Introducing a New Baby to Your Cat

You may be wondering why I’m writing about this topic in a blog about greener living for you and your cat. There are a few reasons. First, one of the top reasons people give up their pets is because of incompatibility with a new baby. This contributes to the overpopulation of pets and also puts an additional burden on animal shelters. You can pretend to yourself that your pet will be adopted by a loving home, but the reality is that most people don’t want older cats, especially one that has been identified as “not good with kids”. Most likely, unless you take your cat to a no-kill shelter, he or she will be euthanized.

The second reason I’m writing about this topic is because being green shouldn’t just stop at the environment. I find most people who care about the planet also care deeply about their communities and contributing to the global good. If you can create harmony in your home and not have to give up your cat because of a new baby, then you’ve just added to the karmic good of the universe :).

Finally, I’m writing because I found most of the resources for introducing a baby to your pet cat to be quite brief. The information was good, but it seemed fairly superficial. For example:

  • Don’t bring the baby up to the cat, let the cat approach the baby.
  • If possible, let your cat sniff something with the baby’s scent on it before you bring the baby home.
  • Give your cat lots of attention and treats whenever the baby is in the room so that they associate the baby with good things.
  • Never leave the baby and cat alone together.

I did get some good advice from a presentation by the SPCA:

  • A couple of months before the baby is due, play the sound of crying babies to your cat so they can get used to the sound.  Start off playing it softly and gradually increase the sound level.
  • Before heading home from the hospital, take a towel or wipe that is scented with the baby and place it under your pet’s food bowl and give him extra special food.

I think that pretty much sums up most of the advice.  However, I have a VERY FEISTY cat.  I talked to friends with cats and babies and they had fairly smooth introductions.  One friend even sent pictures of their newborn CUDDLING WITH THEIR BABY.  Another friend said her cats were scared of the baby and ran away.

These scenarios would never apply to Furball.  He is a high energy, fiery little cat.  If he perceives something to be a threat, instead of running and hiding, he goes on the offensive.  I’ve seen him go ballistic when my brother brought his dog over and when a friend’s pant leg swished too closely to his head.  He even struck fear into the hearts of the maintenance men at my old apartment.  I came home one day to find a message on the answering machine that one of the maintenance guys had tried to pick up the cat and the cat bit him.  Another time, I found a note on the door that said, “Maintenance was here, but cat would not let us into the apartment.”  The one guy who was supposedly not afraid of the cat (I guess he was the one who didn’t get bitten) tiptoed around the cat when he came by.  This was a grown man, about 6 feet tall and 180 lbs.  He looked like those illustrations of the big elephant cowering in a corner when facing a little mouse.

Thus, since we’re expecting in a couple of months, I am very concerned that the introduction of Baby to the cat goes smoothly.  I’ve had Furball for almost 8 years and I feel it would be terrible if I had to give him up, but the baby’s safety comes first.  I need advice for how to introduce a high-strung, aggressive-when-threatened cat to a baby.  Since it doesn’t seem to exist, I’m doing some trial and error to come up with own.

Here’s what I’ve started to do:

1. Tell the cat about the baby.

This may be totally pointless in the minds of most people, but who knows?  The cat may understand absolutely nothing, but there is a chance that he’ll pick up on something.  At the very least, he may get a sense that a change is in the air and I’ll get comfortable with the idea of the cat and baby together by talking about it all the time.

I tell Furball that he’ll soon be a “big brother” to the new baby.  I tell him about what babies are like, that they’re noisy and small, that they’re delicate and not sturdy like kittens.  I tell him that I appreciate his understanding and am asking him to make room for the baby.  I also tell him that I’m going to be busy and tired and he may not get as much attention as he’s used to, but it doesn’t mean that I love him any less.

I also imagine an image of a baby in my mind while I’m telling Furball all of these things.  Some people believe pets can pick up on your thoughts, so I figure why not try it?

I tried this technique when we moved into our new home.  For months, I told Furball we were looking for a new place and told him about all of the space he would have in a house and let him know when the movers were coming.  To be honest, this was the smoothest transition we had.  Furball adjusted to the new home really quickly.  Did it have anything to do with me telling him about it?  Who knows?

I remember when my family moved when I was 4 years old and they never told me we were moving.  I think they thought a 4 year old wouldn’t comprehend what was going on, but it was a total shock to be in one house one day and suddenly in a new house that evening.  If my parents had said anything, even if I didn’t fully understand it, it would have helped me out.

2. Remember to keep giving the cat attention, but cut down on the duration of the interaction.

It’s easy when pregnant to inadvertantly start to neglect the cat.  I occasionally feel like crap, I’m tired, it’s hard to bend down and pet him.  I can only imagine what it will be like once Baby arrives.  However, I feel it’s really important to make some effort to acknowledge my pet even if things get hectic.  I know I’d rather have me cat feeling content and thus, less likely to demonstrate his displeasure.  Since I know I’ll be exhausted at first, I’m reducing my interaction time now so that he’ll get used to it when Baby arrives.  I figure I’ll still be able to give him the occasional pat on the head and chin rub.  To me, it seems like a necessity to keep the cat reasonably reassured once the baby arrives.

3.  If possible, let your cat see other kids if they’ve never seen little humans before :).

My friend brought her infant daughter over for my baby shower.  Furball was fascinated by her, but also freaked out, especially when she dropped her toys or let out a baby squeal.  I would not recommend that you invite people over to “use” their kids as a testing ground.  In this case, it just happened.  What was good about it, was that the baby was only over for a short duration of about 2 to 3 hours.  I watched the cat like a hawk and gave him tons of attention whenever he approached the baby and fed him numerous treats.  I also reassured him that everything was ok and that the baby was not a threat.  I stayed with him for the whole time that he seemed on edge or was near the baby.  After about an hour or two, he settled down and plopped himself on the floor.  It was business as usual and he completely ignored the baby.  I expect the next time he sees a baby (probably mine), he’ll be less freaked out by it.

4.  Find some easy, lazy ways to play with your cat

Furball gets hyperactive if he doesn’t get enough exercise.  Exercising him doesn’t happen naturally and easily since he’s an indoor cat.  As I mentioned in my book, Make Your Own Cat Toys, I’ve probably spent something like 83 full days of my life playing with cats and a good chunk of that went to Furball.  And, a large portion of that was due to necessity because he was too crazy if I didn’t.  With a new baby, I don’t want to litter my floor with cat toys that could be potential choking hazards.  Also, it’s not practical for me to keep bending down to pick them up and throw them.  So, I’m preparing a few “Lazy Wrestle Sausages” from my book which takes about 2 minutes to make as opposed to the “Wrestle Sausage” (link to instructions below).  The “Lazy Wrestle Sausages” will help him channel his biting, tussling, and wrestling urges.  Also, I bought a laser pointer so that he can get a good run while I sit on the rocker with the baby.  I figure if I give Furball a good run, he’ll be better behaved.

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