Jane Ehrlich on August 08, 2012
Judging from my mailbag, summer’s the season for new mothers to bring home their babies, and worries about how their resident cats will react abound. It also means, unnecessarily and often tragically, that more cats are dumped at shelters—or worse—because of that. Therefore, a few suggestions for keeping everybody happy. Cats and babies coexist quite well, of course, and there’s no better way to raise children than in a pet-populated home!
First, be safe: ensure your cat’s current on all meds, worming, shots—have that vet check. Altered pets are also calmer. Trim claws. Keep her indoors, of course. Toxoplasmosis is rare in the US, and you probably have it dormant in your body, anyway, if you handle raw meat or garden without gloves, but clean the litter box with gloves, anyway, and wash hands well afterward.
A few months before baby’s due: repainting and carpeting the nursery, as well as changing furniture means diruption. Cats hate disruption, and they hate change. Keep those alterations easy and gradual, though quickly done; she needs to get used to those differences in what’s still, in her eyes, her territory. She’s no outsider, but welcome in that room, and needs her natural curiosity satisfied. The novelty will subside. Let her explore the crib or bassinet, but cover them with nets if you don’t want her there, afterward. Lemon spray or double-sided sticky tape in certain areas will also keep her away.
As the time gets closer, get Bella used to the baby lotions, wipes, mobiles, toys, and the other baby things. Treat and praise her, as she investigates, so she associates positive things with those new items. Have friends bring their own babies over, so Bella can get used to the idea of a wee thing taking attention - the crying, the burblings, the smells… The idea: whether it’s the new nursery, the new items, the new smells, the new presence - keep her part of everything! If Bella’s bonded with you, and you’re not only away, but certainly preoccupied (and will be until This Thing is 18?), have someone else in the home give extra attention and caring to Bella, so she continues to feel loved.
While you’re in the hospital, have a family member bring home a soft blanket, with the baby’s smell. Put it in the favorite nesting area, so your cat can lie on it. You’re beginning a kind of scent-bonding, hopefully.
The second (home) coming! When you walk through the door, Bella may well be glad to greet you. For a cat, mind you—no rose petals, but she’ll be there. Give the baby to someone else for a bit, and pay attention to her, with caresses, a warm, calm voice and treats. After all, you haven’t been there in a while, and her routine has been upset.
Then bring your cat with you to sit next to the baby, and treat and praise her for good behavior—all that sniffing is just fine. Don’t force, or hold, or restrain her—let her find her own pace. If there’s any negative reaction, simply stop, pick up baby and walk away. If cat continues to hiss or growl, keep calm, but silently put her in another room, let her cool, and try an introduction later. Don’t reassure her that "It’s all right"; she needs to understand that if she wants good attention, she needs to behave.
Remember, Bella was your first baby, and she could well feel jealous. Some behaviorists question whether cats feel that emotion; I’m firmly of the opinion they do. Keep the changes as gentle, calm and gradual as possible, and keep her loved.
Think of it from the cat’s point of view: "Ohhh, this is new. I hate change. What is this? It’s loud! It’s taking all her attention! What about me? Take it away—oh, I’m bored. Then again…what—?" The baby’s point of view: "Zzzzzzz…whaaaaa! Burp. Pooop. Ohhhhhh! Zzzz…"