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Cohabiting Cats and Kids – How to Make it Work
Posted on : 02/08/2013 05:37:43 AM

Are you a parent that thought the ideal gift for your family this Christmas would be a furry, feline friend? If so then you’re not alone. A National Pet Owners survey indicates that cats are America’s number one pets, beating dogs, reptiles and horses paws down! This is thought to be down to their loving, yet independent nature and their ability to fit in easily with the busy family’s lifestyle. Many parents also feel that introducing a pet to the home can teach their children values about responsibility care and respect.

So far so good, but sadly it’s not as simple as bringing an animal into the home and expecting everyone to get along straight away. Cats by nature are territorial animals that don’t always respond well to change. Add excitable children and possible health concerns into the mix and suddenly the coexistence of cats and kids in one household may seem more problematic. In fact, in the new year there is generally an influx of pets that are abandoned due to their new owners not thinking their ‘Christmas gifts’ through fully and failing to overcome the difficulties that may initially arise.

But with a little forward planning, a few helpful tips and some careful considerations you can make the introduction of a cat into a family home (or vice versa) much simpler and safer so that you can all live together in harmony.

Consider breed and age

Trying to pick the right cat to fit in with your family is always a good starting point. Different breeds have different temperaments so it is worth doing your research in order to find a cat that can integrate well with the age and demands of your family. For example, breeds such as Persians or Birmans are generally very docile, laid back cats that are ideal pets for younger children. Their low levels of activity, fluffy coats and affectionate nature make for a starter pet that small children will be happy to just sit and cuddle. However breeds such as the Shorthair and Abyssinian are more muscular, playful cats with a loyal nature and even temperament. These types of cats would be more suitable for older kids who want to spend time outdoors chasing and playing with them.

Similarly, the age of the cat is an important factor. Cute baby kittens may make you’re the kids coo, but are they prepared for the level of attention and training that a young animal needs? An older, rescue cat is also an option but remember that with age comes stubbornness in cats –their temperament will not change and they will probably not appreciate a loud, stressful environment or being pushed and pulled around by children. With an older cat, the trick is to educate the child about how to behave around it rather than try and train the cat.

An older cat, particularly a rescue cat, may come with a history. It is worth asking if there have been any incidents in the cats past that may make it less able to cope with stress or noise. If in doubt, take the kids to meet the cat at a rescue shelter before bringing it home. Their initial interaction may give an insight into whether this is the right cat for you.

Introducing the kids to the cat

The kids will undoubtedly be excited by a new cat but you should take time to prepare them and the home for your new arrival. It is important that the kids are involved in the preparation to enable them to feel an attachment towards the cat so enlist them in cat-proofing the home, eliminating any risks, buying new equipment such as toys, baskets and bowls and setting up designated sleeping/eating areas. Arrange a list of rules and duties when it comes to caring for the cat – perhaps a feeding and playing rota. Do note that due to potential health risks it is advisable for parents to be responsible for the emptying of litter boxes though.

Aside from the practical duties, ensure that the children know that when the cat first arrives it will need some quiet time to adjust. Limit their interaction with the cat for the first few weeks and ensure the cat isn’t bothered when eating or sleeping. Although they need to bond with the cat, they also need to be aware of its needs.

Introducing a baby to the cat

Perhaps puss was there first and you’re bringing a new baby into the household. Any small change in their environment can cause anxiety in cats, and nothing changes the dynamic of a household like a baby. Many women worry about the risk of toxoplasmosis (an infection found in cat faeces) during their pregnancy. Because of the, sometimes severe, results of it many pregnant women find themselves deliberating about re-homing their cat. But according to the UK National Health Service, the chances of contracting the infection during pregnancy is very low – roughly five in one thousand. Staying away from cat litter or wearing gloves when gardening also minimises the risk.

You can prepare your cat for the arrival of the new baby in several ways. Close of the nursery and if this is a room that the cat has previously been allowed in then stop this as early as possible simply by closing the door or using pheromone products to deter the cat and prevent barrier frustration. Bring a blanket or item of clothing with the baby’s scent on it home from the hospital before mom and baby arrive. You could even give the cat a treat if/when he approaches baby’s scent to encourage a positive reaction. In the months leading up to the arrival of the baby it could also be a good idea to have the cat spend time around small children to get it used to the impending noise and cries to come – cat’s have very sensitive hearing and sudden, loud noises can scare them.

Safety

Naturally, safety has to be paramount when it comes to animals and humans cohabiting. Where babies are concerned you should consider investing in crib nets that are used to prevent the cat jumping into the baby’s crib.

You can also purchase caps to glue over the cat’s paws to prevent harmful scratching and keep your cat properly vaccinated, de-fleaed and de-wormed with products that are safe to use around children. Keeping your cat insured with a good pet insurance policy is also a good idea to ensure that any infections, illnesses or diseases can be treated quickly before affecting either the cat or the child.

Good pet cover not only protects you from receiving expensive vet bills but also can provide help if your cat should go missing which for older children can be a traumatic time. Pet cover can help reduce that time and minimise distress.

Children should be taught to handle the cat carefully to minimise the chances of any harmful bites or scratches but if you find that you have a cat that is particularly hostile or intolerant towards children then seek vetinary advice.

Ultimately the best safety measure you can practice is supervision. Never leave a cat alone with a baby or small toddler and ensure that older children know how to behave responsibly around a cat.

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