How to Introduce Your Cat and Baby | Essential Preparations
The arrival of a new baby into your family is one of life's most joyous moments. However, caring for a newborn is also demanding and tiring at times. The last thing you need is the additional strain of your cat freaking out when they can't handle all the drastic and sudden changes to their environment and routine.
Cats often find change stressful, which can lead to behavioral issues, such as urinating outside the litter box, overgrooming, and aggression, or medical conditions, such as cystitis and upper respiratory tract infections.
To ensure a smooth transition and minimize stress for both your cat and yourself, we'll explore the best way to introduce your cat to your baby, including:
- Prioritizing safety
- Preparing your cat before your baby's arrival
- Managing your baby and cat's first meeting
- Maintaining harmony in the home after your baby's arrival
1. Never Leave Babies and Cats Together Unsupervised
Although the majority of cats will initially avoid the strange new being that has entered the home, some cats may decide to cuddle with your newborn for warmth and affection. If they accidentally cover their mouth and nose, your newborn would be unable to push them away or move their head, which could lead to suffocation. Although this situation is incredibly rare, a couple of cases have been reported in the news (Daily Mail, The Sun).
If your cat feels safe next to your baby, they could also start to knead with their paws and accidentally damage your baby's delicate skin. Another potential concern is that if your baby startled your cat, they could react by swiping at them.
Always supervise your cat and baby when they are together. Keep your cat away from the baby while they are sleeping, and if you are unable to watch them directly, keep the door closed to the room your baby is in. A screen door can also be installed where your baby sleeps so your cat cannot enter, but sounds can still be heard.
2. Observe Your Cat's Behavior for Signs of Distress
When raising a cat and baby together, it's important to recognize body language that suggests your cat is unhappy, such as dilated pupils, flicking tail, hairs standing on their ends (piloerection), arched back, tense body posture, or ears flattened back. To avoid the situation escalating, such as to an aggressive response, make sure your cat can easily escape to a safe space (don't restrain them or block their exit) and give them time to calm down in a separate room where they feel comfortable.
Additionally, if your cat starts showing abnormal behaviors after your baby's arrival, such as eating less, hiding more, overgrooming, or urinating outside the litter box, you should consult your veterinarian.
3. Seek Professional Help if Your Cat Is Aggressive
If your cat hisses once when they first meet your baby due to fear or confusion, then never shows signs of aggression again, it is likely of little concern. If they do hiss, don't punish or reassure them. Ignore the unwanted behavior, remain calm, and only give them positive attention if they behave favorably.
However, if your cat continues to show signs of aggression toward your baby, such as hissing or growling, or attempts to cause injury, such as lunging, swiping, or biting, keep your cat in a separate room with all their resources, such as litter boxes, food and water bowls, scratchers, and resting places. Then, due to the seriousness of the situation, it's advisable to consult with a veterinary behaviorist, either in person or online.
Always consult your doctor if your cat has injured your baby since bites and scratches are painful and can become infected.
Most cats tend to flee a situation rather than behave aggressively if uncomfortable. Nevertheless, if your cat has ever responded to a previous stressful situation with aggression, consulting a veterinary behaviorist prior to your baby's arrival is advisable. However, it also shouldn't be assumed that a cat who has never behaved aggressively previously won't behave aggressively toward a baby.
4. Veterinary Health Check
Although regular health checks are essential for all cats, it's important to ensure your cat is not experiencing pain, such as dental disease, ear infections, or arthritis. A cat in pain can respond in an aggressive manner to being touched or grabbed, and since cats are extremely good at hiding signs of pain, it's not always obvious and a veterinary health assessment is advised.
Preparing Your Cat Before Your Baby's Arrival
To minimize your cat's stress and ensure they are ready for your baby's arrival, at least several weeks before your due date, gradually and positively ease them into their new environment and routine. If your little one has already joined the household, some of the strategies can still be used to help your cat adjust.
