Children can be overwhelming to cats. Fear in the presence of children is common. It can be perfectly normal, innate, and is an adaptive behavior in all animals. However, if fear isn't addressed, it can develop into serious behavioral and health problems. If your cat is showing fear or shyness around children, you should always deal with it proactively. Most cats just need a little time to adjust.
How to introduce a fearful cat to a child
The first few days in a new home are often quite stressful for any cat but very exciting for a child! Balance your child's enthusiasm for spending time with the kitty with the cat's need for adjustment and alone time. Provide your cat with a quiet, low-traffic room in the home. If your children are under 10, this should not be the child's room. Allow the cat to acclimate to the new surroundings slowly.
Offer plenty of safe spaces
Whether it is at the top of a cat tree, or over a baby gate, cats need to be able to get away when they want to. Teach your kids to respect these hideouts-cats should know that they are not going to be dragged out of these special places. If you have toddlers, you may need to make these spaces inaccessible to them; for older children, explain the reasons and make sure they understand to follow these rules.
Educate the kids
Teaching kids about cat behavior is very beneficial. Teach them basic body language so they know when the cat is happy and when they need a break. There are some good handouts, books, and videos that cover these subjects, including this presentation - Feline Communication: How to Speak Cat.
Make it fun for the kids and the cat
All children, even the youngest, can be involved in cat care. They can help with feeding, play with interactive toys, clean the litter boxes, or grooming. These positive interactions will make both the cat and the kid feel good!
Always keep it safe
A cat who is chased or picked up incorrectly is likely to scratch or bite your child. It could be an accident or in a defensive manner. Teach appropriate handling and keep kitty's nails trimmed. Teach your kids to respect a cat's boundaries while eating, drinking, or sleeping. Teach them to never bother a cat who is using or about to use the litter box. Additionally, be a good role model and let your children see you handling the kitty respectfully. Talk to them about why you are handling the kitty the way you are. Don't roughhouse with the kitty in play.
Although children are well intentioned, their interactions with your cat should always be supervised.
This document created by the San Francisco SPCA with a grant from Maddie's Fund®.