Owning a cat provides children with lessons of responsibility and empathy, as well as providing them with a friend and playmate! It is important to be proactive in starting your child and cat’s relationship off on the right foot by creating positive interactions. Often times, children behave in ways that can be startling or overwhelming to cats such as making loud noises, rushing up to the cat abruptly, and petting in a not so gentle manner. When a cat is frightened or anxious, it might run away, or behave defensively by biting or scratching.
Important points for when your cat and child(ren) meet
- These meetings should be adult supervised
- For cat and children meetings, introductions are made best in an area where a cat is comfortable.
- Children should be sitting down and refrain from yelling or grabbing at the pet.
- Children can give the cat treats or play with the cat, depending on how comfortable they are.
- If the cat seems to be getting too excited or anxious, have it focus its attention on something else (e.g. a toy) or take the cat calmly and quietly away from the child(ren) without punishing it.
- Do not force the cat to interact with your child(ren). This can make a cat feel anxious. It is best to have the cat interact with the child(ren) on its own terms.
- Cats should have a “quiet spot” where they can choose to withdraw from interactions and be left alone.
NOTE: There are products available that mimic natural cat pheromones, creating a sense of familiarity in the environment, and can be used to help reassure and comfort cats during stressful situations. This product may be helpful during cat-child introductions.
Helpful tips for a positive cat-child relationship
Here are some additional helpful tips for helping to create a successful relationship between your child(ren) and new cat:
1) Teach your child(ren) to be calm, gentle, and kind around cats.
- Many children get excited when they see a cat! However, it’s important to teach your children the proper way to approach cats and behave around them.
- It would be helpful to get pets used to handling all over their bodies. This can help prepare pets to tolerate accidental rough handling from a child and also make veterinary appointments go more smoothly.
- Gradually get the cat used to you touching all over their body (e.g., their paws, face, ears, body, and tail).
- For example, if a cat doesn’t like having its paws touched, the owner can start by gently petting the cat’s legs, stopping at any sign of anxiety or distress, while feeding the cat a treat. Over multiple times of doing this, the owner can move closer and closer to the feet. Once the cat does not seem anxious at having its feet touched, the owner can build up to actually holding the cat’s paw, while again, using treats to distract and reward the cat for calm behaviour.
2) Teach your child(ren) that every pet is different and not all pets will behave like their family pet.
- Children often are scratched and/or bitten by cats because they try to interact with an unfamiliar animal like they would their family pet.
- To keep both cats and children safe, it is recommended that children be taught the importance of allowing a cat to come to them and sniff the back of their hand, and then gently pet the animal on its sides in the direction of its fur. This is also important when bringing a new cat into the home.
- When meeting the new cat, it is important to keep children calm and have them follow these steps in order to start off on the right foot and avoid overwhelming the cat.
- Sometimes explaining to children that being calm around a cat will help them to become friends with the new pet can be helpful, since most children want their pet to like them.
Bergman, L. (2006). Ensuring a behaviourally healthy pet-child relationship. Veterinary Medicine, 670-687.
Bergman, L. and Gaskins, L. (2008). Expanding families: preparing for and introducing dogs and cats to infants, children, and new pets. Veterinary Clinics: Small Animal Practice, 38, 1043-1063.