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Cats and kids: Keeping both safe

Sunday July 31st, 2011

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Cats and kittens can be delightful additions to a family, and between 9 and 12 years old, children start to become more responsible, making this an ideal time to get a cat. Whether an active kitten or a calm, mature adult, cats can be great companions to a child. However, it is important to teach children how to behave around a new cat or kitten.

Cats need love

Many people believe that cats are independent and don’t require a lot of time. That's not necessarily true. A neglected cat will get into a lot of mischief and will be difficult to handle as he gets older. So before you agree to get a kitten or cat from your local shelter, consider the amount of time you will spend brushing, playing, socializing and training your new cat.

Talk to your children and explain that you want them to take part in caring for the cat. Purchase a book about cat care that you and your family can read together. You can even create a list of chores for each member of the family. This list could include playtime, feeding, and brushing.

Shop at your local shelter

Once you are ready to bring a cat into your home, contact your local shelter and ask about the cats in their care. They can recommend family-friendly pets as well as cats that will get along with dogs.

Schedule an appointment and bring everyone in your household. This way you can see how everyone reacts to the cat and how the cat reacts to your family members.

At home

Cats are more mobile than dogs and can quickly jump out of harm’s way—but not all the time. A mishandled cat will scratch or bite if he feels threatened. So, it is essential to teach your child how to be gentle and caring around your new cat. As the adult, you need to supervise when your kids and cat are together.

Health concerns

Many people are overly concerned about Toxoplasmosis, a parasite found in animal feces that can be transmitted to people if they touch the contaminated feces in a litter box. It’s quite rare, and the cleaning of the litter box should be left to adults. Purchase a covered litter box and keep it clean (cats don’t like using dirty litter boxes) and make sure your kids know this is not a play area.

Keep your cat properly vaccinated against rabies. And make sure your cat is spayed or neutered. A spayed/neutered cat is a calmer one.

Introducing your newborn to your cat

If you have a family cat and are going to bring a newborn into your house, give your cat clues that there will be a new addition to the household. Prior to bringing a baby home, put baby powder on your arms so your cat can get used to the smell. Set up a cat-free zone in the baby’s room, and made sure the door closes completely. Baby screens don’t work because cats can easily jump over them.

When you bring the newborn home, have one parent enter the house with your newborn’s baby blanket. Let the cat sniff it. Spend a few minutes with the cat praising him for being wonderful.

About 15 minutes later, have the other parent (or another adult) walk in with the newborn. Give the baby to your spouse, get down on the floor and give your kitty a lot of attention. Then sit on the sofa with your baby on your lap. Invite the cat to come over to sniff the newborn, and praise him for being such a good cat.

In time, baby and cat will get along. Be watchful. Don’t leave cat or kid alone together until your child is old enough to properly care for your cat.

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