1. Establish Your Cat's Routine
Cats are creatures of habit and respond well to a regular and predictable routine. While you can't know exactly what your routine with a newborn will be like, it's helpful to establish a realistic schedule that can be maintained as best as possible after your baby's arrival. The schedule should include cuddle time, meal times, playtime, and grooming, with each activity performed at a similar time each day.
When your baby arrives, life may sometimes feel chaotic, so to help you organize and maintain your cat's routine, use a Reusable Checklist Board. Whether you are multi-tasking, feel tired and forgetful, or there are multiple people in the home, it will help keep track of what cat-related tasks have been done and are yet to be done each day.
Cuddle time. Time spent cuddling and showing affection is relaxing for both you and your cat and should be part of your daily schedule. It's common for expectant parents to pamper their cat with extra attention prior to their baby's birth in anticipation of having less time for them after the baby's arrival. However, if a cat gets used to all the extra affection, it can be stressful when the amount suddenly and significantly decreases. Therefore, spend a similar amount of time cuddling as you will likely be able to sustain after your baby's birth.
Meal times. Most cats prefer a regular feeding schedule. Consistent meal times can help minimize stress in an otherwise changing environment. However, when your baby arrives and everyone is busy and tired, there will likely be occasions when your cat is accidentally fed late, not fed, or fed twice. Try to start your cat on a feeding schedule that will be suited to when your baby arrives. A great way to minimize your workload and ensure your cat gets fed at the same time each day is to use an automatic feeder.
Playtime. Daily playtime is important for exercise and mental stimulation. Even just 5-10 minutes, one to two times per day, can help prevent excessive weight gain and relieve stress. Start thinking about the best time of day to schedule playtime with your cat. Chasing a fishing rod-style toy (our favorite is Da Bird) is one of the best ways to burn off some extra energy. However, for times you are too busy or run down, it's a good idea to have some low-effort backup options, such as automatic laser toys, interactive puzzle feeders, battery-operated toys, and Cat TV. To maintain your cat's interest, toys should be rotated and put away when not in use. Never encourage your cat to chase or bite your hands because if they repeat this behavior with an infant, they could cause significant harm.
2. Familiarize Your Cat with Baby Scents
Cats noses are extremely sensitive. To help your cat become accustomed to new baby smells, start wearing baby powder and lotion. When your cat meets your baby for the first time, their scent will already be familiar, and they will more likely be recognized as safe and part of the family.
3. Get Your Cat Used to Baby Sounds
Babies produce various sounds that your cat may never have heard before and can often be loud or startling. To help them acclimate, gradually introduce your cat to recordings of baby sounds designed for pet training and desensitization. Start with the volume low and create a positive association by engaging in activities your cat enjoys, such as eating treats, affection, or play. If your cat is comfortable, gradually increase the volume over time.
4. Familiarize Your Cat with Baby Toys, Equipment, and Furniture
New baby toys, equipment, and furniture will smell unfamiliar and can produce unexpected sounds and movements that may frighten your cat. Ideally, new items should be gradually introduced into the home several weeks before your baby's arrival, allowing your cat time to adapt.
Although it's fine to let your cat investigate, sniff, and rub items, it's not advisable to let them make a habit of playing with or sleeping on baby stuff since it will require an additional adjustment if they are not allowed to do so once the baby arrives. If telling your cat 'no' and gently moving them to a more desirable sleeping place doesn't work, aluminum foil, double-sided sticky tape, or Cat Scat Mats can be used to teach your cat it's not a pleasant place to cat nap.
Any toys and equipment that make sounds or movements, such as hanging mobiles, swings, bouncers, musical toys, monitors, rockers, and strollers, should be used regularly, one at a time. If possible, start with a low volume or setting, and activate the equipment when your cat is nearby but not too close so they aren't startled and can observe from a distance. If your cat is comfortable, gradually increase the volume or movement over time.
If your cat is uncomfortable around a particular object, create a positive association by having a play session or offering a tasty treat next to it.
