Cats can greatly enrich your children's lives and teach them many valuable lessons about the human-animal bond. There are a few things to consider to make this endeavor a success for your family as well as for your cat, and to ensure happy and safe interactions for all.
The Right Cat
For a family with young children, it is important to choose a sociable cat. Avoid choosing a fearful or aggressive cat, or a cat that does not like to be carried, petted, hugged and handled. Once the right cat has been found, the adults in the household should guide introductions between the cat and the kids. First, educate your kids about cat behavior and body language. Explain how the body language changes when your cat is happy and when they need a break. Explain "safe zones", which are areas in the house where children are off limits. This can be on top of a cat tree, or in a quiet place that is sectioned off by a baby gate. It is important for your cat to be able to get away when they want to. 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. This includes respecting a cat's boundaries while eating, drinking, sleeping and using the litter box.
The first few days in a new home can be a little stressful even for a confident cat. On the other hand, it is usually very exciting for a child! Make sure to balance your child's enthusiasm for spending time with the kitty with your cat's need for adjustment and alone time. Allow your cat to acclimate to the new surroundings slowly. Provide your cat with a quiet and low traffic room in the home. If your children are under 10, this should not be the child's room.
Make it fun and keep it safe for everybody. It is important to understand that most cats who are chased or picked up incorrectly are likely to scratch or even bite. This can be avoided by teaching children safe animal handling and by keeping kitty's nails trimmed. All children, even the youngest of children, can be involved in cat care: helping with feeding, playing with interactive toys, cleaning the litter boxes, or grooming. These positive interactions will make both your cat and your kids feel good!
Be a good role model. Let your children see you handling your cat respectfully. Talk to them about why you are handling your cat the way you are. Do not roughhouse with your cat in play. The best relationships are made when parents involve themselves in their kids' and cats' interactions. Watch for inappropriate behavior from both felines and human kids. Be aware of how your cat and kid feel about each other. These steps will help you and your family enjoy a positive, loving relationship with any cat!
This document created by the San Francisco SPCA with a grant from Maddie's Fund®.