Teach Kids and Cats to Interact Safely
You love your cat, and you love your child — and you want the two of them to be friends. But this may not happen naturally; it can require some work on your part. Start by teaching your child the right way to interact with your cat and by making sure that your cat feels safe and comfortable around your child.
Fortunately, there are a few simple strategies that can help foster a positive relationship between your cat and your child.
How to Get Everyone Playing Nicely
Supervise every interaction. Even well-meaning children can accidentally frighten a cat by pulling her tail, grabbing her paws or attempting to restrain her. You will need to be present for every interaction your child has with your cat. If he is acting in a manner that may frighten the feline, redirect his behavior to something more positive — and be sure to praise and reinforce proper treatment of the cat.
Teach your child the right way to pet the cat. Show your child how to use an open hand and a soft, gentle stroke when he pets the cat. Pay special attention to babies and toddlers who commonly poke and pat a cat or grab and hold her fur and skin. If needed, hold your baby or toddler’s hand to be sure he keeps an open palm while petting. Teach your child to pet the cat only on her back, shoulder, neck and head; most cats will tolerate petting on these areas better than on the face, paws, tail or belly.
Pay attention to your cat’s body language. Help your child learn to recognize when your cat is relaxed and when she is not. A cat who is enjoying being petted will rub against your child’s hands or clothing or lean in toward him. She may also hold her tail high and twitch the end, and she may purr. Signs that petting should stop include a swishing tail, a tail that’s fluffed out, or a tail that’s lowered to the ground or tucked underneath the cat. An anxious cat may also move her ears back, growl or extend her claws.
Keep indoor play calm and gentle. Cats are sensitive to movement and noise. Normal play, such as shouting, jumping and running may upset and frighten your cat, even when your child is not playing with her. This type of play should be done outside or in a playroom where the cat is not allowed. When your child does play with your cat, teach him not to use his hands as a toy. Play with hands teaches a cat that it’s OK to use claws and teeth on hands. This can cause problems, including escalated predatory play that can frighten or inadvertently hurt a child. Teach your child to focus play on a toy rather than on his hands.
Allow your cat to hide. When your cat is hiding underneath something or up on something high, your child should never try to pull her out or try to squeeze in next to her. Your cat hides because she wants to be alone; cornering her or pulling her out can cause her to scratch or bite. Teach your child to allow the cat to come out on her own or to entice her out with nonstressful tactics, like luring her with a string toy or a row of treats.
Give your cat some alone time. Your cat should have ample areas in your home to have private time, such as cat trees, high shelving and hiding spaces. Teach your child to leave the cat alone when she is in one of these private areas. It is also a good idea to have a room for your cat that is off limits to your child; you can put her there when she needs a break or when you are unable to supervise her interactions with your child.
Read more Vetstreet articles about kids and pets.