August 2019

Audience: Foster Caregivers, Public, Shelter/Rescue Staff & Volunteers

Congratulations on deciding to enrich your and your children's lives by adding a feline friend to your household! Here are steps to follow to ensure happy and safe interactions for all.

The first few days in a new home are often quite stressful for any cat and, on the other hand, very exciting for a child! Make sure to balance your child's enthusiasm for spending time with your kitty with their need for adjustment and alone time. For the first few days, confine your new cat to a quiet and low traffic room in the home. If your children are under 10, this should not be the child's room. Allow your cat to get used to their new surroundings slowly.

Provide a safe space for the cat. Whether it is at the top of a cat tree, or over a baby gate, all cats need to be able to get away when they want to. Teach your kids to respect these hideouts-your cat should know that they are not going to be dragged out of these special places. If you have toddlers, make these spaces inaccessible to them; for older children, explain the reasons and make sure they understand to follow these rules.

Teach kids about cat behavior and body language. Teach them basic body language so they know when your cat is happy and when they need a break. All children, even the youngest, 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!

Teach kids appropriate animal handling and keep kitty's nails trimmed. A cat who is chased or picked up incorrectly is likely to scratch or bite your child, either by accident or in a defensive manner.

Teach kids to respect a cat's boundaries while eating, drinking, or sleeping and to never bother a cat who is using or about to use the litter box.

Be a role model and let your children see you handling the kitty respectfully. Talk to them about why you are handling your kitty the way you are. Make sure kids know it's not ok to roughhouse with the kitty while playing.

No matter how old your kids are, remember that you are the adult and are the responsible one-for the kids and for the pets! While duties can be assigned to children, such as refreshing the water and cleaning the litter box, they should always be monitored by the parents. The health and well being of the animals is ultimately the sole responsibility of the adults in the home.

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 kids feel about each other. These steps will help you and your family enjoy a positive, loving relationship with your new cat!

This document created by the San Francisco SPCA with a grant from Maddie's Fund®.