Children With Pet Cats.

"Mom? Dad? Can I please have a kitten?"

Many parents will hear this question and want to encourage a love of animals in their children. Not only does owning a pet mean love, cuddles and companionship, but it helps teach the responsibility of carrying for another living being.

children with pet cats
Introduced in the right way, cats and children can become firm friends*

It’s natural that some parents might be cautious about introducing a cat: they do have sharp claws and teeth, are prone to shedding hair and require time for training and care. But if introduced correctly, cats and children can have a fantastic relationship.

Should You Get a Cat?

When considering this, it’s important to think about your lifestyle and the age of your children. Babies and toddlers are generally very boisterous and unable to understand directions about handling living creatures, so it might make more sense to wait to get a cat until your children are older.

There are certain breeds of cats more suited to being around children. Persian, Siamese and Bengal breeds tend to be more aloof and less happy around children, whereas a domestic shorthair is ideal as a pet: they’re lovable, easy to train and patient.

It’s also wise to consider adopting a cat from a rescue, rather than getting a kitten. A kitten will require a lot of work: they will need litter training, might be unable to understand instructions, and above all, they’ll be excitable and playful. They may not mean to scratch or bite, but they may become overexcited and accidently scatch a child with a claw or tooth.

With an older cat, the rescue center already knows information about the cat’s character and history. For example, a cat may need to be rehomed (due to divorce, for example) that has been brought up around children. It may be fully house trained and friendly, but may have been left at the rescue due to its family's changing circumstances.

Bringing a New Cat Home

Once you have made the decision to get a cat. it’s time to prepare to bring them home. Before they arrive, it’s a good idea to ensure that everyone in the house understands the rules of handling the cat.

Some considerations should include:

  • Where the cat sleeps and which areas are designated for only them where the children cannot disturb them.
  • If there are enough high places where they can carry out their business without disturbance: for example, having their food and litter box raised up off the ground.
  • Which family member is responsible for which chore.
  • Where “out of bounds” areas are for the cat: furniture, bedrooms, etc.
  • What the routine is during the settling-in period, such as guidelines for when and how long the cat can be fussed over.
  • Placement of litter trays, food and water bowls where the child does not have access.

When the cat first comes home, it is important to realize this is a huge change for them as well as your family. It’s stressful enough for a cat to move into a new territory and establish itself within the home without having to face excited, exuberant children. The introduction process must be done correctly in order to build a healthy foundation for their future relationship.

Considerations should include:

  • When the cat first arrives, allow them to explore totally undisturbed. They will need time to get a feel for the layout, establish their scent and understand where the litter box, feed and water are located.
  • It is recommended to use one room for the cat for the first few weeks. Do not allow the children in the room and give the cat her own bed, amenities and a pet screen across the doorway so they can see the rest of the house and become familiar with their surroundings.
  • Always teach children how to hold a cat correctly. Never allow them to pull their tail or lift them by their legs, and encourage them not to pick the cat up unless the cat is comfortable with being held and carried.
  • Gradually allow the cat to venture out of their sanctuary on their own time. Curious by nature, they will start to look for interaction with the family as they become more relaxed and comfortable.
  • Encourage the children to allow the cat to come to them rather than vice versa. If the cat comes up to the children, encourage them to play and interact with the cat while it is eager to see them. When the cat has had enough, ensure the children know to respect the cat’s wishes and allow the cat to return to their bed or food away from the children.
  • It is important to make sure that children understand not to touch the cat litter, the food, and to never put fingers near the cat’s mouth or harass them when they’re sleeping or eating. The children should respect the cat and their boundaries from the moment they arrive, for everyone’s safety.
  • Make the experience rewarding for the cat by offering food treats as reinforcement for tolerating the child’s attention.
  • For older children, allow them the opportunity to feed the cat treats to help the cat associate children as a positive experience
  • Encourage the children to play with the cat with dangling toys such as; feathers, strings, toys/balls on strings, (but don’t let the cat eat them), laser lights, etc. This gets children involved with them without physically handling the cat. Again, it will help your cat view children positively. Not allowing children or yourself to spar or play with the cat using your body parts, i. e. hands, finger, toes, etc. will help avoid getting scratched or bit when play escalates.
  • Should you feel the cat is finding the process stressful or you just wish to help them with the introduction process, it is highly recommended to use Feliway — a natural calmer that can help cats cope with stressful situations.

If these steps are followed, it is likely that the cat will become a loved and valued member of your family. Reading our articles on cat care and introducing the cat slowly can help build a good lifelong relationship.

*Image courtesy of Dollar Photo Club