Prepare Your Cat for a New Baby
Published on August 20, 2012
A new baby is a big change for a family — and not just for the human members of the household. Cats are often treated like children, and while a baby doesn’t change the love that pet parents have for their cherished felines, the amount of time, energy and money they have to spend on the cat will decrease drastically after the baby's arrival. If your cat is sensitive to change or has never been around children, it is important to prepare her for this tremendous change.
Start With a Visit to the Vet
Protect your child and your cat by taking your cat to the veterinarian for a health checkup well before the baby's arrival; while you're there, be sure all her vaccinations are up-to-date and she's protected against internal and external parasites. In addition, if your cat has any ongoing behavior issues, such as aggression or going to the bathroom outside the litterbox, now is the time to resolve the issue with your veterinarian and, if needed, a recommended behavior professional.
In addition, during your pregnancy your cat should be kept solely indoors to reduce her risk of contracting toxoplasmosis, which can be dangerous to your unborn baby. (Pregnant women should also refrain from cleaning the litterbox if at all possible, or at the very least should wear disposable gloves while changing the litter and wash thoroughly after the chore is finished.)
Practice Living With a Baby
Next, it’s time to get your cat ready to have an actual baby in the house. Teach her to enjoy the sights, smells and sounds associated with the baby so that when your child arrives, your cat won't be stressed out by these new sensations. Introduce her to the sounds of a baby, such as cooing and crying, by playing a baby sounds CD at a low level while offering a delicious treat. As your cat becomes accustomed to these new noises, gradually increase the volume of the CD, but be sure that your cat stays relaxed as the noise grows louder. My favorite baby sounds CD is Preparing Fido.
Help your cat enjoy baby smells like lotion and diaper cream by putting these products on your skin right before doing something enjoyable with your cat, such as playing with a feather toy. If your cat is accustomed to mouthing and scratching your hands, now is the time to teach her to play with toys rather than skin so that she will know not to use her mouth or claws when interacting with the baby.
Help your cat feel relaxed with baby activities by using a baby doll as a mock newborn. Diaper the doll, put the doll into the crib, push the doll in a stroller and settle the doll in an infant swing. The more you do realistic tasks with the doll, the more accustomed your cat will be when these events actually happen with your newborn. (And it can't hurt for you to have a little practice too!)
Promote Your Cat's Independence
The biggest mistake many expectant parents make is to lavish their cat with extra attention in the months before the baby comes; however, this makes the transition harder for your cat, both because the baby is associated with the loss of attention and because your cat is unprepared for independent living. Instead, help your cat become more independent by teaching her to tolerate — and enjoy — time alone. Food puzzles and independent play cat toys can be placed around your home to keep your cat entertained without human intervention.
In the months leading up to your baby's arrival, gradually decrease the attention you give your cat and increase her access to food puzzles and independent toys; this will help prepare her for the type of schedule she will have when the baby arrives. But be sure to make time for a couple of short play and cuddle sessions every day, which should continue after the baby comes home; this will help your cat settle in and relax during other times of the day when you cannot be there to play with or cuddle her.
Prepare the Nursery for the Baby, Not the Cat
Get your cat used to nursery items such as the crib, playpen and diaper changing area before your baby arrives. Let your cat investigate these areas, but discourage her from settling in by keeping cushy bedding out. Instead, give your cat alternative bedding areas where she can sleep, such as cat beds and high resting areas she can climb on. To encourage your cat’s use of these areas, randomly place treats and cat nip on them throughout the day.
While it’s a myth that a cat will suck the air out of a baby, your cat may want to cuddle next to your sleeping child, which can be hazardous to an infant. For this reason, it is important to keep your cat out of your baby's sleeping spaces. If your cat is insistent on sleeping in the baby's areas, cover the surfaces with double-sided tape placed over cardboard strips; this makes it uncomfortable for your cat and discourages her use of these spaces. You can also install a temporary screen door on the nursery to keep the cat out without completely closing the room off.
Smooth the Tension Between Your Baby and Your Cat
Before your baby comes home from the hospital, have a family member or friend take an item your baby has touched, such as a blanket, home for your cat to smell. Place it next to your cat’s bowl and give her a delicious reward, like a bite of tuna.
When you bring your baby home from the hospital, spend a couple of minutes alone with your cat, without the baby. This will help diminish any initial tension your cat may be feeling and will help her to be more settled when she meets the baby. When you're ready to have the baby and cat meet, offer your cat a productive outlet, such as a stuffed kitty Kong, to focus on while she is around the baby. This gives her something to do while she is growing accustomed to your newborn's presence. Of course, for the safety of both the infant and the cat, you should never leave any child unsupervised with a pet.