And no, I don't mean your fur baby. Let's look at bringing a human baby home and what that might look like for your cat. Change can be a scary thing for a feline. Suddenly, their environment changes: that room that used to be theirs is now the baby's. Noisy toys, new furniture, etc. come into the home. What?! You mean this isn't for the cat?! Let's look at how we can help ease this introduction and make this huge change a more positive one.
Gibson came into our family before we found out that we were expecting our first baby (Baby A). If I'm being honest, not a lot of preparation was done prior to having Baby A because Gibson is generally okay with his environment changing. Most of the tips we will give are began the day Baby A came home.
1. Before Baby comes home, play toy and baby sounds. We live in a 2 bedroom apartment. We knew that there would really be no true escape for Gibson from the noises/changes a new baby brings. In an attempt to desensitize Gibson from all the newness he'd soon be exposed to, we played baby crying sounds a few weeks prior to our due date. You might want to start this a bit earlier in case baby decides to come sooner than expected. This clip is a good example of something we'd play while Gibson was around. We would also play around with the toys so that Gibson would know that these toys are safe and wouldn't hurt him. For some reason, he has this strange fear of remote control cars (he almost got killed once for running away towards oncoming traffic due to this, at the time, unknown fear). This is one of the many reasons that getting them used to these toys can be helpful in this change.
2. When Baby comes home, stick to your cat's routine as much as possible. Luckily, we had Grandma stay with us for a month after Baby A came home. This allowed for us to continue taking Gibson out on his daily night walks (it would be either cat mom, cat dad, or both of us depending on feeding times for Baby A). We also made sure breakfast and dinner wasn't late (Grandma helped out with this). And, since we'd train with Gibson at night, we continued with that. Sometimes the times would be slightly different but Gibson would always make sure to remind us of this precious time and we'd reassure him we hadn't forgotten (we'd respond to his demanding meows by saying, "I know, TRAIN, you have to wait" or "I know, TREAT"! We still acknowledged his timeline and tried our best to stick to it. If ever we did need to change the routine up on him we'd always provide an alternative that we think/know he'd like. For example, Baby A takes naps in our bedroom during the day because cat dad has to work from home in the baby room. Typically, Gibson naps in our bedroom during the day so because he has to be out during Baby A's naps, we take his favourite blanket and set it down on the rocking chair close to cat dad with the heat blasting. He loves it!
3. Introduce a new fun routine for your cat the moment Baby comes home. Baby A and Gibson had each bought one another a coming home present! I know, I know... this might seem "extra" to some. Anyways, Baby A's gift to Gibson was treat puzzles - he had never done these so we were excited to see him figure this new fun thing out. Gibson's present was Baby A's coming home outfit (legit, Gibson made his own money and "bought" it for him). To this day, food puzzles are now part of Gibson's daily morning routine. So far, these are the puzzles we have for him: Challenger Slider Dog Game Puzzle (and the updated version of this as well found here), MultiPuzzle Dog Puzzle Toy, Puppy Hide N' Slide Puzzle Toy, and the Dog Twister. We had tried the Rainy Day Puzzle for cats but it ended up being WAY too easy for Gibson.
4. Consider positive reinforcement as part of training your cat to adjust to baby - when baby cries, give your cat a treat. At night, we began giving Gibson a treat after every feed as I would need to get up to go to the bathroom anyways. We knew that these nighttime feeds would be disrupting his schedule so we wanted Baby A's crying to be more of a good thing to him. We were inspired by Pavlov's classical condition theory which can be referred to here. Just be mindful that this new routine might stick (as it has with us), but we don't mind because Gibson doesn't wake us up for treats. He knows he only gets treats when we need to attend to Baby A.
5. Give attention to your cat when Baby's needs are met. We always said that Gibson will be referred to as Baby A's brother. Gibson is family and in order to ensure that he FEELS as such, we make it a point to spend time with him when there's down time or Baby A is sleeping. It's also nice to show Baby A that he has a "sibling" and that is able, he can learn how to wait and be patient for the thing that he wants. Gibson is truly loved and he is very aware of that. We wouldn't have it any other way!
6. Involve your cat in your new daily routine (if they're keen).
Gibson loves to follow us around the apartment and we welcome that! He will jump on the window sill as we do diaper changes, he sticks close to us during nighttime feedings, and investigate new toys and furniture as it comes out.
We actually also took Gibson stroller shopping with us to make sure it accommodated him as well (see video below)!
7. Allow your cat to explore the baby room during Baby's wake times.
We are not worried about Gibson laying on Baby A as he sleeps because once Baby A moves, he stays at a distance. If you are nervous/anxious or antipate your cat doing this, do what you need to do in order to ensure it doesn't happen. The Baby's safety is priority, obviously. During daytime naps, we keep the door closed due to light and noise but at night we leave the door open. Baby A has been in his own room and crib since 6 months and is at an age where he will cry *if* disturbed so we aren't concerned about Gibson getting in the crib with him. We encourage Gibson to explore the new smells and things in Baby A's room so that Baby A isn't such taboo "thing" to Gibson. He really has been enjoying Baby A's changepad - it's one of his new sleep/observation spots (see below).
8. Make sure there's a safe space that your cat can retreat to. Sometimes, the noises and newness of a baby can be a bit much for anyone let alone a cat. Gibson has a few spots (in the closet and under the bed) which we have made comfortable for him that he can retreat to and sleep peacefully without needing to be disturbed. We respect his needing space and don't bother him when he's in this spots.
