+372 50 80 660 Õismäe tee 115A, Tallinn
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Haabersti Loomakliinik
+372 50 80 660 Õismäe tee 115A, Tallinn
Mon-Fri: 10-18 | Sat, Sun: closed

Ensuring Safety in Cat and Small Child Playtime

+372 50 80 660 Õismäe tee 115A, Tallinn
Mon-Fri: 10-18 | Sat, Sun: closed
11 February 2024
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Cat behavior and well-being specialist (and the newest member of the iCatCare team), Dr. Sarah Ellis, addressed the coexistence issue of cats and infants at the annual iCatCare conference in 2015. Now she shares tips for ensuring safe play between cat and toddler.

We already know from the CatCare article “Cats and Infants” that having a new baby in the house can be very stressful for a cat as cats like predictability. Fortunately, owners can help their pets prepare for this huge change and smooth out the stress associated with the arrival of a new family member.

As the child grows, it is important to focus on maintaining harmony between the kid and your cat. Because unlike a relatively immobile curl, who is only concerned about food and sleep, once the baby starts crawling, he becomes curious, active, and quite nimble that will undoubtedly get interested in the cat. The question is whether this interest will be mutual. In this article, you will learn simple ways to help make the communication between a cat and a child so that the games don’t end with insults or injuries.

Language Barrier

Cats and infants (and even slightly older children) do not have an innate understanding of each other’s “languages.” Having decided to meet a cat and learn about it, a child will invariably greet the cat very loudly. Additionally, children prefer to examine the objects of interest in proximity, and they also try to put everything in their mouth. Children have a strong grasping reflex—try taking something away from a child that they want to hold onto, it may result in tears! A child may grab the cat by the ear, skin, or tail. Naturally, such attention can be painful and frightening for the cat.

Cats communicate fundamentally differently from us. A typical feline greeting is a brief sniff. Cats are not particularly talkative, limiting themselves to a short “meow” or a quiet “purr” at the beginning of a meeting. And then if the cat decides that the person poses no threat, it may rub its face against their hand or leg, but even then, it will not rub too persistently and for a long time.

We can safely conclude that unsupervised interaction between a cat and a growing child will not lead to anything good— at least, one of them will become upset and with a high probability of getting hurt. During interactions between cats and children, observe the situation, guide the child’s behavior, and praise both for appropriate behavior.

“Hands-Off” Interaction

At first, interactions between a cat and a growing child should be without direct physical contact. “Hands-off” interaction allows the child and cat to get used to the fact that interacting with each other is enjoyable and can be beneficial.

Safe Introduction 

You can help your cat get used to the child by allowing it to approach and observe them without the risk of being accidentally grabbed or hit. For example, you can do this by taking the baby in your arms and sitting on the floor, occupying their hands with a toy or a book. If the cat feels sufficiently confident, it will come closer and eventually become accustomed to the child’s presence nearby.

Throw a Treat

Throw-the-treat games are a great way to entertain a child while also teaching the cat that the child brings gifts, without requiring direct physical contact. Have the child sit on your lap and keep a supply of treats nearby. Throw a treat in the cat’s direction, and then let the child do the same. Always keep an eye on a child during such games so that the child doesn’t put the cat’s treat in their own mouth or throw it at the cat (at this point, the game will quickly become an unpleasant experience for the cat).

Proper Interaction with the Cat 

Once the child reaches an age at which he can understand the link between cause and effect, you can start teaching him how to interact properly with the cat in a way that it doesn’t feel discomfort or feel that it presents a threat. Some attention should also be paid to preparing the cat that it may be touched somewhat unfamiliarly.

Before allowing the child to touch the cat, you can teach the cat that they may be treated differently than usual. Treats come in handy here as well. Over a few months, gradually accustom the cat to being lightly poked or taken by the tail, alternating such unusual contact with periods of calm and gentle interaction. Always praise the cat and offer treats regardless. When you finally allow the child to approach the cat, the cat is more likely to respond positively and remain calm.

As the child grows, you can teach them to touch toys and people gently, which will help them learn not to “touch” everything with forceful slaps. This is extremely beneficial for the interaction between the cat and the child. When the child is ready to touch the cat, you can guide their movements by placing their hand over yours while you pet the cat. Praise the child for not removing their hand, and don’t forget to remind them to touch the cat gently. Children learn well by observing, playing, and imitating, that’s why this method is ideal for helping them understand how to properly touch a cat.

Keep the Clawed Paws Away from Little Hands

A cat teaser toy can make great entertainment for both the child and the cat. You’ll need two teaser toys (preferably with long sticks) and colored tape. Remove the toy or feathers from one of the teasers and tie a string to the handle of the other teaser. Use the tape to mark the area on the teaser where the child should hold it. This way, the child’s hands will be as far away as possible from the sharp claws during playtime. Make it clear to your child that they should hold the stick where the tape is attached. Now you can start playing! Sit the child in your arms, give them the taped teaser, and you hold the stick with the toy tied to it. The teaser you hold will move when the child moves their teaser. This way, the child can play with the cat while you control the movements (to prevent any unexpected incidents, such as the child accidentally hitting the cat’s head). It will be fun for both the cat and the child, and the child can practice moving the teaser correctly. They can play together.

Don’t Mix Toys

The child has their own toys, and the cat has theirs. If you notice that the cat is playing with the child’s toy, divert its attention to its own toys. Distract your cat with a teasing toy, or throw the cat’s ball away from the child’s toy that intrigues it. Likewise, teach the child that the cat’s toys belong to the cat, and should not be played with. If you do notice the child playing with a cat toy, you can successfully take it away without tantrums or tears by offering an exchange for one of their own toys.

Keep the cat’s and child’s toys stored in separate boxes—this will help to have order, and no one will accidentally mix up their toy with someone else’s. Teach the child to take only toys from the “children’s” box, and over time, they will learn to follow this. The most effective way to store cat toys is in a place inaccessible to the child, such as a high shelf. Cats like to climb, so your pet won’t have any trouble retrieving their toys.

Safety Comes First 

Never forget that even a good-natured cat can suddenly get into a frenzy and scratch or bite. It may accidentally scratch while stretching its paws or knock over a sitting child while enthusiastically rubbing against them. Stick to the principle of planning and never leave the cat alone with the child. Be proactive and anticipate situations. This will help the cat and the child communicate peacefully and grow together, becoming good friends.