Origin of Cat Sucks Baby’s Breath

Painting of child holding a cat

The belief that a domestic cat could suck the breath out of a baby probably stemmed from a combination of factors:

  • Cats were considered to be witches’ familiars, companions to witches, at the time when people believed in witchcraft. Some people still do.
  • At the time that people believed that cats could suck the breath from infants, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome was unknown. A cat in the same room as a dead baby in the morning would leave the cat in the position of being a prime suspect with the method unknown.
  • There was considerable superstition surrounding cats. One stated that if there was a cat and a baby in the same household one would die. At least on one occasion a person killed the cat to save the child.
  • There may have been a gradual distortion of what is physically possible, namely a cat lying on a baby in his cot and suffocating him, to sucking the breath i.e. the word “suffocating” became the word “sucking”.
  • What was a mere belief was hardened into accepted fact (almost) when stories were published in newspapers or some other publication in 1607 and 1708. Then in 1791 a coroner at an inquest (a formal hearing carrying legal weight) came to the conclusion that a cat had killed a baby of 18 months of age by sucking its breath. These are the words from a 1791 journal:

cat sucking breath of child strangulation

The exact date was Tuesday 15th 1791. Note that “s” was written as the modern day “f” creating a rude word 😉 It is strange that the coroner referred to “strangulation”. Sucking breath is not strangulation but it is closer to suffocation.

In short, superstition evolved into “fact”. The sad fact, today, is that a sizable percentage of women relinquish their beloved and cherished cat, or don’t adopt a cat, because they have a new baby in the house or are pregnant. The number of cat relinquishments because of the perceived incompatibility of a cat with a baby are similar in number to other major reasons such as the cat’s owner has personal problems or euthanasia of the cat due to serious illness¹.

It is surprising how many people believe that a cat can kill a baby. Nowadays, the reason is probably more a fear of a cat lying on a child and suffocating the child because the cat is attracted to the warmth. Surely this possibility can be managed and prevented?

This is a great shame because a cat’s presence can be very beneficial to a baby who becomes a child. Not only is close contact with a companion animal good for a child’s development in understanding animals, some doctors say exposure at a young age to a cat can strengthen a child’s immune system.

The far better course of action for a pregnant mother is to set in motion a regime in the home on the new arrival of never leaving the child unattended with a cat that is allowed to roam throughout the home or outside and to make sure access by the cat from the outside to the child’s room is barred. This regime could be in place until the child is about 6 years old. It is a simple case of sensible supervision and then education of the child in how to handle and interact with a cat.

Associated pages:

  1. My cat is stressed by my new baby. Advice please.
  2. New Information On Toxoplasmosis Risks

References:

  1. The Welfare of Cats Edited by Irene Rochlitz
Facebook Discussion

Comments

Origin of Cat Sucks Baby’s Breath — 10 Comments

  1. But of course this has absolutely nothing to do with cats’ Toxoplasma gondii parasite that causes so many still-births, miscarriages, hydrocephaly, and microcephaly for pregnant women, does it. It’s always superstition or something or someone else’s fault, isn’t it. Never because of any cat, right?

    (wow, wallow in that bliss of self-inflicted ignorance some more, why don’t you, I don’t think you’ve reached the full depths of your psychotic bliss yet)

    • Woody we already talked about your stupid argument in another article. Toxoplasma that is. Why don’t you make your comment over there.

      Either you do think a cat will suck the breath out of a baby or you don’t but either way you haven’t really said. I’m tempted to think you probably do think it’s true. You are so in awe of the power of cats they have completely taken over all the meaning in your life. I’m sure you are very happy about the fact that such superstitions exist. Oh no wait, maybe you really do think it’s true and not a superstition. I’m starting to become jealous of the all powerful cat listening to you rant about how powerful and destructive they are. There is no doubt that they are beating your poor messed up brain into a pulp of hate and destruction. That’s pretty incredible when you think about it. The fact that you come back for more is even more incredible.

      When I hate something I usually try to avoid it. I don’t really like the feeling of hating. Seems like you don’t know any better. You can’t argue with that now can you. It is true isn;t it. You can’t let go can you? Don’t turn around and say “well yes I hate cats in my spare time but the rest of the time I’m normal” because we all know it’s not true and that you are completely obsessed with these amazing creatures. I am too. I guess thats why we both read about them every day. Welcome to the club.

      There’s no point in keeping scores anymore Woody. You are so lost that you spend your day obsessing over something you hate. I would guess that in part you hate them because they control your life. Nobody likes to be controlled by something they hate so you really are in deep.

      The best advice you can take is to go away and possibly seek counselling.

      • I’m dreaming of a large black cat standing on top of Woody, who is lying down. Woody has his mouth open and his lips are blue. He is still. The cat’s head is close to Woody’s. The cat has a faint smile on his face….. 😉

    • Oh dear. Bob Smith, alias Woodsman, you such a bore. Really, really boring. You’ll have to find another IP and email and name because all three will be added to the banned list.

  2. If a cat lies on a baby and smothers him/her, the only blame for that belongs to the child’s parents who will have failed in the care of both the baby and the cat.
    Interesting that the f for s meant that word in 1791 wasn’t the disgusting one people use nowadays so freely, I wonder when it became a vulgar word?
    Woody you are very predictable in your hatred of cats and cat lovers, I don’t know what you hope to gain by your rantings but really Marc is right, you need to go and seek counselling, you are wasting your life trying to score points because you never will here on PoC.

  3. Our parents had cats when my twin brother and I were born,we never came to any harm as our mother looked after us properly and our cats too and taught us to respect them as we grew up.
    When my own twins were born I had cats too and did the same and it makes for a happy family as my kids are growing up to be cat lovers and know to treat them as they should be.
    It’s ignorant to say babies and cats can’t all be safe and happy,our home is full of love.

    • Thanks Rose. The well known saying that a cat gives a home a soul applies. The presence of a cat adds to the family, makes it complete and children can get so much from the presence of a cat. Look how you turned out 😉 Great.

  4. Woody you’ve reached the full depths of your psychotic bliss that’s for sure,watch out or you might never surface from your self inflicted pit.

    • Woody you’ve reached the full depths of your psychotic bliss..

      Definition of Psychosis: A loss of contact with reality that usually includes: False beliefs about what is taking place or who one is…yes, it’s Woody.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Please only upload photos that are small in size of max 500px width and 50 KB size. Large images typical of most default settings on digital cameras may fail to upload. Thanks.