Recently, a pregnant woman in one of my online groups was seeking reassurance about how her cats would react to the baby. It took me back to the time before my son Zeke was born.
People asked us if we were going to get rid of our cats. Nobody actually said, “They’re going to suck the baby’s breath,” but they did come up with other scenarios.
Fortunately, my husband was as much of a cat person as I am. Contrary to what other folks might think, our cats were not expendable.
Baby Love vs. Cat Love?
This is not really an issue. “Pregnancy when you have a cat presents some challenges, but don’t worry, none of them are even remotely insurmountable,” observes writer Gary Loewenthal. “You just need a little planning and know-how. Cats and babies have coexisted peacefully for thousands of years.”
So, why do some couples ship their cats off to shelter as soon as they find out they’re expecting? A lot of it is pure ignorance, really. There are still people who believe that somehow the cat has it out for the baby.
It isn’t so. “A timid cat that is over-dependent on you, but hides from other people may become jealous and spray to cover up the scent of the baby,” remarks Messy Beast blogger Sarah Hartwell. “You need to help it become more confident and less dependent upon you well before the birth.”
A devoted cat who joins in human activities will probably have hurt feelings, but is likely to join in caring for baby if you let him. And Ms. Cat-Who-Walks-by-Herself will just go about her business as usual.
You can ease your feline into the new routine before the baby arrives. Let her scope out the crib and other baby paraphernalia.
You can also, according to Loewenthal, bring one of the newborn’s blankets back from the hospital and let the cat get used to the new scent…assuming, of course, that mother and child are in the hospital more than 24 hours. Maternity stays aren’t what they used to be.
This video shows adorable baby and pet introductions, but remember to always supervise the interactions:
Bringing Baby Home
Still, it’s possible that your cat might be a little put out at first. So, if you’re feeling any concern, arrange to have a family member or friend carry the baby into the house. This way, your cat does not perceive you as the Awful Human Who Brought the Intruder in.
The day we brought Zeke home, my sister-in-law met us in the driveway and carried him in. It worked.
Don’t shoo the cat away. The majority of felines aren’t all that interested in babies — although some, in Hartwell’s words, “become self-appointed guardians to the new arrival and will want to watch you as you care for the baby.”
And that is precisely what happened with Zeke and the gang. When he cried that first night, our 3 female cats all hovered around the changing table. Clearly, his cries activated some maternal instinct in them.
Within a short time, Cricket was supervising Zeke’s baths. And Tikvah, the only one of the cats who had ever had kittens, would fetch me whenever she heard him cry. We barely needed the baby monitor.
Life After Baby
Cats will adapt beautifully as long as they know they still matter to you.
Set aside some time for them while the baby’s sleeping. And when people come to see the new arrival, make sure they “pay attention to the cat as well as the baby,” says Hartwell.
“Don’t make Puss feel rejected. The baby is part of his life too, and if he is made to feel part of the baby-raising activities he will be more accepting of the noisy intruder.”
There still seems to be some concern about letting cats sleep in the baby’s room. This was never an issue for us. My husband went so far as to cut a little cat door in the baby gate he built. The cats slept on the braided rug, on the lower changing table shelf and on the old rocket but never went into the crib.
After all, what cat can get his 18-plus hours of sleep lying next to a squirming and sometimes screaming infant?
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9 Ways to Prepare Your Cat for a New Baby
Welcoming a new baby into the home is a joyful time for parents, but it can also be confusing and stressful for your cat — who may not welcome the change to “normal” routine.
Here are some steps you can take to make things less traumatic for your pet.
1. Sounds and Smells
Help your cat to adjust to the changing situation via the sounds and smells that will be commonplace once the baby arrives.
Try using baby lotion and CDs of baby-related sounds. Rewards can be used to encourage positive associations with the introductions.
2. Schedule Changes
Cats are creatures of habit, and the chaos of a baby could easily leave your cat feeling hugely distressed and anxious.
Gradually adjusting to the schedule that will be in place once the baby arrives will help your cat feel more comfortable and give him more chances to adapt to the changes that will inevitably happen.
3. Playtime Frequency
In the run-up to the birth, you may be tempted to lavish your cat with attention and affection to compensate for the baby’s arrival. But in doing so, you risk causing further confusion and stress when this doesn’t continue after the baby comes home.
Instead, use the pregnancy period to gradually move playtime to times that will still be feasible so your cat won’t feel pushed out in favor of the baby.
4. Litter Box Blues
Try to strike a good balance when deciding where to place your cat’s litter box. It should be in a spot that will not be within reach for the baby — but at the same time, it shouldn’t be in a place that your cat is too reluctant to use.
5. Spay or Neuter
If your cat has not already been spayed or neutered, this would be a good time to have it done. As well as offering health benefits, spaying/neutering would likely make your cat calmer and less inclined to act aggressively.
6. Baby Room Barriers
Will your cat be banned from the baby’s room? A robust barrier such as a safety gate will prevent access without shutting your cat out altogether. He will still be able to see, hear and smell the baby without being able to interact.
7. Crib Access
If you don’t plan to prevent access to the baby’s room, you may be worried that your cat will try to sleep in the baby’s crib. Discourage this from the start by attaching double-sided sticky tape to the edges so that your cat is not so keen to access the crib. This will create a negative association with the crib.
8. Refuge Room
If you are expecting to receive guests after the baby comes home, set up a quiet room where your cat can seek sanctuary. This also be where your cat goes to get away from the baby if things become overwhelming. The room should contain food, water, a litter tray and a comfortable sleeping area.
Check in with your cat regularly while this room is being used and offer treats and affection. If he doesn’t want to come out, don’t force the issue — wait until he feels comfortable enough to venture out.
9. Escape Tower
Set up “perches” that your cat can use to escape from the baby. This can be as simple as cat trees or scratching posts with platforms. These should be suitably out of reach for a toddler in preparation for the baby learning to crawl.