In the world of house pets, cats have a bad reputation for being prickly, standoffish, and fickle with their affections — not to mention quick to dole out unexpected lashings with their razor sharp claws. Not exactly newborn-friendly, in other words.
But even if your cat is a docile, loving, purring machine, it can be nerve-wracking to bring your sweet, innocent, totally unable-to-defend-themselves newborn baby home from the hospital to meet their older, wiser, feline sibling.
Thankfully, with a little preparation and know-how, your fur baby and your human baby can happily live together (or at least tolerate one another).
Unless you’re the proud owner of a hassle-free goldfish, having a pet in the home with small children comes with some responsibility. Just by existing, your cat poses a slight threat to your baby, though it’s nothing you can’t sidestep if you know what to look for.
Suffocation or smothering
There used to be an urban legend about cats stealing babies’ breath right out of their mouth, which didn’t help the “cats and babies cohabitating” PR campaign very much. Obviously, that’s not true, but your cat does pose a suffocation risk to your baby if you let them sleep near one another.
- supervising your baby during sleep (which you should always do when they’re not in their crib or bassinet anyway)
- keeping the door closed to any room your baby is sleeping in
- putting up baby gates to block your cat from entering those rooms without you knowing
Yes, this one is a real concern — but you’re probably already doing everything you need to prevent toxoplasmosis during pregnancy.
Pregnant women and young children are susceptible to this infection in similar ways. Toxoplasmosis infections in children can cause flu-like symptoms such as fever, body aches, and swollen glands.
To keep your baby healthy:
- keep your cat indoors and away from outdoor or stray cats
- don’t allow your child to touch (or eat!) kitty litter
- wash your hands or wear gloves for litter box changes
- don’t feed your cat raw meat, as this raises your cat’s risk of contracting the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis
Ingesting cat hair
Living with shedding animals means you’ll end up with their hair everywhere, including in your mouth sometimes. Yes, it’s gross, but in most cases, it can’t really hurt anyone.
Obviously, if your child is intentionally eating cat hair, they could ingest enough of it to cause a blockage in their GI tract (hello, hairball), but this won’t happen from the occasional cat-hair-on-the-baby-blanket kind of ingestion.
In theory, if your child is highly allergic to cat hair, ingesting it could cause a reaction. Realistically, though, by the time your baby is old enough to be sticking cat hair in their own mouth, you’d probably know if they were allergic to cats. (Plus, some
Feline intestinal illnesses
Technically, any illnesses — viral, bacterial, or parasitic — that your cat is harboring in their bladder or GI system could be spread to the rest of the family if good hygiene isn’t practiced. Again, this is easy to avoid:
- keep baby away from kitty’s litter box
- clean up any pet messes right away
- wash your hands after changing your cat’s litter or doing any routine hygiene maintenance on your cat
Cats get jealous just like the rest of us (where do you think the term “catfight” originated, anyway?), and it’s possible that your cat could display some signs of aggression toward your baby because of it.
Signs of jealousy in cats range from excessive meowing to destructive behavior, including urine marking.
To reduce resentment:
- try to maintain some of your cat’s normal routine after your baby comes home
- don’t kick them out of their favorite spots in the house to make room for baby stuff
- be prepared to handle any rebellious behavior with patience, not punishment
Scratches and bites
Cats are less of a physical threat to children than dogs when it comes to baring their teeth or claws. But they can still do enough harm to cause cosmetic damage or introduce a skin infection (like ringworm) if scratches are deep enough.
If you always supervise your cat’s interactions with your baby, it’s unlikely any serious injuries will happen.
Nope! There’s often strong societal pressure for expectant parents to say goodbye to their beloved kitty before a baby joins the family, either to protect the baby or provide a happier home life for the cat. (Let’s be honest: It’s true that the cat might not be thrilled about being demoted from star to supporting player at first.)
But if you take the safety issues into consideration and find ways to respect both your cat’s and your baby’s boundaries, you can all live happily ever after.
In any good “big things are about to change” strategy, preparation is super important. Since you may not know exactly when your baby is arriving, try to check these to-do’s off the list a few months before your due date.
- Acclimate your cat to life with a newborn. A new baby means new smells and sounds, both of which your cat might be sensitive to. To get your cat used to the new stimuli in advance:
- play recorded sounds of babies crying
- turn on electronic devices (like infant swings) for a few minutes every day
- start wearing any lotions or creams you plan to use on your baby
- Set up stress-relieving toys. Cats love scratching posts for lots of reasons, not the least of which is that scratching is a great outlet for stress and boredom. Having something your kitty’s allowed to scratch can them from scratching things they’re not supposed to.
- Prep baby-only surfaces with sticky tape. For your baby’s safety, it’s important that your cat doesn’t form a habit of sleeping in baby-only areas like the crib and changing table. Cats don’t like sticky surfaces; you can lay double-sided tape around your baby’s crib and changing table so your cat learns to steer clear.
- Change caregiver roles. If your cat has always been your cat and you’ve handled most of their day-to-day care, it’s wise to start turning over some of those duties to your partner (if possible) now. That way, your cat doesn’t end up feeling like you’re rejecting them after your baby comes (or, worse, blaming your baby for the sudden change).
Once your baby’s been born, it’s important to make your house safe and comfortable for your baby and your cat. Here are some things you should do in the first few weeks and months after bringing your baby home from the hospital.
- Introduce your cat to your baby by smell first. If possible, send your partner home from the hospital with a receiving blanket that your baby used so your cat can get used to your baby’s smell. Leave the blanket in a cat-friendly space and allow your cat to sniff it out on their own terms. By the time you come home with baby, their smell should be familiar to your cat.
- Play with your cat sans baby for a few minutes. When you first get home from the hospital, enter the house by yourself before coming in with your baby (if you have someone who can hold baby outside). Your cat likely missed you and will want your attention; it will be easier for you to manage this without a baby in your arms, and your cat can bask in the warmth of your affection for a few minutes without feeling like they’re competing with the baby.
- Give your cat safe places to retreat (alone). Newborns can be overstimulating for adults… imagine how intense the experience is for solitary cats! Make sure your cat has a few areas in your home that are “for cats only,” kept free of baby items and away from all the chaos. You may also want to provide one or two places that are off the floor, since cats tend to feel safer when they’re high up.
- Don’t neglect your cat’s basic hygiene needs or play time. You won’t have a ton of time for grooming, treating, and laser pointer-chasing in the newborn days, but you can’t completely ignore your cat’s needs, either. Even if you can only commit to a 10-minute play session instead of a 30-minute one, it’s better than nothing. If you really can’t keep up, see if a friend or family member can stop by once a day to help you manage your cat’s basic care until things settle down.
Cats and babies can live together safely, though it may not happen without your help. Like any good mediator, you’ll have to broker some peace between your “kids” and give both your baby and your kitty the tools needed for successful cohabitation.
Remember to always supervise any human-animal play time, never leaving your cat alone with your baby.