and behaviourist Francesca Riccomini offers
advice on how
to prepare your family feline for a new addition
MANY OWNERS, their cat represents another family
member and as such has equal access to all the resources their
home has to offer. In feline terms, this includes human attention
which is often on demand whenever anyone is at home.
is not unusual for a pet to be nurtured and even spoiled,
becoming the ‘baby' of the family. This is fine if it suits
the cat's temperament and everyone involved, but problems
can arise when a real baby is suddenly introduced into the
problems can be severe if the cat is mature and has had little,
or only negative, experience of babies and young children,
particularly during the important kitten socialisation period
of between two and seven weeks. Many of us acquire our cats
when they are well past this stage or don't have the opportunity
to introduce tiny kittens to small children. Although it is
not impossible to make up for this lack of early experience
in later life, it is best to make plans and preparations well
in advance of a baby's birth.
an individual cat will respond to a new arrival will depend
upon genetics (breed and parentage as well as species), personality
and experience. Sometimes, it has to be admitted that these
do not predispose an individual to coexist harmoniously and
safely with babies and young children. Some owners, after
careful consideration of all the issues, decide that they
cannot take the responsibility of keeping a particular pet
when they have children and so find their cat a good home
which is more suited to his needs. Sadly, the decision to
relinquish a pet is not always so well considered and aggression
towards children or urine spraying (for which the unprepared
arrival of a baby can be a stimulus) is a not uncommon reason
for cats to end up in need of rescue. It is not always possible
to prevent such a sad outcome by preemptive action but it
can often be avoided by careful thought and forward planning.
the best possible chance of your extended family living happily
together, two aspects need to be considered: the environment
and the pet. Your cat needs to have his own bed, feeding and
water dishes, toys, litter tray etc. Although these need to
be sited somewhere convenient for all the humans in the house
they also need to be in the right spot for the cat – the litter
tray should be in a private position away from his food and
away from areas of busy traffic, like the kitchen and hallway;
the scratching post should be near an external door or close
to where the cat already chooses to mark his territory by
clawing. If possible, choose somewhere elevated for the cat
to eat or rest, or an area which can be sealed off with a
baby gate. This gives the cat a chance, at least, to escape
the advances of a toddler. If the current locations of your
cat's bed, litter tray and other requirements are going to
prove impractical or unsuitable when the baby arrives, you
will need to make changes now. It is important, particularly
for an elderly cat, that these changes are made gradually.
that the preferred feline method of dealing with something
unsettling, which may represent a potential threat, is to
hide, preferably in a high, dark, secluded place from which
there is a good view, so that the situation can be assessed
in safety. Such sanctuaries can easily be provided by putting
cardboard boxes on their side, or igloo beds, on top of furniture
or sturdy shelves. Provide a number of such retreats in various
areas of your home, but especially where you will spend time
with your baby and encourage their use by putting favoured
blankets or tasty treats in them.
the room which is to be the nursery is one to which the cat
has been allowed free access. It is advisable for this to
be prevented well before the baby actually takes up residence.
To reduce adverse reaction to the change and to prevent ‘barrier
frustration', spray the closed door and its frame with Feliway
or rub with ‘facial cloths'. Don't forget that indoor cats
will be more affected by even small changes in their environment,
territory and lifestyle, than those with access to the outdoors.
feline olfactory system is very sensitive and scent is an
important means of communication in the domestic cat. Thus
any disturbance in the scent profile of a cat's territory
can have a major impact and cause real distress to a pet.
This is frequently unrecognised, but explains why equipment
for the baby, acquired in advance of his or her arrival, often
becomes the target for urination or spraying, as a cat attempts
to reassure itself by ‘marking' the articles with its own
scent in this way. Pheromone preparations can also, therefore,
be usefully applied to such baby things as buggies, cots and
highchairs. For this reason it is worth acquiring from friends
and relatives as many everyday baby items as possible so that
your cat can be introduced ahead of time to the wide range
of often pungent odours he will later encounter! These may
be minimal to us, with our poor sense of smell, but could
represent a major stressful intrusion for a cat. Bringing
the things into the home in a gradual and controlled way should
not only reduce any aversive qualities associated with them
by allowing your cat to adjust slowly to their presence, but
should help you by creating opportunities to condition positive
associations by, for instance, offering tasty food or indulging
in a favourite game, when something first arrives.
is worth remembering the essential ‘rules' of never reassuring
a pet's anxiety or fear, as this will only make it worse.
