As a newly pregnant and aspiring conscientious mother, I had done copious hours of homework to ensure cats and babies could co-exist safely, and I had convinced myself they could.
Lucky too, as it would have been a shame to have to leave the bub on the orphanage steps …
My quiet confidence was shattered though while preparing to leave the hospital with my newborn. Running through some dos and don’ts with one of the nurses, she dropped this bombshell, and I quote: “cats kill babies.”
Sitting next to me, my mother (a fellow cat-lover) immediately dismissed this as ridiculous; she was far more concerned with the well-being of the animals; whether the quiet enjoyment of their home would be interrupted, and if they would continue to get their RDI (Recommended Daily Intake) of love and attention.
Fast-forward 12 months: Who was right? Here’s what I learned …
It was more or less happy families, but with extra family
In the early stages, it’s like The Offspring said, “You gotta keep ‘em separated.”
The domain of newborns includes their cot, their capsule, and their carer’s arms – these are not places to share with pets, and I especially took measures to ensure the cats couldn’t hop into bub’s cot – which I recommend for peace of mind.
As soon as my son was old enough for independent floor time, we started to introduce him to the furrier members of the family, under close supervision at first.
I was pleasantly surprised to observe that the cats seemed to quite enjoy having an extra person to interact with. (Okay, let’s be honest – in those first few months, they were so starved of attention.)
Read more about children and pets:
- 7 stages of giving your child a pet goldfish
- 6 telltale signs your child is ready for a pet
- 5 wonderful lessons having a family pet will teach your kids
How we made it work
Start by setting some boundaries. Keep pets out of the nursery, and define zones using safety-gates or by closing doors, and keep an eye on bub at all times when pets are around.
Try “listening” to your pets by observing their interactions with your child. I have two cats, one is very shy and will escape at the first sign of trouble – so I make sure she has a clear exit and somewhere to hang out undisturbed. The top of the cat tree is working, for now.
The other cat is more dominant and curious, and thankfully, also more relaxed. Even when my son manages to grab the scruff of her neck and slide her along our polished floorboards, she never loses her cool; however, we are trying to impart the importance of handling her more gently!
That’s all well and good with cats, but what about our other furry friends?
While I’ve been lucky the miniature members of my family have gotten along so far, I understand that bites and scratches can happen, and these are more common than you might think …
Which leads us to dogs.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, in 2013-14, just shy of 4,000 people were hospitalised as a result of “dog-related injury” – and the highest rate of injury occurred in children aged zero to four years.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is no comparable fact sheet for “cat-related injury”; if we’re talking worst-case scenarios, there seems to be reasonable consensus that cats are not baby-killers, but they should definitely be kept out of cots to eliminate the risk of suffocation, and supervision is required to reduce the risk of scratches and bites.
A dog, on the other hand, can present a genuine risk, and more care needs to be taken with the introduction. The RSPCA recommends ensuring your dog is well-trained before your baby arrives.
From there, be mindful and try and maintain your dog’s routine, wherever possible. Ensure your dog is sitting and calm whenever it interacts with bub, and have treats ready as a reward for good behaviour.
Most importantly, never under any circumstances leave your baby and dog together unsupervised – and this goes for older kids as well. In the majority of attacks that do occur, the child has no idea they were irritating the animal. A watchful adult will have more insight in this regard and can step in and prevent trouble.
Most importantly, don’t forget about your pets. Problems often occur when pets feel neglected.
Neglect can lead to jealousy (especially in dogs), and unchecked irritation of pets is obviously a recipe for disaster – make sure you’re there to intervene and let everyone know they’re loved, so nobody gets hurt.