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Foetus vs Feline- Helping you and your cat adjust to a new arrival

on October 7, 2013 - 8:41am

I can’t help noticing that recently, many of my clients are ‘glowing’ mothers-to-be.   Helping the expectant lady with her heavy cat carrier is the least I can do, but I thought that a few extra tips would be useful to those of you who are about to introduce a baby to their feline baby (ies). 

Rescue shelters are often presented with a beloved cat based on widespread myths that babies and cats don’t mix.   Hopefully this blog will help keep the whole family happy and alleviate some common concerns.

Firstly some good news!  There is research that suggests children brought up in a house with pets, including cats, have a lower incidence of allergy(1,2)and have improved social skills and emotional development(3).   This reinforces what we cat lovers always thought, that cats and children should coexist.

Toxoplasmosis, a parasitic infection, is a big concern for pregnant ladies.  Toxoplasma gondii can cause miscarriage, stillbirth and birth defects.  Since cats are often infected through eating prey, they are often cited as the ‘source’ of the infection.  Cats are actually only a risk if they are actively shedding the parasite, which only happens for a short time after they are infected.  To be on the safe side, I would use your ‘condition’ to get another family member to empty the litter tray!  Careful hand washing or wearing gloves to handle your cat’s waste are sensible hygiene measures in normal circumstances and will be more than enough to prevent the transfer of cysts.  Feeding your cat a raw diet during your pregnancy increases his or her risk of infection and so processed or cooked foods are safer options.  Handling vegetables, raw meat and gardening are probably more ‘risky’ for toxoplasmosis than cats, but again, hand washing after these activities will prevent the infection.  Click here for further information about toxoplasmosis.

It makes good sense to ensure that your cat’s flea and worm control are effective and up to date; for cats that live with babies and children, this is even more important.  It is worth scheduling your cat’s routine health check before the baby is due; life will become hectic and it may be difficult to juggle a baby and a vet appointment.

Cats do not like changes in their environment or routine.  The inevitable disruption that occurs before and when the new baby arrives should be carefully handled to minimise your cat’s stress:

  • Allow your cat to explore the new baby furniture and smell the new baby paraphernalia eg. Toys, mobiles, nappies etc.  Praise with cuddles and treats will reinforce a positive association with the new arrival
  • Think about putting a netting screen across the door to the baby’s room, so that your cat is able to see and smell the area, but prevented from getting into the crib or up on to surfaces that you don’t want cat paws on
  • If your cat is very bonded to you, try to change your routine gradually, eg. Feeding and play time responsibilities may be shifted to your partner or a friend, so that if you become preoccupied with the new born, your cat still receives love and attention
  • Gradually change the location of feeding bowls or litter trays to make them inaccessible to the baby, especially when he or she starts to crawl

While you are in the hospital, ask a family member or friend to take a soft blanket that smells of the new baby back home for your cat to explore and start to accept, so called ‘scent bonding’.

When you and the new arrival come home, make a fuss of your cat, while someone else looks after the baby, to reconnect with him or her.  Allow your cat to approach you and the baby and praise him or her for appropriate inquisitiveness!  If there is any negative behaviour, such as hissing, growling or a fluffed up tail, calmly pick the baby up and leave the room, to allow your cat to cool off.  Try introducing the baby to your cat again on another day…

There is a common belief that cats smother babies and ‘suck their breath’.  Cats naturally like to seek out warm, cosy places to sleep but do not plot cold blooded infanticide!  Closing the door to the nursery when your baby is asleep, using a screen, as previously suggested or putting a net over the cot are good ideas.

Finally, take the opportunity to snuggle up with your cat and relax when the baby sleeps – Purring is good for us and releases stress as well as making sure your ‘first’ baby still feels loved.