First of all, congratulations on adding to your family! Recognize that every time a person or pet joins or leaves your household, the schedule and the dynamic changes; being prepared ahead of time can help smooth the transition. Well in advance of bringing the infant home, you’ll be setting up a nursery or a crib/changing table in your room—let the kitty investigate the new items, the new smells, and the sounds of a diaper package. Smells are important: Introduce the odor of the lotion and diaper cream you plan to use. If possible, have a blanket or piece of clothing with the baby’s smell on it brought home in advance of the baby. Let your cat investigate baby toys such as rattles, stuffed animals, and mobiles. Don’t, however, let the cat decide the crib is a super-comfy new place to hang out or that the new stuffed animal is a great kitty toy. The less disruption to be made once the baby actually arrives in the home, the better.
New sounds are going to be part of the package, and many cats are very sensitive to their sonic environment (for example, does your cat dive under the bed when the vacuum cleaner is on, or hide in the closet during a thunderstorm or hailstorm?). If you have friends with babies or small children, inviting them for occasional short visits to your home is a good idea. Other ways to expose your cat to the sound of a baby crying are to play recorded cries. Find some audio or video clips and have your phone play these randomly, especially near the infant’s bed space. Go about your business while you play these, so the cat won’t relate these disturbing sounds to anxiety on your part (of course, you will be responding to real cries soon enough, which may interrupt whatever you might have been doing with your cat).
That brings us to the most important and most difficult to manage part of adding to the household, from the cat’s point of view at least: still scheduling enough quality time with your pet. Before your baby even arrives, get into a schedule that you will be able to keep after the baby comes home. This includes feeding time, of course, but equally important is 5 to 10 minutes per day (in one or several “bouts”) of undivided attention. If your cat likes to play with a fishing-rod toy or sit on your lap and get petted or brushed, those few minutes should be inviolate, even if the baby starts to cry, so the cat knows you can be counted upon to spend a little time daily with them. This is super important yet easy to overlook; however, since most of us don’t spend more than that amount of time per day focused entirely upon our cat, it should be achievable.
If your cat hisses at the baby, keep them separated. Most cats will avoid an infant—not until the child can crawl quickly or even toddle is it any “threat” to a cat—but we want only positive interactions. If the cat has always slept on your bed and the crib is in your room, consider a “cat net” over the crib to keep the cat from deciding to snuggle with the baby. Cute as it might look, you don’t want your cat sleeping with the baby, as no baby can safely and appropriately interact with a cat, even if the kitty is just seeking attention or heat. Added to that, a 7 pound cat sleeping on a baby’s chest is not benign, and a baby can’t push a kitty off the way we can. And once the baby is strong enough to grab at the cat’s tail, we wouldn’t want to risk a scratch or bite as the cat escapes unwanted or unexpected attention.
For most of us, our fondest childhood memories include times with our family pets (and friends and neighbors’ pets). We certainly want to provide these experiences to our own children, too. Preparation can make this more achievable and help to maintain a little quality time with your cat – in fact, the 5 minutes per day spent brushing your cat may just be the mental health breather you need, too.
Dr. Frost received her Bachelor’s degree in Biology from Reed College, her Master’s degree in Zoology (Neuroscience) from the University of Iowa, and her DVM from Oregon State University. She started practice in a rural setting in southwest Washington, where she saw bald eagles and great blue herons daily. Although southwest Portland doesn’t offer quite the same scenic views, Dr. Frost loves being part of a family practice, being able to walk to work and when it isn’t cloudy, and seeing Mt. Hood on her daily walks.