Having a baby is not only a major life event for you, it’s also a big deal for your cat! Cats do best with the same daily routines and familiar people, and a new baby in the home will lead to changes in the household that may cause your cat some stress. However, the great news is that with the right prep work and proper introductions, your baby and cat can peacefully coexist and, hopefully, become best buddies! Here’s how to set your cat up for success in developing a positive relationship with your baby.
Prep work prior to the baby’s arrival
Familiarize your cat with everything new that will come along with the baby’s arrival. When a baby arrives, everything that may seem incidental to us is a change that your cat needs time to adjust to. And from a cat’s perspective there are a lot of changes! The home will smell different with baby powder and lotions. The home will sound different with baby sounds. The home may look different because of a shifting of furniture to make room for the baby as well as the addition of new objects for the baby. The routines of the home will change with activities centered on the baby.
When the baby finally arrives home, your cat should already be comfortable with all these other changes so that the only new change in the home is the baby. To ensure a successful introduction, we recommend the following steps be taken well before your baby arrives in the home.
- Regularly, put baby powder and lotions on yourself so your cat becomes used to these smells.
- If possible, ask a friend or family member who has a baby to make a few visits to your home with their baby so your cat can become familiar with baby sounds and movements. During these visits, your cat should receive yummy treats to create positive associations (see below for more information) and should not be forced to interact with the baby.
- Set up the physical space of the home as it will be when the baby arrives, including cribs, strollers, baby swings, etc.
- Ideally, the baby’s space is an area of your home that your cat does not spend much time in as this space should be off limits to the cat, at least initially. For example, if your cat has a favorite window perch or favorite room, the baby’s space should be set up elsewhere in the home. This will reduce the cat’s stress and make for a smoother introduction to the baby.
- There should also be hiding spaces and high resting spaces throughout the home where your cat can retreat if they are stressed by the baby. It’s very easy to create these spaces in your home. For example, an open cat carrier or cardboard box with a comfortable towel in it can serve as hiding spaces. A blanket or towel placed on a desk, shelf, dresser or other piece of furniture—that the cat has easy access to—can serve as high resting spaces.
- Establish the daily routines of your cat—feeding time, playtime, petting time—that will be in place once the baby arrives home. It is important that your cat’s needs for attention and play are not overlooked with the arrival of the baby. Continuing to meet your cat’s needs is not only crucial for your cat’s well-being, it will also increase the likelihood of your cat readily adapting to the baby.
The baby’s arrival into the home
When your baby arrives home your cat may be curious and/or fearful. In either case, here is the most effective way to create a successful introduction.
Allow your cat to set the pace of the introduction and be in control of whether or not they want to interact with the baby. For example, if your cat is keeping distant from the baby, let them hide or retreat to wherever they choose. Don’t pick up the cat and bring them over to the baby and don’t carry your baby directly into your cat’s space. The more your cat feels in control, the less stressed they will be.
When your cat is ready to be near the baby, keep the interactions brief and positive. This means providing the cat with something they love—treats/food, playtime, grooming—when the baby is near and ending the interaction before the cat shows any signs of stress. The goal is for the cat to have enjoyed the interaction and to develop positive associations with your baby and want more of these interactions. Note: Before your baby arrives in the home, it is a good idea to identify a treat(s) and/or food(s) that your cat loves. This special, yummy treat/food should only be given to the cat when the baby is near. This will increase the likelihood of your cat developing positive associations with your baby.
At least once or twice a day engage your cat in interactive play. These are the toys that you move and your cat chases, for example, wand toys, fishing rod toys, and cat laser lights. This playtime will help to reduce your cat’s stress levels and will also make sure their need for stimulation is being met. Playing with your cat near the baby—if the cat is comfortable with this—will also create positive associations.
Pay close attention to your cat’s body language and vocalizations to determine how comfortable they are with the baby. If your cat is showing signs of stress—hissing, withdrawing, hiding, lack of appetite, not acting normally—try to ensure that they have enough safe spaces to hide/perch and move slower with the introduction. Each cat will adjust at their own pace and patience will pay off. It’s much better to have a slow introduction which leads to success than a rapid introduction which leads to fear and stress.
In some cases, the cat may become more stressed when the baby becomes a toddler and begins to crawl around the home. Toddlers can be scary for cats because of their unpredictable movements. If your cat seems stressed around your toddler, follow the above steps again as a reintroduction.
As your child develops, teach them how to appropriately pet a cat (for example, only petting the cat when the cat wants to be pet), what not to do with the cat (for example, don’t pull their tail or touch their feet or belly), and how to read basic cat body language (for example, hissing is the cat saying “leave me alone right now.”)
Your cat and baby should never be alone until your child is well past the toddler stage and you are certain that your cat is comfortable with your child and that your child is comfortable around your cat and understands appropriate behavior with the cat.