How will Puss react to the new addition? A timid cat which is over-dependent on you, but hides from other people may become jealous and spray to cover up the scent of the baby. It needs to become less dependent on you well before the birth. A devoted cat that joins in human activities will have hurt feelings, but is likely to join in with caring for baby if you let him. An independent cat who treats you like a hotel will probably ignore the baby if hotel services remain unchanged. Many cats become protective of what they view as a ‘people-kitten’.
Ignore scare stories about cats harming infants, they are usually exaggerated and are only newsworthy due to their EXTREME rarity (the endnote about the Malaysian baby has caused scares, but is not comparable to a domestic situation). Tales about cats suffocating babies abound, but actual occurrences are very rare; in many cases the presence of the cat was incidental. There was one confirmed case where the baby inhaled the cat’s fur and its breathing was obstructed. Use a crib-net to keep your cat out of the crib or pram – this will reduce any accidental scratches and the transmission of bacteria.
Get information from your doctor and your vet about cat-borne organisms that can harm unborn babies and take appropriate precautions e.g. don’t handle soiled cat litter and scrub garden vegetables before eating them. Ensure Puss is healthy and vaccinated. De-flea and de-worm him regularly. Establish the cat’s new routine gradually. Let him sniff the crib, pram etc but teach him not to get inside them. Let him investigate the nursery before making it out-of-bounds; if he knows what’s in there, it is less of a tantalizing mystery. You may need to fit a scratch-guard to protect the shut door from an over-curious cat.
Get crib and pram nets so that the cat cannot bed down with baby. They must be taut when fitted or the cat may use them as a hammock. Gradually reduce the amount of time spent petting your cat. After the baby arrives you will have less time for petting. Establish a special ‘cat-time’ e.g. in the evening (after a baby’s bed-time) or get your partner to become more active in caring for the cat and giving it attention. Ensure Puss’s feeding area and litter tray are well away from areas needed for preparing baby’s meals. If you use litter trays, persuade Puss to use a covered litter-tray with a cat-flap entrance. Establish a feeding area out of reach of a toddler e.g. on a table in the utility room.
When baby arrives, Puss will be curious and slightly wary of the new and noisy arrival so don’t panic when he sniffs the crib or hangs around. Many cats soon lose interest and look for entertainment elsewhere. Keep the nursery door closed or fit a screen door when baby is asleep, but make sure Puss is not shut in the nursery as well. Keep windows closed (or fit mesh screens) to keep cats from entering from outdoors.
A baby alarm or intercom will allow you to monitor baby. Keep baby’s feeding utensils out of Puss’s reach and wipe up spilt baby food before Puss gets into the habit of hanging around and doing it for you. Keep cat food and baby food well separated.
If you get tired or irritated, don’t take it out on Puss. Keep a sense of priorities. You only have one pair of hands: baby is top priority, cat usually second and most other jobs can wait a few minutes. Regularly de-wormed and de-flea Puss. Check which flea powders are safest in a house where there is a baby or toddler.
Wash your hands after petting the cat and after cleaning litter tray, cat bedding and food bowls. Encourage visitors to pay attention to the cat as well as the baby. Don’t make Puss feel rejected, the baby is part of his life too. Beware that some cats love to suck on wool and may be attracted to baby blankets!
Don’t leave cat and baby together unattended; most scratches are due to a cat fending off an inquisitive crawling baby. The warmth of a crib is attractive to cats and though they usually stay away from a baby’s face (most dislike the smell of human breath) it is a good idea to fit a crib net. When junior reaches the toddler stage, you need to keep cat food and litter well out of reach.
Make sure that Puss can get to his food, but junior can’t reach it. If junior does manage to sample Whiskas don’t panic, just make sure the food bowl is placed well out of reach next time. As toddlers, Claire and Emily both tried Whiskas and were none-the-worse for the experience – it’s the parents who suffer most.
Children and cat litter trays do not mix. If you can put the tray in a room or closet accessed by a cat flap, this is ideal. Likewise, make sure the potty is out of the cat’s reach as even a de-sexed cat (male or female) may attempt to spray it to cover your baby’s scent. Once your baby becomes aware of the cat, start teaching him how to interact gently with it e.g. not pull the cat about, grab its tail or disturb a sleeping cat. Provide Puss with a refuge on a bookshelf or windowsill.
Most cats retreat to a safe place rather than scratch or bite their owner’s boisterous ‘kitten’. Teach junior how to interpret cat-talk (this can be great fun); hissing or tail swishing means ‘leave me alone’, but purring and head butting means "carry on, I like this". As long as junior learns to respect Puss and not to pester him, they should get along just fine. Make sure junior learns to wash hands before mealtimes.
Introduced carefully and taught to respect each other, should result in a happy cat and well-adjusted youngster who will remain companions for many years. Claire and Emily both grew up with cats; they all survived intact and Claire recently moved into her own home and adopted her own cat.
Cases of Abandoned Baby Attacks by Stray Cats
In May 2001, a new-born baby abandoned in a rubbish skip was apparently attacked by stray cats before a man saved her in Malaysia. The baby girl was still attached to the umbilical cord when she was discovered wrapped in a cloth and placed in a plastic bag in a dumpster in Kuala Lumpur. Police saw stray cats near to the skip and found scratches all over the baby’s body when they arrived at the scene. The baby has been taken to hospital and found to be healthy and the parents were being sought. The baby was new-born and therefore would smell of blood. The cats would have been attracted to the smell of blood and being unused to humans, would not have viewed the infant as a family member.
This is not comparable to the interaction of domestic house cats with babies in their family. The cats were feral and not accustomed to people as "family" so they would have viewed a helpless discarded infant as prey rather than a family member, especially as it had been placed in a rubbish skip where they normally found household scraps. Also, the report referred to scratches rather than bite wounds so it is possible that the cats were investigating the find. The case is not unusual, a few days earlier Malaysian police in Selangor found the partly eaten remains of a newborn baby; it had been buried in a shallow grave and dug up and eaten by stray dogs.