Congratulations! You’ve just found out that you’re pregnant and can’t help but share the good news with all of your friends and family. Everyone is overjoyed, but then the questions start – How long will you be taking off work? Do you have any names picked out? And what are you going to do with your cat?? You’ve probably already received plenty of opinions as people offer advice about problems that you didn’t even know you had. Fortunately, your feline friend doesn’t have to be a source of stress, and may in fact be one of your most faithful companions every step of the way. Here are some tips to help ease the transition for both you and your cat and hopefully help separate fact from fiction…
- One of the things that often gets brought up when discussing cats and babies is toxoplasmosis. A zoonotic disease (in other words, transmissible to humans) that is sometimes spread by the faeces of cats, toxoplasmosis results in many cats needlessly ending up in shelters each year through fear and a lack of education. The disease can have serious effects on the unborn child if the mother happens to contract it during pregnancy, so do talk to your doctor about your concerns, but in reality the disease is extremely rare and easily prevented. Avoid consuming undercooked meat or unpasteurised milk (another source of infection), which is common sense for pregnancy in general. Wear gloves when gardening or handling anything else that may be used by cats as a toilet. And if your cat uses a litter tray inside, it’s the perfect excuse to have your partner take over the charming task of cleaning it!
- Babies require a lot of stuff, and all the new toys can be just as interesting for your cat as they will be for your future child. To help your cat adjust to the changes in his environment, try introducing him to some of the new items as you set up your nursery. Cats should be discouraged from sleeping in cots and prams (covering them with netting, crinkly plastic or aluminium foil can help), but it’s not the end of the world if you do spot them there.
- You may also consider getting them used to the sounds and smells of a baby by using recorded baby noises and allowing them to sniff scented baby products, or having friends’ babies come around the house. When introducing anything that the cat may find particularly stressful such as the sound of crying, start by playing it quietly and for short periods of time, gradually increasing until they have been conditioned to the new stimulus. Lots of petting and small food treats can help keep the experience positive for them. The more familiar they are with the baby’s environment, the easier the transition will be when you add the baby.
After the Birth
- Although extremely curious by nature, cats are also creatures of habit and feel most comfortable when they have a routine. It may be difficult in the first few months, but try to keep your cat’s routine as constant as possible. Feeding times should stay the same, and don’t forget to fill the water bowl each day. If they’re used to brushing and play time, try to keep up with that as well, again don’t forget to enlist your partner for help! Suddenly being ignored can be stressful and could lead to behavioural problems. But at the same time don’t overcompensate and pay them more attention than they are used to as this can be just as confusing.
- Let’s face it, babies are stressful and sometimes we just need to get away from it all. Your cat is no different, so be sure to allow your cat plenty of alone time. If they want to hide under the bed for the first few days or weeks, that’s OK, they will come out when they feel safe (but talk to your vet if their behaviour becomes alarmingly abnormal or they refuse to eat or drink). If they are allowed outside, make sure they always have access to the cat flap or if they do stay inside, make sure there is a quiet space they can retreat to if they feel the need.
- Most cats will view the new baby with interest and curiosity, and perhaps a bit of healthy fear. It is extremely uncommon for cats to show outright aggression towards babies, but until you know how your cat will react, it is best to have their first meetings closely supervised. As they become better acquainted, you may even find that your cat enjoys their company and will snuggle up with them as they would with you and that’s ok! Some people needlessly worry about the cat suffocating the baby, but if you think about it, it’s nearly impossible though do certainly keep them separate during nap times. And if your child is going to have an allergy to the cat you’ll figure that out pretty quickly, again not worth worrying about unless you happen to be one of the unlucky few that it affects.
As with any issue regarding members of your family, especially small children, if you have any concerns always seek the guidance of your GP. Do also consult your veterinary surgeon, as they will likely have loads of advice on how to ease the transition. Keep up to date with your cat’s vaccines and particularly deworming, as some types of worms can be spread to humans (particularly little humans that crawl on the floor and put less than desirable objects in their mouths…). As your baby grows into a toddler and beyond, it is important that you teach them how to interact nicely and gently with your cat to avoid pulled tails and retaliatory scratches. Of course by the time your child hits the terrible twos, the cat will be the least of your concerns!