The big day has arrived and your new bundle of joy is coming home. Hopefully you’ve spent some time getting your cat ready for a baby ahead of time but either way, this is happening. Start your cat and baby on the path to being friends for life!
(If you’ve already survived babyhood, consider this post on cats and toddlers.)
When the new baby comes home, try to keep things calm for your cat. If Mom has been out of the house for a couple days or more, let her go alone (without the baby) to greet the cat and get reacquainted. Your cat may seem unsure at first so bring a few treats or a favorite toy to smooth things over. Next, show them a baby blanket or piece of clothing with your baby’s smell on it. Let your cat sniff it while offering treats, play, or attention but don’t force it on them. Place it next to one of their beds so they can investigate it on their own. If your cat still seems stressed from people coming home or from the smell of the baby, give them some time in their own space to settle down and try again.
As long as your cat is calm, now it’s time to meet the baby. If possible, do the introduction with two people, one person holding the baby and one focusing on the cat. Offer treats, play, or attention when the baby is brought in to the room. Don’t hold the cat up to see the baby as it is better for your cat to be able to approach or move away as they are comfortable.
It is up to you to decide how close you are comfortable letting a calm cat get to the baby. But you shouldn’t let your cat get close to the baby’s face or try to sit in your lap while you are holding the baby. If you want to increase the distance, use treats or a toy to redirect your cat to move away and stand up with the baby.
If other family members are staying at your home to welcome your new baby, make sure your cat has a space to retreat to if they need a break. Share any of your cat’s favorite or least favorite things (Do they like to be picked up? How do they like to be petted?) with visitors and ask that they respect your cat’s boundaries so they don’t accidentally create more stress.
With any pet, safety for the baby must be a priority. An adult should be actively monitoring the cat and baby if they are in the same room together. If an adult can’t be ready to intervene if needed, then management such as closed doors should be used to keep the cat away from the baby. It is unlikely that a cat will intentionally approach a baby to harm it but accidental injuries are still very possible.
A Baby is a Good Thing
The baby’s safety is every parent’s number one priority. When the cat comes to investigate this new addition to the family, a new parent might feel the need to shoo the cat away or tell them “no” for fear of what could happen.
While maintaining a safe distance is important, you don’t want your cat to start to associate the baby with being chased away or yelled at. Every time your cat is in the same space as your baby, make sure something nice is happening. Offer some treats, a meal, a toy, or an ear rub so that your cat learns to connect the baby to nice things and not scary or unpleasant things.
This doesn’t mean you can’t set boundaries. Create “kitty stations” in areas where the baby and cat will be together. Leave treats on a cat bed, perch, or other designated spot when you enter the room to encourage your cat to hang out there. Make that a cuddle spot. Feed a meal there. Other time, your cat will start to hang out in their spot while you take care of the baby. Don’t forget to reward them for using the spot with treats, play, or attention.
Make Life Easier
Do more for your cat with less time and attention by feeding using puzzle toys. These toys encourage your cat to use their mind and body to get their food which leaves them tired and relaxed afterwards. They are also a good extended distraction. Need to feed the baby? Put down a food puzzle for your cat and let them hang out nearby without trying to “help”.
If your cat hasn’t used food puzzles before, start with easy ones and don’t expect your cat the work on them for long periods of time. FoodPuzzlesForCats.com is a good source of ideas for homemade puzzles, puzzles that move or are stationary (and thus quieter), and puzzles that use wet food. If your cat still doesn’t seem interested, try sprinkling their dry food around a room to make them “hunt”.
That Feeling is Normal
At some point you might wonder if your cat deserves better. You think they might be happier with someone who could give them more attention and take better care of them. Would it be kinder to find your cat a new home?
When you have a new baby at home, it is completely normal to feel overwhelmed and to question if you are giving your cat a good enough life. The reality is that, most likely, you are giving your cat a great life. The fact that you are worried about them means that you love them. If they get a little (or a lot) less attention for a while, that is okay. The vast majority of cats are happier staying in a home they know. Stick with it; you will make it through this time and make it up to your cat later.
You’ve overcome to first hurdle in helping your child and cat become friends. As your baby gets older though, a once happy relationship can start to get harder. As your child grows up, here are some tips on dealing with cats and toddlers.
If you need help solve introducing your baby and your cat or your cat is showing some unwanted behavior after a new baby comes home, consider scheduling a private behavior consultation.