9. Try not to obsess over fur brother. We want to make sure that Baby A grows up to respect Gibson's space and is gentle with him. We also don't want to obsess over seeing Gibson but instead awknowledge him naturally when Baby A does and avoid always needing to bring attention to Gibson. This alone is so hard because I myself LOVE Gibson so acting all nonchalant so that Aiden can grow to do the same is what we need. We live in a small apartment and Gibson doesn't have many places to go to get away from a growing busy boy. There's a huge chance that Baby A will not leave Gibson alone if he sees us do the same or if we overly encourage him to love on Gibson from a young age so our goal is to foster a relationship between them that more of an organic one (unforced, not rushed, etc.). We know of a family who had a little one that grew up LOVING their cats and would tell family and friends that she did. Cat cards, toys, books, outfits, etc. became the normal gift for her. When she got to be more mobile, she'd constantly follow the cats around and it would really stress them out to the point of them needing to keep the cats completely separate from their child. We try and encourage Baby A & Gibson to simply exist together as a family.
10. Help Baby understand the proper way to pet your cat at an early age. Since Gibson is click trained, we decided to prompt some sessions with Baby A where he pets Gibson gently and Gibson allows it. This all started when Baby A started to acknowledge Gibson and would smile/laugh at him in excitement of seeing him. When Baby A would try and pet him, Gibson would run off. We now notice Gibson instigating rubs on Baby A without reinforcement (treats). This is HUGE to us. You can check out our training video here.
11. Introduce new routines that you anticipate you'll need before the baby comes. We know that babies go from laying around to moving quite fast! Since Gibson LOVES his feeding time and is also fed raw, we decided that it was best to move his food bowl from the floor to an elevated area. We now feed Gibson on one designated spot on the counter so that he can still enjoy his food without worrying if he will be bothered. We can also ensure that the raw won't be left behind for baby to find.
12. EMBRACE this new chapter as a family! Just ENJOY your new role as a human parent and try not to stress about how Baby and cat will get along. If you have serious concerns about you cat's behaviours, consider consulting an animal trainer prior to baby coming into the world. Try your best using these tips as a guide only as these are the things that have worked for us and find us on Instagram to share what tips have worked for you, too! Every family will find a routine, strategy, tip, training session(s), etc. that work beautifully for them. This will never look the same for every family as our lives, environments, and families are all so different!
OTHER STORIES/ADVICE FROM OUR INSTAFAM:
We wanted to find a few more perspectives that shed some light on the differing ways families in our community have handled cats and babies existing together. Check out these stories below and feel free to reach out to them to see how their journey as a family is continuing!
Family #1: @lilyandIzzy_themainecoons
This family advises to have the cat before the baby; older cats may show interest in the baby and/or distance themselves away. Kittens are more than likely to want to "play" with the baby which may be unsafe as kittens have sharper claws and teeth (note: they are also teething at a younger age).
Family #2: @oliverscatventures
This family got a cat after they had kids BUT they were older (8 & 6), so they were at an age where they understood cats needing their space a bit better. Seemingly, Oliver adjusted naturally while the children were told to sit on the floor and allow him to roam around on his own. The rule was that when he walked by, they could touch him (so he had to come to the children on his own accord). Oliver now plays with the children nicely and is clear on his likes/dislikes which the children are taught to respect. Allowing Oliver to have a safe spot where the kids are not allowed to touch him if things get too loud is helpful. Oliver is also brought along on smaller adventures with the kids (no longer than 5KM). Going on a trip that involves challenges for the kids helps to keep them occupied and allows for Oliver to do his own thing. The biggest struggle is sometimes that the kids give Oliver too much love. Helping the kids to understand the cat's body language so that the cat can be let go before it gets upset and/or scratches is recommended.
Family #3: @jones_theadventurecat
Jones came from a house with twin boys, another cat, and a dog so coming to a house with older kids was a quieter change for him. When planning for baby and cat adventures, they've found the two quite similar. You have to think about safe/comfortable transport in the car and when out and about. Do we have snacks? Where will we take breaks if we need to? What if the activity or area is too much for the baby or cat? What about the bathroom/diaper situation? The only real difference is not having to pack a spare set of clothing for diaper blowouts with cats. Although, I am sure there are some cat owners who pack different clothes depending on the adventure. There was no struggle to introduce Jones to the kids as they taught the kids right from the start to be gentle. The cats tolerate as much as they want and then will run off or give a little scratch which was probably deserved. Jones is very relaxed and doesn’t seem to mind getting picked up and carried around. He also likes to play chase so actually enjoys running away from our now 7 year old. Teaching the kids to be gentle and loving is important. Sometimes a reminder that the cats are living things and not stuffed animals is needed and that they can get hurt if we are too rough. Also, getting the kids to recognize when the cat has had enough playing helps. Knowing when to back away and give them space can help prevent scratching. We have never had a cat bite the kids. Getting the kids to help out with looking after the cats and the chores of it is good for them. Understanding that a pet is work and a big commitment is an important lesson. Overall, a positive attitude and flexibility is most important. Give something a try and if it doesn’t work modify and try again. This is important for both kids and cats for routines around the house but also for adventuring. Not everything will work the first time and not everything works forever. As soon as you think you have it figured it could change or something in the day could be different that throws things off. Don’t get discouraged.
Other accounts that have babies and adventure cats:
We'd love to hear about your experience of thoughts on introducing cats and babies. The best way to reach us is to message us on Instagram. Thanks for reading!
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