Last updated January 19, 2018
Every year, a large number of cats are surrendered to shelters because a new baby has arrived and parents believe well-meaning relatives or old-school obstetricians who have convinced them that keeping a cat risks the health and well-being of their child.
There is absolutely no reason to give up a cat when a baby arrives. Simple, common sense precautions can prepare your cat for your baby’s arrival, and keep both safe.
Prepare your cat for the new baby
Acclimate your cat to baby-related smells and sounds. Apply baby powder or baby oil to your skin so your cat will associate the scent with you. Play a recording of baby noises. Make it a pleasant experience for your cat by rewarding her with treats and play while you do this.
If you have friends with babies, ask them to bring their children over for brief visits. Supervise these visits carefully, and offer praise and treat to your cat for good behavior so she will form a pleasant association with babies.
Start your cat used to probing and poking baby fingers. Gently give your cat a little poke, prod or pinch. Reward good behavior with treats.
The baby’s room
Decide whether the baby’s room will be off limits to your cat, or whether she will be allowed in the room. If the baby’s room will be off limits, remove any furniture your cat likes to lie on or sleep on from the room so she will still be able to use those favorite pieces elsewhere in the house.
If your cat will be allowed in the baby’s room, she will most likely be fascinated by the crib. Discourage her from sleeping in it by placing cat deterrent devices like the SSSCat near the crib. Provide alternate sleeping places for your cat in the baby’s room. Add a cat bed or cat tree, and reward your cat for using them.
When baby comes home
Before you bring the baby home from the hospital, send a blanket or sock or item of clothing with the baby’s scent on it home so your cat can get used to the scent.
When you return home with the baby, have someone else hold the baby in another room while you greet your cat and play with her. Keep things lowkey.
Help your cat enjoy being near the baby. Offer praise, toys and treats when she approaches the baby, but don’t force her to be near the baby. She’ll investigate when she’s ready.
It’s a myth that cats try to smother babies. If you see your cat sniffing your baby’s face, praise him for her nice, calm behavior.
Always supervise interactions between cat and baby
It’s best to keep a watchful eye on both cat and baby. Don’t hover or worry, but be aware and ready to intervene if you have to. Always be gentle about any needed intervention.
Minimize changes in routine and attention
Your schedule will be hectic once the baby arrives. If you need to change your cat’s feeding schedule and the times when you’ll be able to give her attention and play with her, make the changes before the baby arrives.
Resist the temptation to give your cat extra attention before the baby arrives. This will only makes things more difficult for her when you find yourself having less time to pay attention to her. Try to ease your cat into a schedule that is realistic for you, but doesn’t short change your cat.
The relationship between cats and children can be very special if you nurture it from an early age. Studies have shown that children who grow up with pets have higher self-esteem and improved social skills. They learn to care for others at an early age. There is also evidence that growing up with pets may help develop non-verbal communication.
This article was previously published on Answers.com and is republished with permission.