An opinionated feline in Edmonton, Canada who lived with a retired cat behaviourist, Greyce provided behavioral advice to cats in need until her death in July 2014. Because her entries are useful even today, the blog remains posted.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

May I Present? A Baby!

Dear Greyce, Life has been good for us as the much-loved pets in the household. However now Herself is going to have a baby. Along with Himself, she's become very preoccupied with this baby (who has yet to arrive). What do you think this means? Troubled Twosome

Dear Troubled Twosome, What this means is that you will have a human kitten in the household. This is a big event for most humans. And unlike cats who will have their kittens weaned and ready for the world by about 12 weeks of age, that human baby will be sticking around for a very long time. Fear not; it can be an interesting experience. And you will be doing the kid a favour, because studies show that being a baby in a household with pets builds up the immune system, for the baby that is.

But having a baby on the scene does mean a lot of change for you. To date you've been the focus of your purrsons' attention. Once baby arrives, you will go to the end of the line. This doesn't mean they don't love you anymore, just that priorities have changed. The wise and sensitive purrson will understand this and plan to make the transition as smooth as possible for you. And since I hope you live with wise and sensitive people, I've included a tip sheet for them to follow - because they really need to think about this transition NOW and not after baby arrives.

A Precious Greyce Handout for Humans Who Need to Know

Now that a baby is on the way, your cat’s life will change. Of course you are busy thinking about and planning for your baby. But your cat deserves some thought, too. A contented cat can be a blessing at this exciting and stressful time in your life. But a cat who is expected to sink or swim once baby is on the scene may show signs of stress (not eating, urine marking your furniture, self-mutilating, etc.) So it's in the interests of everyone to do what you can to enable your cat to welcome the change that baby brings. And since familiarity equals contentment to a pussycat, that means making changes slowly. Here are some things you can do to help your cat adjust.

1. Let your cat be part of the preparation. Redecorating a room for baby? Do this as much in advance as possible - not only to make it easier on you but also to give your cat the time to adjust to new surroundings. Let your cat explore and sniff the new space and its furnishings so she can incorporate them into her territory as items that are familiar and safe.

If your cat is nervous or fearful, or has a history of scratching on or spraying new things, consider using Feliway which will increase his sense of comfort. Sure beats having Puss christen the new crib with urine! Feliway is available from your veterinarian or pet supply stores. Follow the instructions and make sure you ONLY use it on things, not on your cat. To make it even easier, get the plug-in version that is sufficient for 650 sq. ft. for one month. Read the instructions first and then decide which option will work best for your cat and your situation.

Your cat will need to incorporate new smells into his territory. So give him the chance to get used to baby lotions and wipes (and whatever else you plan to use) by putting some on your skin daily, months in advance of baby’s arrival. Once baby is born, have someone bring home a used article of baby’s clothing, so your cat can sniff the newcomer in advance. Short hospital stays mean you’ll have to act fast.

If you always respond to your cats merest whim or you have a demanding cat (Oriental breed like Siamese, Burmese, etc.) start becoming less attentive BEFORE baby arrives. It is important for your cat to learn that baby comes first. One way is to look after baby and then fuss over your cat (give a treat, some petting or play). That way your cat learns that tending to baby is the first step in getting attention.

2. Neuter or spay without delay. If you’ve been meaning to spay or neuter your cat and haven’t got around to it, now is the time to do so. Babies are high energy beings and intact cats can respond to that high energy with their own anxiety reactions. Do yourselves a favor and reduce that risk by having your cat spayed or neutered at least two weeks before baby’s arrival. Of course your cat needs to be of age so check with your vet on the age requirements.

3. Take precautions to avoid toxoplasmosis. If you are pregnant, don’t garden or change the cat’s litter without wearing rubber gloves. Or get someone else to do those task for you, so you can minimize the risk of getting toxoplasmosis (a parasite found in cat feces, among other things). Check with your obstetrician AND veterinarian on this, because each professional can give you useful tips from different points of view. There’s no need to be afraid of handling your cat (just cat poop).

4. Get your cat used the baby’s sounds. If a friend has a baby, invite them both over. Let your cat see you feed, change and hold the baby. Ask if you can tape record the baby’s crying. Then play the tape every day when you and your cat are calm, so she can get used to the new sounds.

5. Establish any new routines beforehand. If your bedroom is going to become off limits, start making it so now, well before baby arrives. That way your cat doesn’t associate the baby with this change. (You may need to make some other room or space more inviting for your cat if you don't want her to hang out in your bedroom. Putting toys, a cat tree, and a Feliway diffuser in the new cat area can help this transition.) If the first thing you are likely to do when you wake up is check on baby, start your visit to baby’s room now so your cat gets used to the new routine. Don’t forget to stay in the room for a few minutes, so your cat knows this will be a visit and not just a brief hello. And when you are finished visiting the room pet your cat. That way he associates the end of the visit with something nice.

Arrange to have your cat taken care of, if you plan a hospital delivery. The difficulty with boarding your cat is he leaves home as king of the castle and returns to find he has been usurped. So if at all possible have someone look after him in your home.

