Congratulations! If you’re reading this article, there’s a good chance you’re expecting a baby or talking about having a baby, and that is very exciting. Yet you have a four-legged cat that doesn’t know you’re having a baby and also doesn't know what a baby is. What’s more, you may have some friends or family that think you need to re-home your pet because they don’t trust cats in a new baby environment.
Fortunately, that isn’t true. While your fears and concerns about introducing your cat to your baby are totally normal and legitimate (most pet parents have felt this way), you can absolutely keep your cat. You just have to do some things before and after your baby arrives to make the process as seamless and safe as possible.
Before the baby arrives...
Expose your cat to the baby's environment
Cats are naturally territorial, but you don’t want your cat to be possessive of a specific room, area, or person once the baby arrives. Take him to the nursery and let him walk around, suggests Dr. Jim Lowe, technical services veterinarian with Tomlyn pet products. Let him check out the baby’s environment and acquaint himself with the new room and new items in the room. Play recorded sounds of a baby crying or playing so he gets used to the new sounds he will hear. You can also spend time in the nursery every day – carrying around a baby doll and rocking it in the rocking chair – so your cat can get used to his new life. Wearing baby oils or powders can also help your cat become familiar with those smells.
Keep your cat indoors
Keeping her safe inside the home will prevent her from eating or interacting with sick animals and bringing them into your home. Not only can eating infected animals make her sick, it can also subject you, your family, and your baby to illness and infection.
Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic infection that is caused by cats eating infected small animals (like birds or mice), and it’s spread to humans when they come in contact with their cats’ feces. While the illness is scary for any cat and human that contracts it, it is especially scary for pregnant women because it can cause miscarriage or stillbirth. And if the pregnancy goes to full term for a woman who has the disease, the baby can suffer from birth defects like blindness, deafness, or epilepsy. To avoid the disease, wear gloves when cleaning her litter box or any place she poops. Wash your hands thoroughly after handling her feces and avoid touching your face or eyes. Your cat can also contract toxoplasmosis by eating raw or undercooked meat so refrain from feeding her raw meat.
Close off certain areas in your home
By keeping your cat away from certain areas – the nursery, crib, or playpen – you can ensure your baby’s safety as the cat gets used to her presence. Although it’s a good idea to let your cat walk around the nursery and get acquainted with it, you don’t want her to get too comfortable in there. If she does, she will make it her room, become territorial, and bother anyone who goes into it, including your new baby. The ASPCA suggests making certain spots sticky (cats hate sticky areas) or unwelcoming to your cat so she knows these areas are off-limits. But don’t use loud objects like balloons or shake cans. Those will only scare your cat and baby and make the whole experience negative and frightening. Try using a gate or screen door so your cat cannot enter the room but can still see into the room and feel a part of the action.
Make gradual changes
No one – certainly not cats – likes abrupt lifestyle changes so make it easier on your pet by allowing him time to adjust. Cats are creatures of habit so if you have to alter his play or feeding time or where he sleeps at night, do it months before the baby is due to arrive. It will help him feel less stressed and resentful about the new baby in the home.
Take your cat to the vet
If she’s up-to-date on vet appointments and shots before the baby is home, you’ll be less worried about her being sick or spreading infections after the baby is home. What’s more, you won’t have to worry about finding the time to do it between a crying baby, eating baby, and sleepless nights. And while you’re there, get her nails trimmed.
Don't be in denial
If you have fears – especially if your cat is extra possessive or aggressive – voice your concerns. Talk to your vet or behavioral specialist about what to do before your baby is born.
After the baby arrives...
Greet your cat alone
When you return home from the hospital, spend time with your cat alone in a separate room. Try holding your baby’s blanket in your arms and allow her to smell it and become familiar with your baby’s scent. If she sees the blanket, smells it, and watches you carry it around, it will help her see the blanket and baby as safe, good things she can trust.
Stay calm during introductions
When you introduce your baby to your cat, it’s important to keep calm and carry on. Your pet feeds off your energy so if you’re anxious or nervous, she will be, too. Stay relaxed and tranquil and speak in a soothing voice. And never force your cat onto your child. Let it be gradual and natural.
Keep your cat clean
Cat owners should be very cognizant of hygiene, especially in dealing with litter boxes, says Dr. Lowe. Make sure your cat is clean and well-groomed, especially if she has daily contact with your baby.
Maintain one-one-one time regularly
Although your family has now grown because of your new addition, always remember who was there first. Like any relationship, regular communication and nurturing helps keep the bond strong, even when that bond is with your cat. Make sure you spend time with your cat every day – playing with him, doting on him, and giving him lots of love and kisses. The new baby is not a threat to the pet-owner bond, and your cat needs (and deserves) to know that.
Keep your cat healthy
In addition to regular vet visits, Dr. Lowe says it’s important to make sure your cat is physically and emotionally healthy. Just because you’re not getting any sleep doesn’t mean he should be tossing and turning all night. Make sure he has nice bedding and a nice, quiet place to catch some ZZZ’s. He should be sleeping away from the baby and away from everyday commotion so his sleep pattern remains normal. (Sleepless cats mean cranky cats.) And try to give him new toys now and then to spoil him and keep him mentally engaged, focused, and supported.
Never leave your cat and baby unattended
No matter how much you trust your cat, it is never a good idea to leave him and your baby alone in a room together. In fact, in addition to marking off some areas in the house, it’s a good idea to buy a baby monitor to be alerted to your baby’s sounds and cries when you’re not around. And as your baby grows into a toddler, teach her to respect your cat and not hurt him or pull his tail. Your cat is important, too, and deserves to be treated kindly in the house. Most importantly, teaching kids at a young age to love and respect animals will help them be better people.
So again, I say congratulations! You’re going to be a parent to both a human and a cat, and it’s going to be fabulous. If you take the right steps before and after your baby arrives and regularly maintain a happy, healthy relationship with your furbaby (the very first one that made your house a home), you’re going to be one adored parent.