When a new baby arrives into a family, it’s not just family members who need to adjust, it’s also their pets. Babies smell different, make strange sounds and even look weird in the eyes of a cat. Cats love routine and don’t like change, so you shouldn’t assume your cat will automatically adapt to the baby. If the cat starts acting out, a lot of people think it is because of jealousy but most of the time it is actually confusion towards the new situation. Some people will try to say that you need to re-home your cat, but as your cat is also part of your family this will not only be a big mistake but a very cruel act.
If you want your cat to develop a healthy and happy relationship with your baby, there are some tips you can follow to prepare your cat for when the baby comes. Just focus on slowly introducing your cat to all new experiences and make sure, through a reward system, that he/she develops a positive association with all these new experiences.
1. Slowly adapt your cat’s schedule
When the baby comes, your schedule will be chaotic and inconsistent. If you suddenly change your cat’s mealtimes, playtime and litter box changing time, it will be stressful. It is better to decide in advance a new schedule for your cat and slowly start changing it before the baby arrives. You can assign chores to specific family members and if you find it necessary, get an automatic feeder so your cat gets used to the new schedule and dynamics with time.
2. Slowly decrease the attention your cat gets instead of increasing it
It is a mistake to give extra attention to your cat before the baby comes, no matter how much you want to compensate in advance the lack of free time you’ll have later. Your cat will get used to all this attention and will resent it more when the baby comes. Instead, it is better to gradually decrease the attention your cat usually gets so he/she gets used to spending less time with you. You can provide in advance toys for independent play or food puzzles to keep him/her entertained.
Just don’t ignore or isolate your cat and don’t stop the attention completely. Still find the time to offer some one-to-one play and some cuddling after the baby comes to create positive associations with the baby.
3. If the baby’s room will be off limits for the cat
If there is some furniture inside the baby’s room that your cat likes to use, move them outside so your cat still has access. You should try to get your cat used to a restricted area in advance, so when the baby comes it doesn’t feel like an abrupt change to be left outside. You can place a cat bed or tree outside the baby’s room and keep some treats within reach so every time you enter the room, you toss a treat to your cat in the bed (even after the baby is born). This way, your cat will be happy around the baby and will be rewarded for staying outside. If by any chance your cat enters the room, just remove him/her gently without punishment to avoid negative associations. You can keep the door closed and have a baby monitor, or you can install a tall baby gate or a sturdy screen door. Just do this before the baby comes.
4. If your cat will be allowed inside the baby’s room
Allow your cat to fully investigate and sniff every item in the room so he/she becomes familiar with the baby’s stuff. Keep a cat bed or a tree inside the room so your cat has a place to be; you can put there occasional treats to encourage him/her to use them instead of the crib. Even though it’s a myth that cats steal babies’ breath, it is better not to let your cat sleep inside the crib, at least when you’re not there to supervise. This is because new born babies are unable to move their heads and turn over and if the cat is cuddling close to the baby’s face, it might make it difficult to breathe. In addition to that, a stressed cat may pee inside the crib and you certainly don’t want that to happen. Putting in advance something like a crib tent and not putting the cushy bedding out yet may help.
5. Prepare your cat for the baby’s smells
Introducing your cat to what is coming once the baby is home includes all the new smells. Regarding toys and supplies, their smell may be scary for your cat, so every time you bring one home, unwrap it and let your cat investigate it and smell it. If you see it’s too stressful, do this with one item at a time and give a treat to your cat if he/she seemed relaxed with it. You can even place some of them close to your cat’s bowl of food so the approximation to the new item is rewarded with food.
Regarding the baby’s smells, try to use some of the lotions, shampoos, powders and creams on yourself (especially before food or play) so your cat develops positive associations with someone familiar. Also once the baby is born, you can ask someone to bring from the hospital a blanket that held the baby and allow your cat to explore it.
The point of all this is once the baby is home; your cat is familiar with all the new smells.
6. Prepare your cat for the baby’s sounds
The same way like with the smells, the important thing is to give your cat some preparation for what is coming. Sounds that can be disturbing include the baby crying and all the sound-making toys your baby is going to have.
To prepare your cat for this, you can buy or download a CD with baby’s sounds and play it during playtime or mealtimes. First play it on a low volume and once you see after some sessions, that your cat is comfortable with it, increase the volume until you eventually reach a realistic level. Regarding toys also turn on some of them from time to time and as long as your cat stays relaxed, you can always offer treat rewards.
If you have friends with babies, you can invite them over so your cat gets the real experience of the baby’s sounds and smells. If this is your first baby, avoid friends with toddlers; the first step is to get your cat comfortable with non-moving children.
7. After the baby is born…
First of all when you return from the hospital, if possible, let someone else take the baby so you can greet your cat alone. Then you can let your cat sit next to you and the baby so he/she can see your child. Have treats within reach to reward your cat for appropriate behavior. Don’t punish your cat if he acts out and don’t force interaction – you don’t want to develop negative associations with the baby.
Help your cat enjoy being around you and the baby by praising, giving treats and playing every time he/she comes gently near the baby and sniffs him/her..
Have some personal space prepared for your cat for when the baby starts growing and becomes a toddler. Your cat may need to escape sometimes and he/she should be able to retreat if needed. This includes high perches or cat trees and the litter box out of your child’s reach.
And always supervise them when they are together, especially when the baby becomes a toddler. When that happens, don’t allow your child to carry, grab or chase the cat so your cat doesn’t react badly and hurt your child.
READ MORE: 6 TIPS ON HOW TO TRIM YOUR CAT’S NAILS
If you are concerned about your cat scratching the baby, you can trim his/her nails. Just please DO NOT DECLAW your cat. It is an inhumane practice that causes great pain in cats and it’s even forbidden in several countries that consider it torture.
If you notice any major changes in your cat’s behavior, consult with your vet to make sure it’s not something medical.
If you have any other tips, share them with us!