Cats & babies can coexist!

What are you going to do about your cats? She asked with genuine concern upon hearing about my pregnancy. I won’t name her for the sake of our friendship. Nothing, I said. But, the cats might get jealous? she continued. We’ll make sure they get plenty of attention, I said calmly. But, they might get jealous and hurt the baby? A real panic set into her tone. I’ve heard of stories where a cat smothered a baby while the baby was sleeping. And, I’m sure you’ve heard of cat scratch disease, right? I could see that she was not going to let up. She was borderline paranoid and fearful. We won’t let them sleep together, I said with a chuckle. But… I cut her off before she could finish, we’re not getting rid of our cats. They are part of the family and we’ll help them adjust to our new baby!

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this conversation with friends and family members alike since I outed my pregnancy. It all ends the same way with me validating my beloved pets. So, I started wondering, why are so many people so afraid of cats? Where do all these cat myths about babies come from?

Pregnant women have a higher risk of toxoplasmosis from cats.

This one is actually not a myth, but the facts are skewed. Toxoplasmosis is a an actual disease caused by a parasite that can affect your cat if he eats prey that is already infected with the parasite. This disease can affect men and women but particularly in pregnant women, it has been know to cause abnormalities in babies. However, it is quite rare among indoor cats. Unless you are directly handling feces, i.e. picking up poop with your bare hands, ewww gross, or if your house is covered in cat feces, in which case you need serious help, then there is little to no risk presented. In our household, my partner has taken to cleaning the litter box and he vacuums regularly and generally handles all things related to the litter box. Did you know that you are more likely to contract toxoplasmosis from improper handling of raw meat or using the same cutting board for vegetables/fruit that you use for cutting meat? So before you rush to get rid of your cat, please take the time to educate yourself about this topic.

Cats will get jealous of a crying baby and try to harm them.

Where do I begin with this? Our cats typically run out of the room if I sneeze too loudly. They are skittish and even though they trust me with their lives, they don’t tolerate loud noises. That includes, loud singing, TV, music, arguing or simply talking. I’ll venture a grand guess that our cats will want nothing to do with our baby for the first few months of his life.

But, cats are naturally curious creatures and surely they will want to investigate this new being that’s taking up all your attention. Prepare your cat for what’s ahead. Some people have been known to play recordings of baby crying around the cats. I tried this the other day and  sure enough, both my cats raced out of the room. Beyond that, make sure to never leave the baby alone with the cat… I can’t believe I just typed that last sentence. Use your common sense, folks. Take precaution when playing with your cat near the baby. And for Pete’s sake, don’t ignore your cat just because you now have a baby. While your attention maybe divided, ignoring a loving cat will not only lead to unnecessary problems down the road, it’s also plain cruel.

Cats can smother babies in their sleep by stealing their breath.

I had to look this one up. I mean, where do these stories come from, right? It turns out this myth gets its roots from the early 1600’s. “In 1791 a jury at a coroner’s inquest in England rendered a verdict to the effect that a Plymouth child had met his death by a cat sucking out its breath. The superstition itself is older, with print sightings of it recorded from 1607 and 1708, so that 1791 verdict should be viewed with the realization that the jury was probably influenced by a snippet of “everybody knows” lore when it came time to explain a death for which there was no apparent cause. But, a news story emerging in December 2000 appeared at first blush to be an instance of this sort of accident when a woman said she found her six-week-old son dead in his crib with the family cat laying on the baby’s face. Further examination by pathologists laid this theory to rest — they attributed the 21 December 2000 death of 6-week-old Keiron Payne to sudden infant death syndrome.

C’mon folks, cats and babies should never ever sleep together. Cats are natural heat and warmth seekers. And, if your cats are anything like mine, they will cuddle up close to you at night or plop right on top of you. It will take a little bit of discipline, but training your cat over a period of weeks to months to stay out of your bedroom will not only ensure a smooth transition when you bring your baby home, it will also give you peace of mind. Get a gate or entice them with a brand new bed in another part of the house. If nothing else works, buy a net to go over the crib. The goal is to keep your cat out of the crib but certainly allow your cat to enjoy being close to your baby at other times. As your baby gets older, make sure there is adult supervision at all times and once again don’t leave your baby alone with a cat. Just. don’t.

In addition to these suggestions, here are some other tips to ensure a peaceful household…

Maintain your cat’s daily routine.

Cat’s are creatures of habit and it’s bad enough that they will have to share your affection, but neglecting their daily needs is just horrible. Play/ cuddle with them on a regular basis. Feed them regularly and keep their litter box clean as usual. Make them feel loved and part of the family. If you can’t handle the simple needs of your feline, how do you think you are going to handle the growing needs of a human being?

Prepare your cat for the changes ahead.

My girlfriend sent home a blanket from the hospital with the baby’s smell. Her cat lounged around in this blanket for a couple of days before they came home with the baby. I can’t tell you what effect this had on the cat, but I can tell you they’ve had no issues adjusting. We’re planning to set up the nursery well in advance and let our cats get used to the environment. While we can’t keep them out of the room all the time, nor do we want to, we are planning to train them to stay away at night by using a gate. Also, cats hate sticky surfaces. By setting up the crib and putting double sided tape on the inside, we hope to teach them that the crib is not a fun spot for napping. Others have suggested using tin foil as the noise is disturbing to cats… Keep trying until you get them to listen. Just think you have 9 months to prepare your cat for the arrival of your baby!

Teach your kids how to interact with your cat

As your child begins to grow, it becomes your responsibility to teach them how to pet and play with your cat. Take the time to teach them how animals need to be handled in general. Make sure your toddler never pulls the tail or tries to hug a cat. Model the behavior that you would like your child to learn. Kids are so perceptive and the sooner you can teach them how to love and care for an animal compassionately, the more likely they are to develop a life-long love of these precious companions.

Pets are a lifetime commitment! Kids who grow up with pets are less likely to have allergies and get sick less frequently. The next time someone tells you that you should get rid of your cat for the safety of your baby, please remember that with a little bit of common sense, patience and preparation, you can not only ensure the safety of your baby, but also foster a lifelong relationship between them.

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