Children are naturally drawn to cats, but it’s important to lay some ground rules for the safety of all concerned. An overzealous toddler could severely hurt a kitten. On the flip side, cat scratches and bites can pose serious health risks to your child. The key to promoting harmony between cats and kids is to monitor their interactions at all times and to teach children how to handle cats with kindness and respect.
Your new cat or kitten will need several days to adjust to its new home, so limit your child’s interaction to gentle petting, and only when the cat approaches. Don't allow young children to pick up, carry or put their faces close to the animal. Sudden movements and loud noises can easily frighten your pet, so children should speak and sit quietly around the cat.
Cats and Toddlers
Your toddler regards a cat as an animated stuffed toy just waiting to be squeezed, prodded and chased. Young children don’t have the ability to read a cat’s body language or reign-in their own angry or aggressive feelings. Toddlers operate at your cat’s eye level, move erratically, and emit unearthly giggles and squeals. Even the most confident cat can sense danger. And the gentlest feline may strike out when cornered or hurt. It can take awhile to teach your child to interact appropriately with your cat, but it’s never too early to start. Here are some tips for a smooth transition:
- To protect both your toddler and your cat, never leave them together unsupervised.
- Teach your child the proper way to interact with a cat. Show her how to gently stroke her head and back, avoiding more sensitive areas such as tail, feet and belly. Stroke your toddler’s arm gently to show how good it feels. Explain that poking, squeezing or pulling fur, tails, and ears aren’t OK.
- Quiet voices are a must.
- Teach your child never to put her face near a pet. Scratches and bites of the head and neck are both common and dangerous.
- Never touch the cat when she is eating or sleeping.
- Do not chase the cat. If she runs away, it means she’s had enough.
- Make sure your cat has many safe escape perches. The top of a cabinet, under a bed, or a gated-off room work well.
- Watch body language. If either child or cat are getting overly worked up, it’s time to separate them.
Cats and Older Children
School-age children are more reliable and are ready to start learning important lessons about caring for their new feline family member.
- Do not allow rough play. This only encourages the cat to use teeth and claws. Teach your child appropriate ways to play with your cat using safe cat toys.
- Do not allow children to tease the cat. Teach the difference between teasing and playing.
- Teach children to properly handle a cat. An adult cat should never be picked up by the scruff of the neck. Show children how to support the cat under the chest with one hand, while supporting the hindquarters with the other.
- Model the proper behavior by treating your cat with affection and respect at all times.
- Involve older children in caring for your cat. Seven to eight-year-olds can replenish food and water bowls; ten year olds can gently brush the cat and even help keep litter pan clean. This is a great way for children to start learning responsibility for other living things.
- Educate your child. Borrow books about cats from the library.
- Teach children to close the door! Many an indoor cat has gotten injured or lost when children inadvertently left the outside door open.