5. Consider Your Cat's Resources
A cat's resources include food and water bowls, scratching posts, litter boxes, and resting areas. To prepare for your baby's arrival, some of your cat's resources may need to be gradually moved or changed ahead of time to give your cat plenty of time to adapt.
Resting areas. Does your cat currently rest in the room where your baby will sleep? Since your cat won't be allowed to sleep in the same room as the baby, it's best to prevent access now. If possible, move their bed or item used for sleeping in small increments each day to the preferred location. In addition, make sure they have plenty of alternative comfortable resting options in the rest of the house.
Litter boxes. Is your cat's litter box currently kept in the room that will become the nursery? If so, slowly move it to a new location a couple of meters per day. Consider training your cat now to use a litter box your baby won't be able to touch the contents of when they start crawling, such as one with a top entrance, or one hidden in furniture with a cat door on the side. If your cat is initially hesitant, keep the old litter box out until they are comfortable with the new one.
Food and water bowls. Are your cat's water and food bowls out of reach for your baby once they start crawling? Not only do you not want your baby playing with the cat's food and water, but you want your cat to be able to drink and eat in peace. Consider raising the bowls on a shelf, counter, table, or cat tree, or use Microchip Bowls with covers that only open when approached by your cat.
6. Create Safe Spaces
It's important your cat has hiding and resting spaces they can retreat to and won't be disturbed if they are feeling overwhelmed, out of their comfort zone, or want some time alone. Creating these spaces before your baby arrives gives your cat a chance to adjust and is best done before you have limited, if any, spare time. Ideas for safe spaces include:
High-up areas. Cats love to be high up, as they feel safe and can observe their surroundings. Consider strategically placed wall-mounted shelves leading to the top of a wardrobe or bookshelf on which a cat bed is placed. Secured cat trees and window perches also function as excellent vantage points.
Catios. Create an outdoor enclosure that connects to your home so your cat can safely enjoy the outdoors.
Small and enclosed spaces. Many cats feel safe in enclosed nooks they can hide in, such as cozy cat caves, kitty tunnels, and wooden or cardboard boxes with a hole cut in the side and lined with a blanket.
Safe haven room. Designate a room, such as the home office or guest room, as a safe haven for your cat with condos, wall-mounted shelves, scratching posts, and beds. To preemptively keep your baby out of the room but allow your cat access, install a baby gate that your cat can jump over or a Door Buddy Strap & Door Stopper to keep the door open just wide enough for your cat to fit through. If you gradually move the water bowl, food bowl, and litter box to the cat-only space, it will also prevent your baby from playing with them when they get older.
7. Make Changes Gradually and Positively
Adjustments around the home should be made in stages to allow your cat time to adapt and prevent them from feeling overwhelmed.
New items, such as the crib, stroller, highchair, changing table, bouncer, and toys, should ideally be integrated gradually into the home several weeks before your baby's arrival. If you need to make changes to your cat's routine or resources, start slowly implementing them now.
Make a list of changes to make and items you need, then as best as you can, work through the list one at a time.
Changes and new items should also be associated with positive experiences, such as tasty treats, affection, and play.
8. Use Feline Pheromone Diffusers
When cats rub their cheek on a surface, they deposit Feline Facial Pheromones that mark an area as safe and familiar. Mother cats also secrete Cat Appeasing Pheromones from glands around their nipples that help nursing kittens feel secure and content.
Feliway Optimum Diffuser is a plugin that releases a complex of calming synthetic feline pheromones that reduce stress and helps your cat cope with environmental changes. Install them in a room where your cat spends a lot of time, ideally one on each floor, at least 2-3 weeks before your baby is due to be born.
You can also take a clean cloth and rub it on your cat's cheeks, then rub it onto your baby's new furniture at your cat's head height, depositing the feline pheromones and helping to mark the item as safe and familiar.
9. Preview Having a Baby in the Home
If possible, invite friends over one at a time with babies to help your cat become accustomed to the sights, sounds, and smells of an infant. It's best if the babies are not yet old enough to walk and ideally napping to avoid overwhelming your cat, which could be counterproductive.
