Updated: Jul 21, 2020
Most children are naturally drawn to cats, but it’s important to lay some ground rules for the safety of all concerned. An overzealous toddler could severely hurt a kitten. On the flip side, cat scratches and bites can pose serious health risks to your child.
The key to promoting harmony between cats and kids is to monitor their interactions at all times and to teach children how to handle cats with kindness and respect.
Even young children can learn great responsibility by helping with age appropriate skills like filling water bowls, serving food (take special care with handling raw meat!), gently brushing the cat, and even starting to help with litter box cleaning for older children.
Cats and Babies
Most cats will steer clear of infants, whose sounds and smells seem altogether alien. Your cat is more likely to be upset by changes around the house than by the baby itself. However never leave unsupervised while the kitten is getting to know the baby and because of risk of suffocation, never allow a cat to sleep with an infant. Simply close the nursery door and use a baby monitor. If your prefer leaving the baby’s door open, consider installing an inexpensive screen door.
Cats and Toddlers
Young children don’t have the ability to read a cat’s body language or reign in their own angry or overwhelming feelings and many toddlers do not have enough awareness to know their own strength!
Toddlers operate at your cat’s eye level, move erratically, and emit unearthly giggles and squeals. Even the most confident cat can sense danger. And the gentlest feline may strike out when cornered or hurt.
It can take a while to teach your child to interact appropriately with your cat, but it’s never too early to start!
To protect both your toddler and your cat, never leave them together unsupervised.
Teach your child the proper way to interact with a cat with some of these tips:
· Show them how to gently stroke kitty’s head and back, avoiding more sensitive areas such as tail, feet and belly. You can gently stroke your toddler’s arm gently to show how it should look and feel.
· Explain that poking, squeezing or pulling fur, tails, and ears aren’t okay and could hurt kitty.
· Encourage quiet ‘indoor’ voices when interacting with the new cat.
· Teach your child not to put their face near a pet. Scratches and bites of the head and neck are both most common and most dangerous.
· Never touch the cat when she is eating or sleeping.
· Do not chase the cat. If kitty runs away, they don’t want to play.
· Make sure your cat has many safe escape perches. The top of a bureau, under a bed, or a gated-off room work well.
· Watch body language. If either child or cat are getting overly worked up, it’s time to separate them and save the cuddles for another time.
Cats and Older Children
School-age children are more reliable and are ready to start learning important lessons about caring for their feline family member, but there are still ways to encourage safe and confident interaction between older children and cats.
· Most importantly, model the proper behavior by treating your cat with affection and respect at all times.
· Do not allow rough play. This only encourages the cat to use teeth and claws. Teach your child appropriate ways to play with your cat using safe cat toys.
· Teach the difference between teasing and playing and discourage children from teasing cats.
· Teach children to properly handle a cat. An adult cat should never be picked up by the scruff of the neck. Show children how to support the cat under the chest with one hand, while supporting the hindquarters with the other.
· Educate your child. Borrow books about cats from the library. Download age-appropriate information from a website like the AVMA kids’ corner.
· Teach children to close the door! Many an indoor cat has gotten injured or lost when children inadvertently left the outside door open for a curious cat.