The 101 Guide to Cats and Babies: How to Prepare and Introduce Your Fur Baby to Your Newborn
Welcoming a new baby is an exciting time for expecting parents full of many firsts. And while it's a special, wonderful time for humans, firstborn fur babies may have trouble adjusting to the new sounds, smells, and changes in routine, according to Jenna Olsen, DVM, a veterinary advisor to Pawp. So even if your cat is a loving, mostly well-natured kitty, a newborn could push them over the edge, causing them to act differently. That's why it's so vital to cat-proof your home, prepare your kitty, and take it slow with introductions once the baby has made their grand entrance.
"Getting pets acclimated to these changes can help ensure that the pet-parent bond is well maintained by preparing pets for what is to come and what is expected of them," Olsen continues. "Without appropriate planning, both owners and pets can end up frustrated. Frustrated pets often exhibit unwanted behaviors, which can lead to surrendered pets and/or behavioral euthanasias. Most importantly, however, adequate preparation, desensitization and acclimation can help keep the tiny, new human safe from potential accidents, as even the best of pets can be unpredictable."
Cat-Proofing to Prepare Before Baby Arrives
Unlike dogs, cats are limber, flexible, and can jump onto countertops, so a gate isn't really going to prevent them from reaching your newborn. That's why a bit of cat-proofing throughout the house is necessary.
Set up a retreat for your cat.
Rather than making it a negative experience, it's better to create a safe space where your cat can go when they need a break or some breathing room, says Michelle Lugones, DVM, a veterinarian at Best Friends Animal Society. "The new baby and potential visitors can be stressful for cats, so they may want to have some privacy and be able to escape unwanted interactions," she says.
Purchase a cat bed, cat tree or scratching post, and some toys and place them in a quiet bedroom that your cat can always get to where they can be left alone. "These forms of environmental enrichment provide stimuli to cats but also help them have an appropriate place to scratch, play, and hunt," Lugones explains. "These are all normal behaviors for cats, and by allowing cats to have a way to carry them out, you reduce stress and therefore reduce the chance of potential behavioral issues."
Get a Feliway plug to induce calmness.
Lugones says about a week before your baby arrives, you may consider getting Feliway plug-in diffusers. "They secrete a synthetic hormone that promotes calmness in cats. Every three to four weeks, the liquid cartridges have to be replaced," she explains. Since stress levels will be higher for everyone with a newborn, this can naturally keep the mood calmer for your kitty.
Let them explore the nursery early.
If you plan on letting your cat roam in the nursery eventually, you should take the time to let them explore now. Olsen says it's best to acclimate your cat to baby-related noises, smells, furniture, and equipment. This means playing recordings of crying babies, letting them check out the nursery and see/smell the setup, and so on. "If your cat is susceptible to change, calming pheromone products and/or calming treats can be utilized to help desensitize them to the room," she adds. "For food-motivated cats, positive reinforcement with treats after exploring is also an option."
And remember, if there are certain surfaces you won't want them on—like the crib and the changing table—ensure that you set up the nursery ahead of time and work on training that behavior.
How to Introduce Your Cat to a New Baby
Now that the baby is here (yay!), you are finally ready to take your little love home and introduce them to their kitty best friend. Here's the best way to make this a positive experience for all.
Introduce your cat and baby via smells.
Olsen says official introductions should be more gradual than dogs', as cat behavior can be a little less predictable. She recommends more smell exposure to begin, like placing a onesie, socks, or blankie near the cat so they can smell the tiny human. "This can be done for a few days while they also get used to new sounds. Beware of stress leading cats to eat weird things. Supervise to minimize foreign body risk," she adds.
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Pick a neutral room.
When you do want to make it official, Lugones says to pick a neutral room in your home where your cat doesn't have any association at all. So, in other words, avoid the room your cat sleeps in or eats in. "You can hold your baby and allow your cat to approach and sniff your baby. If your cat is acting calmly, give them tasty treats and some praise while they are with your baby. If your cat doesn't want to stick around and goes away, that's okay," she says.
3 Safety Tips to Keep in Mind Around Cats and Babies
As your cat and baby grow into pals, keep them safe by following a few general tips. Of course, you should monitor your cat to see how they adjust and then shift your routine and limits accordingly.
1. Let your cat set their own timeline.
By now, you're well aware your kitty does everything as they please, and most of the time, there's no convincing them otherwise. Making friends with a baby is no different, and Lugones says it's helpful to allow them to approach and interact with your baby on their own terms and timelines. This means keeping your typical routine as much as you can and having patience. If you try to force it, they could lash out and harm the baby, even if it's unintentional. "Some cats may adjust quicker than others who may take several months, which can be expected as every cat is different," she reminds.
2. Keep up with your cat's playtime, schedule, and health.
You may be running on a few hours of sleep for months, but your kitty still requires your love and attention. You are nurturing the cat-baby relationship by caring for them since they will feel appreciated and more likely to associate with the baby positively. "Keep up with their playtime, feeding schedule, and quality time," Lugones says. "Maintaining as much of their regular routine as possible will help to decrease their stress and allow for an easier adjustment to the new baby."
Keep an eye on their health, too! Lugones says this can be challenging while you're dealing with a newborn, but if your cat could be potentially sick or having behavioral issues, you want to address it swiftly with your family veterinarian.
3. Supervise your cat with your newborn.
Even if your cat is all purrs and head bumps the minute they meet your baby, you still need to supervise them, warns veterinarian Marty Goldstein, DVM. "At first, your cat won't understand how gentle they have to be with a newborn—after all, most cats aren't much bigger than a human baby," he continues. "So you'll need to be present at all times to help your cat learn how to interact with your baby gently."