It’s great for children to grow up with a pet. Not only can they both enjoy playing with each other, research has shown that children are less likely to suffer from allergies if they come into contact with pets before their first birthday.
However owning a cat is not without its hazards. Though not normally deliberately aggressive, a cat can leave a nasty scratch if put in a stressful situation such as being cornered by a child. It’s important to make sure children know how to behave around cats and to introduce them to each other slowly and carefully.
Should I get a kitten or older cat?
If you are considering re-homing an older cat it’s important to try and find out if they are used to children or at least watch how they behave with your children before bringing them home for good. This is particularly important if you have very small children.
Some cats will be naturally inquisitive and playful and won’t cause any problems. However more fearful cats may become very stressed around noisy children who want to play. They may show this by hiding and avoiding the children or by being aggressive.
If the cat you are considering rehoming shows any signs of fearful behaviour towards children then it may be better to consider another cat. Although there are things you can do to help the cat get used to children, you will have a stressful few months ahead for both you and the cat, with no guarantees of success.
If you have very small children it may be better to consider getting a kitten. As they will both be together from an early age it’s easier to help kittens and children get used to each other and not be scared. However kittens can scratch if they are picked up so it’s important that you supervise your children when they are spending time with your cat.
Give your cat somewhere safe to hide
Cats need a place where they can feel safe so make sure that they have somewhere to hide away from the children. They may get stressed about children playing or making lots of noise so will welcome a quiet space where they can be on their own. Cats generally like to hide in high places so placing a box or bed on top of a cupboard or wardrobe where children can’t reach means your cat can get away and relax when they need to. You could also try Feliway comforting plug-in or spray in their safe place too if they get very stressed.
Teach children to handle your cat gently
Whether you opt for a cat or kitten it’s important that children are taught to handle them properly. Chasing them or grabbing them if they are running away will scare cats and lead to them scratching. Spend time sitting with your child and new cat and help them play together slowly and gently. Use plenty of treats and toys and show your child how to stroke them carefully. It’s best not to let very young children pick up cats as this is when scratches are most likely to happen.
Children growing up
If your cat has been brought up with a baby, things can start to change when they start crawling or walking. Don’t assume that your cat will be fine, make sure you are always in the room too if the cat and child are together. Young children are more likely to grab at pets, scaring them and making them scratch or bite. If this happens it’s best to keep the cat out of the way of the child for a while then gradually reintroduce them, making sure that play is always gentle.
Involve your children with training
People don’t often spend time training their cat as they do their dog. However cats are just as intelligent and will often enjoy learning tricks. Using a training clicker and treat rewards you could teach your cat to lick their paw on command or fetch a toy. Children will often love this kind of interaction and it will give your cat some mental stimulation too.
Cats can be a loving lifelong pet for any child, helping them learn responsibility, patience and caring. As long as you make sure that children know how to be gentle around cats and give them space to be on their own sometimes too, they will both be able to spend many fun hours playing together or snuggling up by the fire. By making the effort to settle your cat in properly when you first bring them home your feline friend will soon be a happy addition to your family.