6. Plan on always supervising your cat's interaction with baby. Even the most mellow pet can be spooked by the sudden wails of a hungry infant, so don’t plan on leaving baby and kitty alone together. For the same reasons, plan to keep baby’s crib out of bounds. It  is NOT TRUE that cats smother babies; that's a baby-cat myth; it's just that they often seek heat and baby is warm. You don't want to risk your 4 kg (10 pounds in American) cat's rump being in baby's face.
Better still, install a French door (one of those fancy doors with small, tempered- glass windows throughout) to baby’s room. That way your cat can see the action but not enter without your supervision. (You'll need to check this out further. Some insurance policies or fire regulations may prohibit this, even though many people have adopted frosted glass doors in high-end renovations throughout their homes.)

7. Try to stick to your cats normal routine for feeding, playing and sleeping. If you think this routine will change with baby, then start to change it well in advance of baby’s arrival. And try to include her in baby’s routine, too. For example, when feeding baby, your cat might snuggle up beside the two of you on the sofa. As you are cooing to your child, be sure to mention your cat by name. Then when baby’s feeding is over, you might reward your cat with a treat. Or maybe another family member could pet or groom your cat while they both watch you feed junior.

Now a word on treats. Don’t overdo it. I use certain brands of food for my regular diet and another, as a treat food. Two or three pieces of that other food lets me have a treat without my worrying about my waistline.
8. Spend quality time with your cat. If you were your cat's main cuddler or playmate, make sure you continue those daily cuddle and play sessions apart from baby. You need to give your cat one or two sessions (5 to 10 minutes each per pet) of exclusive time. Stick to it on schedule even if baby is present.

No time to cuddle or play with your cat? Assign that role to another family member. Family too busy? What about the cat-loving kid next door? If someone else is going to take over these duties, have them start a few months in advance of baby’s arrival.

9. Start to include your cat as soon as baby comes home. When you arrive home with your baby, be especially welcoming to your cat. If possible, have someone else hold baby while you greet your cat when you just arrive. Talk slowly and softly. You might feed your cat a small meal or treat when you first come home. If appropriate, provide new cat toys with baby’s homecoming.

When baby AND your cat are relaxed, allow your cat a good long sniff session, under supervision of course. And let your cat sniff the things that came home with baby, too. This will reduce his fear of threat.

For a baby exploring session, harness and leash your cat if he is aggressive or tends to startle, so you can keep control. If your cat is shy, talk gently and encourage him. Don’t hold or dangle baby in front of your cat (you could invite an inadvertent attack); just think of Michael Jackson dangling his kid off that balcony and DON'T do it!

The first few days of returning home with baby, try to keep other disruptions and visitors to a minimum. That way both of you get a chance to adjust at a more relaxed pace. When visitors come, see if they will also interact or talk with your cat too - as long as your cat is willing, of course. And if the onslaught of visitors proves too much for your cat, give her a place to retreat to - a cat condo or a cardboard box in a quiet room where she can rest, away from the noise.

If your cat is on a fixed feeding schedule, then feed baby and your cat separately. Hungry cats can get over-excited and may go for baby’s food.

For the first three weeks or so while your cat is getting used to everything, make sure your cat is restrained (harness and tethered lead) or confined when you are with baby. Never leave baby unsupervised - even to answer the door or the phone. This is why the French door is such a good idea. Again this is to protect both parties. Cats can be spooked by sudden movements or unexpected noises and might feel the need to defend themselves. They are NOT deliberately going after your baby! That's a malicious rumour spread through tabloids that has no basis in fact!!!

10. Be alert for any signs of kitty distress. If you’ve followed the advice I’ve outlined, stress is likely to be minimal. But every cat is an individual. So if your cat gets the trots, starts to hide a lot, pees or poops outside the litter box or suddenly starts to swat you, call your veterinarian. Chances are it’s stress, but why take the chance, just in case it's a medical condition? Besides if stress if the cause, you’ll need to lessen the stress load on your fur person.

With some planning and forethought, you can make your cat’s transition to an expanded household a smooth one. Once baby gets to the grabbing and crawling stage, you’ll have further adjustments to make.


The rule of constant supervision of any interaction between your baby and your pet is largely for your baby’s safety. But this same rule applies to all children up to the age of about eight years - for your cat’s safety.

Small children pull tails and ears, grab fur and drag animals around. Eight years is the age at which most children understand how to deal with a pet appropriately IF TAUGHT UNDER SUPERVISION.

Crawl Stage: Make sure your cat has safe and secure places to which to retreat. They need to be off the floor. Stable cat trees or sunning shelves are ideal. Provide a childproof refuge in every room. If your cat uses a cat bed, make sure it is well out of reach. Prevent your crawler or toddler from having access to the litter box.

Toddlers: Guide your child in petting your cat. Keep the sessions short and frequent. Encourage gentle, light strokes.

Post-toddler: After the toddler stage, you are ready to teach your child how to pick a cat up properly. Make sure the hindquarters are supported and the child isn’t breathing into your cat's face. Also make sure that your cat is not being held tightly. And if the cat wishes to get away, show the child how to gently put the cat down.

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