Cats can be a wonderful addition to households with children. I have seen cats become the most loved and cherished friend of many children. If you have children and are trying to decide whether or not to add a cat to your family, or if you already have a cat and are bringing a new child into the a family, then this article may be of help. There are several important considerations concerning choosing the right cat at the right time. The article will also explore why cats are sometimes better pets than dogs for small children as well as health concerns for children and cats living in the same household.
As a child, I grew up with cats in the household and as a veterinarian and a father of two small boys that share our home with two cats, I encounter the joys and problems of children and cats on a daily basis.
Choosing the right cat for the right child at the right time.
Bringing a cat into a home with children requires some very serious thought on the part of the parent. I regularly encounter an unhappy owner, or more commonly an unhappy cat that was brought into a family for all of the wrong reasons. Responsible parenting and responsible pet ownership are very similar in that they require 100% commitment from the parent and pet owner. A new kitten is going to initially require time every day for grooming, play, socialization, and training. Children will probably provide plenty of play and socialization but the grooming, litter box cleaning, and training are going to be the responsibility of the parent. Make sure that the entire family is committed to bringing a new pet in the home, otherwise it is not fair to the animal or the family. If parents have any reservations about acquiring a new cat I often discourage them until they have more time or the children are older and can take a more active role in the care of the pet.
Homes with children are often louder and more stressful than homes without them. Choosing a cat or kitten that is more ‘laid back’ is often a good place to start. When I think of the perfect family cat a large, neutered, male, orange, domestic shortair comes to mind. I have often visited a farm and found a similar cat lying contentedly purring in a doll carriage dressed in doll clothes while a smiling five-year-old girl pushes him around the barnyard.
Cats love gentle attention and respond to affection. Small children and as in my case, little boys, are often more interested in chasing the cat than petting him, so if you have active or aggressive children a cat may be too much of a temptation to them and is not going to be a good choice for a pet.
Cats are more mobile than dogs and are able to jump up on a perch and get out of the way of small children. Cats also pose less of a threat of biting or injuring a child, and therefore may make a more suitable choice than a dog for small children. However, remember that some cats will never adapt well to being in a family with children and some children will never appreciate or be able to properly care for a cat. Deciding to bring a cat into a family with children is a very important decision and should not be taken lightly.
Bringing a new cat into a family with children
Once you have made the decision to bring a cat into your home and have picked out the perfect companion for your children, you should spend some time getting your home ready. Go through and cat-proof your home taking special care to eliminate hazards to a small kitten. Designate an easily accessible yet small childproof area for the cats litter box and food. Have a family meeting and make up a list of rules and duties concerning the new cat and hang it on the refrigerator. Because of the responsibility and potential health risk involved with litter boxes, I always recommend that the parent take on the job of cleaning the litter box.
New kittens and cats are going to need several weeks of quiet time when they are first brought into a new home. Limit play to several short sessions a day and make sure the kitten is not bothered when sleeping. A cat door leading into a quiet room with food, water, litter box, and a sleeping area is a great idea for homes with small children.
Decide where the cat is, or more likely is not, allowed to sleep. While there are many advocates of allowing cats to sleep in the bed with their owners, I caution owners of small children against this practice. While the health risks are small, external parasites including fleas and ticks, as well as the ringworm fungus, can be transmitted from cats to people. If children have allergies, then cats should be discouraged from sleeping with them or in their bedrooms.