by Elisa Black
Photo copyright Stockxpert
Cats and children go together beautifully as long as the temperament of the child and the cat are taken into consideration. If your child asks about adopting a cat you must ask yourself several questions. Will he care for the cat including cleaning the litter box, feeding and grooming? If he doesn’t are you prepared to take over? It’s not a good idea to expect a child to provide 100% of the care but the child should be willing to perform a reasonable amount according to age and responsibility level.
Choosing a cat should be a family affair. It’s not advisable to just bring home a cat or kitten on a spur of the moment decision. The breed is not as important as the personality of the individual cat. Do some research if a purebred is desired because each breed is different. There are many older cats in shelters who have lost their home due to economic reasons. Although often overlooked, these cats have been around children and would make excellent pets. Do not choose a declawed cat as they are more likely to bite when feeling frightened. There is no warning nip as with cats with claws and the bite can be severe enough to require medical attention. Another question to consider is will the child still love the cat if bitten.
It is important to explain to a child that a cat has a long lifespan and may live 15-20 years. A cat should be treated with love and kindness. Make sure the child is mature enough to understand a cat isn’t a toy to be squeezed, chased, shouted at or thrown. It is a living creature with many different emotions. Children have a difficult time understanding that a cat may be frightened over any of the above. I strongly emphasize the word ‘cat’ because a kitten is more fragile and easily injured and therefore not recommended.
Another important issue on cats and children that must be discussed beforehand is the psychology of cats in general. The child needs to know that playing and petting are done on the cats terms. Teach the child the warning signs that the cat is tired. These include swishing of the tail and the position of the ears, hissing and growling. Explain that a cat must be left alone while eating, sleeping or using the litter box. Have a safe place for the cat to hide when it wants some down time. I highly recommend supervision of children and cats until the child proves he is respectful of the cat. In most cases this occurs by the time the child reaches school age.
Health issues need to be explained. Children must understand not to play in cat feces. Ringworm, roundworm (see cat parasites)and toxoplasmosis are three diseases spread from cat to human (see zoonotic diseases carried by cats). Roundworm can be spread to a child playing in a sandbox the cat has used as a litter box. Toxoplasmosis is an illness that causes flu-like symptoms and is most dangerous to pregnant women and the unborn fetus. Ringworm is a fungus that can be transmitted from cat to human and can be hard to cure. On the positive side of cat ownership, hand washing and good hygiene can be instilled at an early age. These are lifelong necessities and the younger learned the better.
It is my personal opinion that a child should have a cat in his life as early as possible unless the child is allergic to cats. Usually this is between the age of 5-10. I do not recommend babies or toddlers left together unattended. There are too many things that could go wrong. I’m not saying to get rid of your cat. Only to supervise with extreme caution to both toddler and feline. Cats teach us to be kind and responsible. Some of my best childhood memories include my cats. They enjoy the calmer things in life such as sun-napping in a window or sleeping upside-down in an old chair. A cat teaches us that it’s all right to be unique1.
Learning to like cats
this link is broken and therefore removed Nov. 2012