by Elisa Black-Taylor
My daughter Laura and Smokey
Good morning readers. Today I'd like to address one of the main reasons the family cat is turned into a shelter. A new baby is joining the family and the parents are afraid, mostly from old wives tales, of how well the baby and cat will interact. These are some thoughts about cat and baby precautions.
If new parents will use a little common sense and take a few precautions between the family cat and a new baby, there's no reason everyone can't live happily ever after. Many totally false stories have formed over the years concerning cat behavior and the dangers of a cat being around a new baby. Most are either unfounded or can be avoided.
Pregnancy itself is usually the first excuse to come up to rid the household of the previously loved family cat.
The risk of toxoplasmosis is mentioned by well meaning relatives worried about the health of the mom-to-be. Toxoplasmosis is a parasite that may affect the fetus if the mother is infected while pregnant and usually transmitted through improper litter box cleaning techniques. There are many ways to eliminate the risk, including state-of-the-art litter boxes, surgical gloves, or simply assigning the task to another family member. See more here: Toxoplasmosis and Its Prevention in Cats and People.
These days we know there is a greater chance of contracting toxoplasmosis from eating undercooked or raw meat or unwashed vegetables than from handling cat feces. So pregnant moms, please don't get rid of the cat. It isn't necessary.
The first (and possibly oldest old wives tale) is a cat will lay across a baby and smother it. Some cat haters will swear they personally know an infant who died by a cat doing this. In America we call this an "urban legend." The truth to this more likely involves sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). If a baby was found dead and a cat was in the room with the baby, there's a good chance the cat got the blame for the death. SIDS education has advanced tenfold over the past few decades. The old wives tale about baby smothering lives on1.
The "smothering" myth dates back to the 1700's or earlier and even showed up in a few American colonial period court documents. This reference states the myth is false.
Yes, there is a chance that your cat will want to get into the cradle or crib with your new baby and snuggle. Perhaps even lick the milk smell from around baby's mouth. This isn't likely but there is a slight risk. To prevent this, consider purchasing a baby crib safety net. There are many different styles on the market and the easiest way to compare them is to go to your search engine and enter "crib tent" or "baby crib safety net." Not only will these keep your cat out of the crib, but also protect baby and prevent toys from being thrown out of the crib during the night.
One method I came across to keep your cat out of the baby crib involves "conditioning" the cat before the baby arrives. Once the crib is set up, place empty soda cans in the crib so the cat jumps on the cans. Wish I'd known this trick when I was pregnant with my daughter. No harm done to the cat and the cat learns to stay away from the crib because the empty cans create a balance and noise problem for the cat. Another trick is to place double sided tape on the mattress. Cats HATE getting tape on their paws2. Ingenious!
Here are some tips to help your cat adjust before and after the baby arrives.
- Tape record a friends baby making different sounds and play this back for your cat so the sounds become familiar.
- Rub baby lotion on your hands daily so your cat becomes accustomed to the smell.
- Treat your cat for any parasites (including fleas) and make sure a check up is performed and your cat is healthy. A healthy cat is a more content cat.
- Allow your cat to investigate the nursery and set which areas are off limit.
- Allow your cat to watch you care for the new baby and teach your cat investigation is okay.
- As your baby grows, teach your child to respect the cat by following your good example.
- Show your cat as much affection as possible to prevent jealousy.
I hope these tips help the expectant moms out there. There's no reason to get rid of your cat. Follow these safety precautions, search the internet to answer cat/baby questions, and give your cat and your new baby the chance to form a life long bond. If family members or a misinformed obstetrician are pressuring you to make a trip to the shelter with your cat, there are plenty of online references backing up all of my information. So don't let anyone make you feel guilty about being a cat lover. Unless your baby has a bleeding disorder or other serious disease where a scratch or bite would be life threatening, please keep your cat.
Pictured above is my daughter Laura and her first cat Smokey. Smokey joined our family when I was six months pregnant and even let me know when I was in labor. As far as I'm concerned, Smokey saved my daughter's life, as I was in labor and didn't know it. Smokey did.
Smokey and Laura quickly became best friends as Laura grew older. This friendship began the day Laura came home from the hospital as a newborn.
2. This link was broken and has been removed Oct 2012.