such stories might be repeated to you when you’re pregnant, most likely by people who don’t have pets themselves. They will have your best interests at heart of course, but you know your cat and your family best, so try to set rumors aside and do your own research so you can make informed decisions. Cases of cats harming babies are extremely rare.
It is true that cats love a cozy place to cuddle up. And babies can’t turn over or move their heads much. So, to be on the safe side, keep cats away from your baby’s nursery or wherever you put them down to sleep. Keep doors closed or use a temporary screen door if you need to section off an area with no door. It’s important to keep cats away from baby’s sleep space even when they’re not there, as cats could pee on baby’s bedding, especially if they’re stressed out. Or, if they’re long haired, they could shed fur that could be inhaled by the baby.
Once baby has settled in, there are a few other things you can add to your checklist to make sure both your baby and your cat stay safe and happy.
- Wipe down surfaces before preparing milk or food for your baby.
- Keep cat feeding, sleeping and litter areas well away from spaces where your baby will be sleeping or playing.
- Wash your hands with antibacterial soap after feeding, grooming or playing with your cat.
- Wear rubber gloves to clean your cat’s litter tray or when dealing with their bedding and wash the gloves between each use.
- Don’t leave dirty diapers on the floor, as they can cause the cat to pee or poop where you left them.
- Keep your cat’s vaccinations and flea, tick and worm treatments up to date. Choose treatments that are safe to use around babies. Comb kitty regularly to help remove fleas and loose hair – this can become part of your special time together after your baby has gone to bed.
- Having a new baby is a stressful and tiring time, but try not to take any frustrations out on the cat. You could ask other family members to give your kitty some extra attention if you don’t have the energy after caring for baby and yourself.
- Don’t leave your cat and baby together unattended. Cats instinctively fend off anything they perceive as an attack and the sudden movements and sounds of a newborn or crawling baby can put them on the defense. There’s also lots of bacteria in cats’ mouths that you don’t want transferred to your baby by a kitty lick fest.
If you prepare well and help your cat get used to the new member of its family slowly but surely, cats and kids can form lovely relationships and make wonderful memories together.