A subject that has recently been obsessing me somewhat is how my cat is going to react to our new arrival. Obviously, it's not really something to worry about now, but several well meaning (yet non cat owning, and slightly misinformed individuals) have seen fit to helpfully regale me with stories about how cats and babies don't mix.
Now our resident feline is a petite and gentle spayed middle-aged female with a sweet and affectionate nature. I have never, ever known her to scratch anyone (even when being held down at the vet for unpleasant procedures) and she is often, I'm sorry to say, bullied by the tom cat in the upstairs flat, who sometimes likes to invade through the cat flap and eat her dinner. I have to admit, my moggy is like my feline fur baby, and she sleeps next to me each and every night, after a routine cuddle before the lights are turned out. She spends most of the day outside in the garden, and so has outside interests, but when P and I are at home she will intermittently pop inside to say hello and then go back outside to continue her secret cat business.
There are many old wives' tales a pregnant cat owning woman will hear before her baby is born – my latest and 'favourite' is the story about cats being attracted to the smell of milk and therefore lying on baby's face and suffocating them (especially newborns, who are unable to summon the strength to turn their little heads). Now this is all very very upsetting to me and really very unnecessary to hear.
I have done a lot of research and spoken to other cat owning mamas, as well as a good friend of mine who is a vet. It's really important to acknowledge that these sort of extreme incidences with cats and babies are very rare. At times in history (before we knew what we know now about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome - SIDS), a baby has tragically died of SIDS, and an innocent cat simply happens to be nearby – a convenient scapegoat, if you like. It is this anecdotal misinformation that I believe to be the cause of much of the cat distrust around babies that we hear today.
Of course, it is universally accepted that you do need to prepare Puss for a new baby in the house – after all, cats can be very sensitive to change – and with some common sense, any issues can definitely be avoided.
So, here's my pick of what you should be doing in order to avoid problems:
- During your pregnancy, avoid cleaning out the cat litter tray (or wear gloves when you do and wash your hands immediately afterwards) to avoid toxoplasmosis. You should also wear gloves when gardening and apply these same hygiene rules, as cats will often use flowerbeds and dirt patches as a toilet. This also applies to non cat-owning women with gardens. Wash your hands after cuddling, petting or playing with your cat (or someone else's) for the same reason
- When preparing the nursery, do allow the cat to investigate the area – it's important for them to be aware of what is new in the home. Allowing them to see for themselves rather than banning access initially avoids having that room become a tantalizing region that must be explored later on. Then you can keep the door closed when you are not using it
- Discourage the cat from jumping up into the bassinet or cot (well that's obvious!)
- Purchase a cat net from a baby supply store that can be draped over the cot or bassinet – if in the unlikely event the cat does jump in, it will prevent baby from being injured
- As early as possible in your pregnancy, change your night time routine with the cat – if baby is to sleep in your room then Puss shouldn't (I have to admit, this one is very difficult for me and I have not yet succeeded in banning her from the bedroom)
- Once baby comes home, if the cat is interested, do allow it to 'meet' the infant (supervised of course!). Do this in a quiet environment without too many distractions so both cat and baby are relaxed
- Encourage other members of the household to pay more attention to the cat, especially if you are normally its main source of affection. If you have an older child, having them take some responsibility for "looking after" Puss can be a good way for both of them to feel extra love and attention during this time of change
- Never, ever leave your cat alone with the baby
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It must also be noted that not all cats are that interested anyway – preferring to just come in and eat, get a scratch behind the ears and leave again! Do take the precautions outlined above just in case. Given that we are a nation of cat lovers (nearly 30% of UK households own at least one cat), the vast majority of families have enjoyed incident-free baby and cat integration.
So rather than getting myself all wound up about it (which can be easy when you're pregnant and hormonal) I'm just going to exercise my common sense.
Did you have any issues with your cat when your baby came home? What precautions did you take?