If your kitty is particularly anxious or fearful, an additional option is to wrap a doll in a blanket and mimic movements and the routine you'd have with a real baby, such as feeding, rocking, or changing its diaper. Ideally, the doll should move or cry, and you can even apply some baby lotion. If your cat approaches the doll curiously but calmly, reward them with praise or treats. If your cat shows signs of stress or aggression, remain calm, don't reward the behavior with attention, give your cat space, and try again later.
10. Find a Reliable Cat-Sitter
There may be times before, during, or after your baby's birth when you need to make arrangements for your cat to be looked after. It's helpful and reassuring to establish a reliable and trusted cat-sitter in advance and familiarise them with your cat's requirements and routines.
Initial Introduction - Baby and Cat's First Meeting
Your baby and cat's first meeting is a special moment. However, cats respond in different ways to meeting a baby for the first time, with some having no interest or running away, others being curious and gradually building up their confidence as they realize there is nothing to fear, while others are immediately affectionate. If giving birth at a hospital, most parents introduce the cat and baby shortly upon arriving home. Follow the tips below to help the introduction go as smoothly as possible.
- Bring home the baby's scent first. After your baby's birth, while you are still in the hospital, have someone take home a piece of clothing the baby has worn or a blanket they have been wrapped in. Place it in a location where your cat can easily sniff it and let them approach it in their own time.
- Act in a relaxed and normal manner. Although introducing your cat and baby for the first time is incredibly exciting, it's important to act as normal as possible so your cat doesn't sense a reason to get nervous or suspicious. When you first arrive home, greet your cat in the usual way, and throughout the introduction, remain relaxed and talk with a reassuring and gentle tone to show your cat there is nothing to fear.
- Calm environment. Pick a quiet and comfortable part of the house for the introduction to take place, and if your cat is unsettled, wait for them to relax.
- Do not force an interaction. Allow your cat to freely approach and investigate by placing the baby's car seat on the floor or situating your baby on the couch, either held in your arms or in a carrycot. Your cat may only want to observe your baby, or they may want to gather more information by sniffing them. Let your cat set the pace they are comfortable with.
- Escape routes. Make sure your cat can easily get away if they are uncomfortable. Don't block their access so they can't retreat or restrain and hold them in front of your baby, as doing so could create a fearful and negative reaction or association.
- Reward calm behavior. If your cat acts calmly, reward them with praise. If they are fearful, ignore them. If they act aggressively, they should be separated (read Prioritizing Safety).
- Continued supervision. Don't leave your cat and baby unsupervised. Although it's less common for cats to show aggression toward a baby, they could still cause injury if they were startled and swiped at your baby, or tried to climb on top of them.
Baby and Cat Living Together - Settling in and Establishing Harmony
In this section, we'll explore how to create harmony in your home as your cat and baby settle into their new life together and hopefully begin to form a special bond.
- Supervision. Always supervise interactions between your cat and baby, not only to ensure safety but also to praise your cat when they are acting calmly and favorably around the baby.
- Attention. Although it can be helpful to use the time your baby is asleep to give your cat attention, it's really important your cat also gets attention when your baby is present. You don't want to form a habit where your cat looks forward to your baby going away because they get attention and resents them being around because the attention goes away.
- Positive associations. In order for your cat to have a positive experience, good things need to happen when they're in the room with the baby, such as delicious treats, affection, and play. Pick times to build positive associations when both you and the baby are relaxed.
- Punishment. Don't punish your cat when they are near the baby, as they will form a negative association, which can lead to fear-based reactions, such as aggression. If your cat does something you don't want them to, gently guide them toward a more desirable behavior. However, if they display aggression, confine them to a separate room with all their resources and consult a veterinary behaviorist.
- Routine. A consistent and predictable schedule will help your cat feel secure and reduce anxiety. Although your life has dramatically changed with the baby's arrival, try to maintain your cat's mealtime, cuddle time, and playtime as much as possible. For suggestions on establishing and maintaining your cat's routine, read the section on preparing your cat before your baby's arrival.
- Safe spaces. Make sure your cat has access to safe, quiet, and comfortable resting places where they can retreat without being disturbed. There may be times they become overwhelmed, for example, if your baby is crying or there are more visitors than usual. For suggestions on creating safe spaces for your cat, read the section on preparing your cat before your baby's arrival.
Advice for Maintaining Harmony As Your Child Grows
As your newborn becomes a toddler and starts to crawl, walk, and interact more with your cat, although these are exciting moments, they may bring about additional challenges for your cat. Consider the following suggestions to help maintain peace in your home and encourage bonding between your cat and baby as they hopefully grow to become best friends.
- Correct handling. It's important to teach your child to be gentle and respectful when handling the cat, for example, not pulling their tail, whiskers, or ears and not bumping or chasing them. Over time, by watching you and with gentle guidance, your child should learn to approach your cat calmly, gently stroke them with an open hand in the direction of the fur, and focus on their head and back while avoiding the belly. Once they are older and want to pick the cat up, they should only be allowed to do so if the cat doesn't mind and be taught to fully support them from underneath.
- Bonding activities. Encourage and enjoy the time you all spend together, such as cuddles while you watch TV, sitting together as you read a book, helping to feed the cat by pouring kibble into their bowl with your assistance, or rolling ping pong balls across the floor for them to catch. Activities should always be closely supervised.
- Elevated platforms. As your baby becomes more mobile and wants to interact more, there may be times when your cat needs a break, prefers to watch from a distance, or is startled and wants to escape. Shelves and secured cat trees make great elevated spots where cats can rest, hide, and observe.
- Cat-only room. If your cat doesn't have a room where they can relax undisturbed or retreat when feeling overwhelmed, create a space they can access but your child can't using a baby gate or a Door Buddy Strap & Door Stopper.
- Cat's resources. Make sure your cat can still safely and easily access all their resources. For example, is there a noisy exersaucer they need to pass to get to the litter box? Is your cat afraid to eat their food in the kitchen because your toddler throws items from the high chair or bangs the tray? You may need to provide extra resources or change their location, such as placing litter boxes and bowls in the cat-only room (although never directly next to each other as cats don't like to toilet where they eat and drink).
- The arrival of a new baby is a joyous moment, but the changes can be stressful for cats.
- In response to stress, cats may develop behavioral or medical issues.
- Cats experience drastic changes to their environment, such as new smells, sounds, and furniture.
- Cats routines suddenly change, including playtime, cuddle time, and meal times.
- Never leave the baby and cat together unsupervised.
- Keep cats away from the baby while they sleep.
- Learn to recognize signs of distress in a cat to intervene early.
- If your cat is aggressive, seek professional help.
- Establish a consistent routine for your cat.
- Familiarize your cat with baby scents and sounds.
- Slowly introduce your cat to baby toys, equipment, and furniture.
- Consider if your cat's resources (litter box, bowls, scratchers, resting areas) need to be moved or changed.
- Create safe spaces for your cat.
- Use Feliway Diffusers.
- Establish a reliable cat-sitter.
- Bring home the baby's scent before the actual meeting.
- Act relaxed and normal during the introduction.
- Choose a calm environment for the meeting.
- Allow your cat to approach the baby at their own pace.
- Make sure your cat is able to escape if they feel scared.
- Reward calm behavior.
- Always supervise interactions between your cat and baby.
- Give your cat attention when the baby is present.
- Create positive associations between your cat and baby.
- Avoid punishing your cat for being near the baby.
- Maintain a consistent routine for your cat.
- Make sure there are safe spaces for your cat.
- Teach children to handle the cat gently and respectfully.
- Encourage bonding activities between your cat and toddler.
- As your baby becomes more mobile and energetic, make sure your cat has a space they can retreat to if they need solitude and quiet.
- Ensure your cat doesn't have to pass or be near anything they find frightening to access their resources.