But reinforce relaxed behaviour by your cat in the face of
any potential stressor with praise, petting, play or food.
cat's hearing, like its sense of smell, is very much better
than ours, so it would be worth playing, initially at low
volume, tapes of baby noises – crying, gurgling, squealing
etc. Again, reward the behaviour you wish to encourage and
only increase the volume gradually as your cat indicates that
he can cope.
is, of course, helpful to have babies and young children visit
your home, but choose the latter with care. Cats can find
the experience overwhelming if confronted by youngsters who
insist on pursuing them. Always supervise encounters and ensure
that any handling is gentle and appropriate. Children should
never be allowed to try and pick up a cat they are not strong
enough to hold comfortably. They should always be shown how
to support the pet's full weight with a hand under his bottom
so that he is never allowed to dangle from his front legs.
Remember too, that some conscientious children, when told
not to let a kitten or small cat fall, inadvertently squeeze
too hard so that their good intentions hurt the animal as
much as those of the child who is rough and uncaring.
is best to stick to hands-off interaction, such as playing
with fishing rod toys, balls or a torchlight against the wall,
sitting quietly near a cat or perhaps giving him a gentle
stroke or grooming if the cat concerned won't find that too
intrusive. Again, making the experience pleasurable by reinforcement
with praise or a treat can help to consolidate the positive
associations for the cat with the presence of small humans.
let anyone, including children, encourage a cat or kitten
to play directly with fingers, toes or any other part of the
human anatomy. This can lead, albeit unintentionally, to injury
at a later date and sometimes to problems with aggression.
your relationship with your cat has been very close, it may
well be difficult to find the time to sustain the same degree
of affection once the new baby arrives. So it would be sensible
and kinder to your cat to dilute the emotional intensity between
you well in advance. Anticipate your new timetable and establish
a different routine for your cat which you are fairly confident
you will be able to sustain in the future. Introduce changes
gradually to minimise the impact. If your cat is used to undivided
attention for much of the time, withdraw it initially for
short periods as far in advance of the baby's arrival as possible.
You can gradually lengthen the periods of withdrawal at a
rate which reflects your cat's ability to cope. Instigate
times of structured play or grooming to suit your new timetable
and your cat's needs, but if he appears aroused or stressed,
don't impose your attentions on him as he will only become
more upset and may even lash out at you.
your cat has existing behavioural problems which you have
previously ‘put up with' now is the time to get them sorted
out as it is likely they will only worsen with the upheaval
and disruption caused by a tiny baby.
your baby arrives, try to set aside time for your cat and
stick to his established routines. Predictability is very
important to felines. If you are simply too busy to cope with
the demands of both baby and cat, consider inviting friends
or family known to him to provide one-to-one sessions of play
your cat tries to run away from your children never try to
thwart him. Flight is a natural feline reaction to anything
strange. If you try to restrain him, it will cause him stress
and fear could spill into aggression if he believes that he
is trapped and has lost control of the situation.
is especially important when you first bring the baby home.
If you have undertaken the preparation detailed above, the
cat will hopefully not be too averse to the new arrival. But
installing plug-in Feliway diffusers at various points in
the home, particularly areas associated with the baby, should
help to provide reassurance. You may also win him over by
offering him favoured food which is not normally available.
cats become more concerned about children when they are mobile
than when they are tiny babies. A crawling or toddling child
can take a cat by surprise and his or her squeals and shrieks
can be frightening for a feline. Providing places of retreat
for the cat is even more important at this stage.
children should never be brought up, even inadvertently, to
view pets as playthings. From the outset they must be taught
to respect the cat, to approach and handle him appropriately
and well because ultimately there are so many benefits and
pleasures to be derived from growing up in a family with a
well-adjusted companion animal.
also see the FAB information on 'sorting
fact from fiction'