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New Baby and your Cat

How to Teach Mutual Respect for Both

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Babies and cats do not have to be mutually exclusive. By using patience and common sense, you can teach your new baby and your cat mutual respect and ease the introduction of a new baby into your previously cat-owned home. Guest writer Gary Loewenthal gives sound advice for accomplishing all of the above.

The big day approaches! You've gotten your cat used to everything baby-related, including baby sounds and smells and the crib. You've assigned family members to their proper cat duties: your loving husband George volunteered to scoop and clean the litter box, daughter Julie will take care of brushing and combing, and your boy Elroy signed on for daily interactive play. You've read, memorized, and followed to a tee the previous article in this series. You calmly go to the hospital. Delivery's a cinch, and you give birth to a happy and healthy...
...set of triplets. Just kidding. We'll deal with one baby at a time for now!

While Mom and baby are still at the hospital, have a family member bring home something soft that has the baby's scent, so that kitty can get used to it before the baby arrives in person. As you can guess, praise kitty when she sniffs; tell her that she's going to enjoy meeting the newest member of the family. Give her a nice treat and lay the baby-scented article in a place that kitty frequents.

The Introduction

If you already had a practice session with a friend's baby, this will be - knock on wood - old hat. Ideally, someone feeds and plays with kitty just before baby's arrival home, so kitty will be relaxed. Let kitty sniff baby all she wants. Use the power of your calming voice to let kitty know that baby is her friend and not a threat. Have someone give kitty some fun treat rewards. If kitty or baby is too upset, that's okay, just try again later.

Repeat the introduction several times, which allows your two littlest residents of the house a chance to gradually get used to one another. Each time, use praise and encouragement to reinforce in kitty's mind that baby is her friend - and future humble human servant! It would not be a big stretch to say that kitty will pick up on your positive vibes.

Keep Kitty's Routine the Same

As much as possible maintain your cat's regular schedule. In addition to fundamental items like meals and brushing, it's important to keep up the fun stuff like daily playtime and "quality time" on the lap. Doesn't have to be your (Mom's) lap - that will probably already be occupied. Although kitty might squiggle her way in and then you'll have two "babies" on your lap.

Guests

In addition to a new baby, you may have lots visitors who come to see the new baby. More stress for kitty (and sometimes the humans). Make sure you have a quiet room to which kitty can escape. You may want to use Feliway if she seems upset. Feliway is a well-known and safe artificial cat pheremone (body scent) spray. Pheremones are what cats rub on wall corners and pants legs with their cheeks. The type of pheremone that Feliway mimics tends to have a calming effect on cats. Apply it to walls and vertical surfaces as directed.

Also, make sure that visitors don't inadvertently let kitty out by holding the front door open too long. Even if your cat normally never makes a move toward the door, with all the commotion and people coming and going - not to mention a new baby in the midst - she may be more prone to dart out. Family members should help guard the door and watch kitty. Remind visitors to try and limit how long they open the door and to watch for felines stealthily attempting to mosey outside. Put a sign on both sides of the door if necessary. And of course strive to make the indoors as hospitable as possible.

Safety

Especially as baby grows up, remember that little hands can yank, poke, and strike a cat unintentionally. Babies and toddlers don't always realize that cats, in spite of their claws and teeth, are fragile. If kitty is afraid that baby will hit her or bother her, she'll avoid him and be more defensive around him. You don't want this; you want the two of them to be respectful of each other, but friends. As baby grows up, teach him in an age-appropriate manner that kitty needs to be handled gently, and sometimes left alone. But for now and the next couple of years, to be on the safe side, never intentionally let your baby and cat be together unsupervised. (Remember the tip about the screen door to the nursery.) Baby and kitty may get to be fast friends - your two little schemers - but always with an adult watching.

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