Cats are not big fans of change. So imagine how confusing it must be when there is suddenly a new family member brought home. From the cat’s point of view this whole event takes place without any warning. Many people incorrectly assume that any negative behavior a cat displays toward the new baby is based on jealousy but that’s not true. It’s really confusion. If you use your “think like a cat” mentality you realize the confusion caused by this major change in the cat’s normal routine and how much his environment suddenly becomes unfamiliar. Kitty wakes up one day to discover a strange-smelling, strange-sounding creature has just landed in his territory. And what’s worse is everyone around kitty suddenly starts acting all panicky and persists in shooing him away or yelling at him if he so much as attempts to approach this strange little hairless creature. Add to that, the fact that no one seems to have time for kitty anymore. Much of his normal routine has been shifted.
The earlier you begin to ease your cat through the transition, the better it will be for all concerned. Here are some basics to get you started
Maintain Your Cat’s Normal Schedule
A big mistake that many expectant parents make is to shower the cat with an incredible amount of attention BEFORE the baby’s birth because they know they’re not going to have the luxury of that much free time later. What ends up happening though is that your cat gets comfortable with the increased amount of playtime, cuddle time and attention but then when the baby comes his whole world falls apart. Create a schedule before the baby’s birth that you will be able to maintain afterward.
Help Your Cat Get Comfortable With Sounds
Babies cry and sometimes those cries are mighty ear-shattering. Get a DVD of a baby crying (tape a friend’s baby crying or purchase a sound-effect DVD online). Start by playing the DVD at a very low volume while your cat engages in something positive such as interactive playtime or receiving yummy food. Gradually, in subsequent training sessions, increase the volume.
Babies aren’t the only ones capable of uncomfortable sounds. There are countless baby toys and equipment that are designed to entertain and stimulate baby by generating sounds. Exersaucers, bouncy swings, musical mobiles, electronic playtime mats – and the list goes on. If you know your cat is jumpy around certain types of noises or you just want to be extra careful by giving him adequate time to adjust, purchase noise-generating baby equipment far enough in advance so you can set it up and give kitty time to investigate. Periodically turn certain toys on or jiggle the exersaucer so kitty gets used to it.
Do You Know Any Friends With Babies?
If so, invite them over (one at a time) so your cat adjust to the actual sound, smell and sight of what will be happening in his future. Don’t choose friends with toddlers. You want to expose your cat to a child who isn’t that mobile initially.
Respect Your Cat’s Nose
Allow your cat to investigate the new items you bring into the house as you prepare for the baby’s arrival. Kitty will want to sniff the crib, changing table, clothing, toys, etc. Let him do a full investigation. If you sense he’s getting tense about any object coming into the house, distract him with a play session or offer a treat when he approaches the object. Clicker training works well here. Click and reward him for any positive steps toward baby equipment or furniture. You can also take a clean sock, gently rub your cat around the mouth and then rub the corners of the furniture. Cats have scent glands on their cheeks that release pheromones (scent chemicals). The pheromones deposited during cheek-rubbing are “friendly.” Cats don’t typically cheek-rub objects unless they feel comfortable and secure. If you help your cat by doing some faux cheek-rubbing for him, you may help speed up his feeling of familiarity with the object.
And While We’re on the Subject of Your Cat’s Nose
Start wearing baby powder and baby lotion. This may help later on because the baby will have a scent similar to yours.
Know the Facts About the Litter Box During Your Pregnancy
If you’re pregnant you have most likely been advised by your doctor to not handle litter box duties (some poorly-informed doctors or relatives may even advise you to get rid of your cat). This is due to the risk to the fetus from toxoplasmosis. While toxoplasmosis is certainly a danger, it’s important that you know the accurate information. You are at more of a risk of getting toxoplasmosis from handling raw meat, not properly washing your hands, or from using the same cutting board for vegetables that you use for raw meat. You also are also at risk from ingesting undercooked pork lamb or beef.
Some cats do carry toxoplasmosis but the ones most at risk are those who are allowed outdoors and as a result, hunt and ingest birds and rodents. Cats on raw food diets are also more at risk.
The reason pregnant women are advised not to handle litter box duties is that the oocysts are shed in the feces of the cat. The oocysts take 1-3 days before becoming infective once they are shed so you will greatly reduce your risk if the litter box is scooped on a regular basis. Another family member can handle the duties. If you must be the one to clean the litter, scoop twice a day, wear disposable gloves and then thoroughly wash your hands EVERY TIME.
You are also at risk of getting toxoplasmosis if you do outdoor gardening. Wear gardening gloves and wash your hands immediately afterward.
If you have questions on toxomplasmosis, talk to your doctor about all the precautions you need to take but there’s no reason to get rid of your cat. Common sense and good hygiene are what needed here.
Playtime is Valuable
Your cat needs to have his normal playtime schedule. Engage in at least one (and hopefully two) interactive play sessions a day. Do play sessions while the cat is in the presence of the baby to help form a positive association. Solo playtime is also important so kitty can have something fun to do while you’re feeding or interacting with the baby. Make the solo playtime fun – don’t depend on the basket of toys sitting in the corner. Those are boring! Place a fuzzy mouse in an empty tissue box or put a toy in a paper bag. Make the solo toys more interesting. Also incorporate the use of puzzle feeders. They’re a great way to entertain kitty while you’re busy with the baby.
Many new mothers are worried about whether the cat will jump in the crib. In reality, NOTHING should be in your child’s crib – not a blanket or stuffed toy. So if you’re concerned about the cat, invest in a crib tent. In most cases though, once kitty hears how loud a baby can cry when hungry or wet, he won’t want to be sleeping that close.
If you’ve set up the crib in advance of baby’s arrival and find that the cat is hanging out in there, got ahead and set up the crib tent now. You can also fill the crib with empty soda cans and bottles. That way, the cat won’t feel so comfortable in there and hopefully he’ll be trained to avoid the crib well in-advance of baby arriving home.
Be Calm When Kitty Meets Baby
Your cat is very sensitive and easily picks up on your stress. If you’re tense, he’ll know it and won’t understand why. Be calm around your cat and use a soothing tone of voice.
Need More Information?
You can find more specific information and step-by-step techniques on helping kitty adjust to the new baby in the book Think Like a Cat. If you’re having cat behavior problems or cat training issues and would like a consultation with a cat behaviorist, contact our office for more information.
Note: The information in this article is not meant as a medical diagnosis. If you are concerned with your cat’s behavior, consult your veterinarian to rule out underlying medical causes. If you have questions about your cat and toxoplasmosis, talk to your veterinarian.
Pam Johnson-Bennett is the star of Psycho Kitty airing on Discovery UK. She is author of seven best-selling books on cat behavior including Think Like a Cat: how to raise a well-adjusted cat – not a sour puss. Think Like a Cat has become known as the cat bible. Pam is considered a pioneer in the field of cat behavior consulting. In addition to her television series and public speaking engagements, Pam owns Cat Behavior Associates, a private veterinarian-referred behavior company in Nashville, TN. Cat Behavior Associates offers private cat behavior appointments on a limited basis. Pam Johnson-Bennett is a Certified Cat Behavior Consultant.