Children and Cats
Veterinarian Reviewed on January 4, 2008 by Dr. Janice Huntingford
Cats quite often make loving family members who interact very well with children. The kind of cat and the timing of bringing a cat into a family with children are important considerations to be made. In addition, cats can be better pets for small children than dogs while there are some special health concerns with cats and children.
Bringing a Cat into Your Family
Any time a new pet is added to your family, there needs to be a commitment to the care of that pet. Often, families decide that having a pet will complete their family but do not consider the implications of pet ownership. Kittens for example, need time every day for grooming, play, training, and socializing with people. This can be quite the time commitment for a family with small children but without proper care kittens can become difficult pets. Your cat may become very unhappy, which usually leads to more serious behavioural problems, so it is important to be prepared for a new cat.
In addition, small children (especially boys) are often more interested in tormenting a cat than loving them. Cats need to be treated with gentle affection and young children might be too energetic for a cat. That being said, cats are usually less aggressive than dogs and are more capable of getting out of the way. They can climb up on furniture and hide in tight spaces so they can avoid kids when they are getting overexcited.
As far as the breed of cat is concerned, you’ll probably want to choose a breed that is less prone to anxiety. A good example is a large, male cat that has been neutered. Pure breeds of cat tend to be associated with higher stress levels and might not make the best pet for a family.
Also remember to prepare your home for a new cat. Make sure to safely store any cleaning products or medicines that can be deadly for cats. In addition, you need to create a child-free area for your cat’s litter box and food. It would also be useful to explain to your kids the rules about owning a cat as well as who will share what responsibilities.
Cats and Infants
Many new parents are concerned about brining their newborn into a house with a cat. Toxoplasmosis, caused by the bacteria Toxoplasma and contractible through cat feces, is one of the most serious concerns as it can cause brain damage and even death. In addition, new parents tend to be concerned about the possibility that a cat will smother their child resulting in death. While the latter concern is usually exaggerated (veterinarians rarely, if ever, report cases of cats accidentally smothering babies), toxoplasmosis is a serious, valid concern. That being said, there are a few precautions that can be taken to drastically reduce risk.
First of all, be sure to regularly clean the litter box. If your cat has a clean litter box and the area round the box is clean, it is very unlikely that feces will come in contact with your infant. In addition, do not allow children to pay near or around your cat’s litter box. Sandboxes and dirt piles can also be an area of concern. Outdoor cats will often defecate in these areas making them unsafe for children to play.
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Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan