mother with baby in crib
Photo courtesy of DepositPhotos
Bringing home a new baby often requires a good bit of preparation within the household. One aspect of this is figuring out how to introduce your cat to your new baby and transitioning him to all the new changes that will come with your future bundle of joy. Of course, some cats interact really well with new babies and will continue their lives as if nothing has changed. For many cats, however, changes associated with a new baby in the house can be a difficult adjustment and may result in stress or anxiety. This can lead to some unwanted behaviors such as crying or meowing more frequently, displays of aggression, urinating outside of the litterbox, and/or changes in their grooming habits.
How to Prepare
Ideally, any changes you plan to make need to be done slowly, and months in advance of the baby’s arrival. This should include changes to your cat’s feeding and play times as well as transitioning him to other areas of the house if necessary. Cats are notoriously creatures of habit and struggle with abrupt changes in their schedules. Getting your cat used to changes before the baby comes home will help to cut down on your cat’s stress levels as well as yours. Always remember to keep things positive and relaxed during this transition time.
Get your cat up to date on his vaccines and make sure he has a good physical examination. Issues such as arthritis pain may decrease your cat’s tolerance to new adjustments or changes and should be under control if at all possible before you bring the new baby home.
Teach your cat new ways to play and exercise so interacting is easier when you are busy or have your hands full. Solo play opportunities include using cat tunnels, crinkly bags, or boxes. You could randomly hide treats or catnip inside these play areas to further entice your cat to hunt for fun on his own. Set up new scratching posts in different areas of your home. Install a bird feeder outside one of his favorite windows and provide a comfortable place for him to keep watch. Use dangling toys, toys on a string, or a basket full of crumpled paper or jingly balls that you can easily reach while engaged with the baby. This may also help encourage your cat to enjoy spending time around the baby, because it will mean he can spend time playing with you too.
Relocating Your Cat to Other Areas of the House
If your primary concern for relocating your cat is to prevent him from getting into the baby’s crib, crib tents can be used for this purpose; they look a little like mosquito nets. The old wives’ tale that cats will steal a baby’s breath is completely untrue, but concerns could potentially arise if your large cat wants to snuggle with your tiny newborn in his or her crib.
Avoid restricting your cat from a large area of the household. It is common for soon-to-be parents to want to keep their cat out of the baby’s room or the baby’s space. This can sometimes lead to trouble if the baby’s space takes over a large portion of the house (e.g., your bedroom, the kitchen, the living room, etc.) because parents may fully restrict the cat to a back bedroom or bathroom. Your home is also your cat’s home, so you will likely be setting yourself up for some unwanted behavior responses. Some division is possible when necessary with a little creativity. For example, using a screen door instead of a solid door for the baby’s room can keep your cat out but still allow air circulation and sound to travel.
New beds in quiet areas of the house may entice your cat to relocate on his own. Be sure the area you are transitioning him to is a place he will enjoy. You may want to offer several options throughout the house and let him choose his new favorite area. Offer lots of treats, rewards, and/or praise to encourage your cat to be comfortable in his new space. Pheromone diffusers, such as Feliway, placed in or near his new space can help reduce his anxiety. You may also want to consider providing a new litterbox near this area in case accessing the old box is more difficult. You will not necessarily need two boxes permanently, but it is important to avoid abruptly changing your cat’s bathroom area.
If you don’t have much space available for transitioning, go vertical: somewhere the baby can’t go or access. Perches, cat climbing towers, or sturdy shelves can provide your cat with a new space and prevent him from being stuck in a room he does not prefer or a place where he will not feel safe.
After the Baby Arrives
Try to maintain the same level of activity and interaction with your cat that you developed prior to the baby’s arrival. This will be difficult with a new baby and new responsibilities but is necessary to help minimize your cat’s anxiety and/or frustration. Don’t forget to change the litterbox regularly and to maintain a consistent feeding schedule.
When the baby and cat are together, it will be important to supervise their interactions. Stay calm during interactions and reward all positive behaviors from your cat (e.g., treats, petting, playing). If your cat seems fearful, do not force him to spend more time with the baby. Allow him his space so that he can learn to cohabitate comfortably with your new addition.
Remember to consult with your veterinarian if any questions or concerns arise. He or she may be able to offer suggestions or help if introductions or the transitioning period are not going well.
VIN News Service commentaries are opinion pieces presenting insights, personal experiences and/or perspectives on topical issues by members of the veterinary community. To submit a commentary for consideration, email email@example.com.