Anyone who’s ever had an animal best friend knows that pets are a wonderful addition to a family. My parents had a penchant for raising a variety of furred and feathered babies, from the long tailed macaque my Mum rescued from a petshop, to the Amazon parrot that travelled from Switzerland to Malaysia with my Dad. I had terrapins and hamsters growing up too, as well as a stray neighbourhood dog that I used to feed and play with but could never officially adopt as my parents wouldn’t allow it. However, the number one constant companions throughout my life have been cats. The only time I did not have a cat in my life were the two years that I was in university in Melbourne. As soon as I got out of student residences, I adopted my furbaby, Smokey, from the RSPCA. Yuki followed shortly after, and I brought them both over from Melbourne when I moved back to Malaysia.
These two furbabies have been with me for the past eight years. When I got pregnant I worried about how the change would affect them. Especially Yuki, who is quite an anxious cat, so I did a lot of research on how I would introduce a new baby into their lives to make it a happy occasion for everyone around.
Do remember that every cat is different. There will be some cats that will barely react to the new tiny human in their lives, as Smokey did. Then there are cats that will have a significant change in behaviour and act out because of the change, as Yuki did. If you’re worried about introducing your furbabies to your new baby, read on for some tips on how to maintain a harmonious household for both pet and baby.
- Plan Ahead
Make sure you are clear on what the situation will be when baby arrives. For example, will your cat be always allowed in the baby’s room, only sometimes, or not at all? Be clear and consistent with your boundaries.
- Prepare The Environment
Start assembling your new furniture and set up (cribs and other baby items) early and slowly over time. This will allow your cat to get used to the smells and new set ups gradually, without getting too stressed at all the new changes if they happen too abruptly. A baby’s crying can also be a stressful sound for cats to get used to, so you can start preparing them by playing baby crying sounds from time to time.
- Model New Behaviours
If something like a sleeping arrangement is going to change, do this before baby arrives. If your cat used to sleep in your room and will no longer be doing that, or their feeding times change, start this change early.
- Plan A Calm Meeting
Once baby arrives, allow your cat to meet your baby in a neutral space that is not the baby’s or the cat’s sleeping/special place. Allow your cat to smell your baby’s feet. They might be interested for a bit and then lose interest.
- Always Supervise
Make sure that your baby and your cat are never left together unsupervised. Even the most gentle natured cat might be inclined to defend itself if a baby grabs its tail. When babies are very small, you also want to make sure your cuddly cat doesn’t suffocate the baby by lying too close.
- Plan One On One Playtimes With Your Cat
Set aside some time every day to have special one on one time to cuddle or play with your cat. This doesn’t have to be long, even 10 minutes a day of uninterrupted one on one time can make a difference.
- Safe Spaces
Make sure your cat has a safe space it can easily get to that your baby will not be able to get to. A cat tree, for example, would be greatly beneficial. If you see that your baby is bothering the cat, please make sure to separate them. You will also need to model gentle touches by holding your baby’s hand and showing them how to pet your cat gently. Keep consistently doing this every time baby wants to touch cat. Be sure to wash hands afterwards!
- Feliway Diffusers
Feliway diffusers mimic calming pheromones for cats and are a great way to get them to feel relaxed and happy despite any changes that are going on. This was quite helpful for me with Yuki.
If your cat starts to show signs of being stressed such as going to the toilet outside of the litter box, spraying, or seems anxious around the baby, it might be a good idea to consult a cat behaviourist.
I hope you find these tips helpful, and that your cats and babies will be best friends like mine are now!