A lot of pet owners get their furry friends before deciding to have children. Unfortunately, a surprising number of new parents make the decision to put their cat up for adoption when having a child due to fear of toxoplasmosis, allergies and bad interactions between the two.
Other pet owners make the decision to keep the cat and introduce it to their baby as a life-long companion. After all, cuddly, fur-coated cats make great snuggle-buddies for your young ones! But what happens when your cat begins acting strangely when the baby is brought home—or, even more strangely, a few years after the baby was introduced?
A new baby or mobile toddler might actually be causing your cat to experience anxiety or stress. Cats are fickle animals and can be easily upset by minor changes in their home. This is why more major changes, such as an entirely new family member or a small human chasing them around the house, can be frightening and cause behavioral changes.
Identifying cat anxiety
If your cat begins to act aggressively, urinate around the house or otherwise exude strange behavior after bringing home a new baby or allowing your toddler to roam the house, there’s a good chance it is stressed.
Stressed and anxious cats can become severely ill if the root of their stress is not addressed—much like in humans, prolonged stress can wreak havoc on their immune system, digestive system and general wellbeing. Check for the signs of anxiety and find ways to treat it as soon as possible:
- Abnormal meowing
- Excessive grooming or scratching
- Hiding constantly
- Increased appetite
- Urinating around the house
Stress and anxiety can also be caused by underlying health problems, so it’s a good idea to take the cat into the vet as soon as possible to have it checked out. If nothing major appears to be wrong, you’ll need to work to make the cat feel more comfortable with the baby in your home.
Easing child-related anxiety
Cat anxiety can be difficult to manage and get rid of. Ultimately, it will require you to exercise patience to take care of this beloved feline family member.
After having your cat diagnosed, your vet may prescribe medications if your cat’s anxiety is severe enough. Often, though, the anxiety can be treated at home.
Try to maintain a consistent routine for feeding, playing and grooming with your cat. This way, your cat can feel like it has stability in other areas of its life and can more easily adapt to the new family member. Take small steps to introduce the baby or toddler to your cat. Use short interactions to help your cat get used to having the baby around, while allowing the cat to have alone time in a safe space after.
You can also introduce natural remedies to reduce stress, such as supplements, to your cat’s diet to promote feelings of calm to make the transition easier.
If you are expecting a newborn or your child is beginning to take its first steps, you can prevent cat anxiety by getting the cat ready to handle the new family member early.
When preparing to introduce a new family member to the home, get the cat used to the new furniture, smells and sounds as early as possible. Create the nursery sooner rather than later, so the furniture change is apparent to the cat. Allow it to explore the room up until one to two months before the baby comes.
Play sounds from baby toys and recordings of babies to help your cat get used to the new sounds, and wear baby lotion while playing or grooming your cat so it associates the new smells with positive interactions.
When the toddler becomes more active and mobile, your cat should already be somewhat familiar with the smell and sounds of the baby. The trouble here lies in your toddler’s likely desire to pet and play with the cat, which might provoke aggressive responses in your frightened feline.
From a very early age, focus on teaching your child to play nice with the cat and to pet with an open hand. Discourage chasing the cat or getting in its face to mitigate any scary encounters. Let the toddler and cat interact only while supervised and provide kid-free areas of the house like cat trees and high perches so your cat has a place to feel safe if it runs away.
By familiarizing your cat to your child’s sight, smell and sounds, you will increase the likelihood that the cat will adapt more easily to the changes. It may still need some time to get used to the abundance of new baby toys and a new tiny human, but with a lot of patience and attentiveness to your cat’s body language, you should be able to prevent stressful situations for everyone in your home.