Cats may seem pretty chilled, but a new baby can be a major disruption for them. Get your furry friend ready for the new addition – and not being the centre of attention.
Cats don’t have owners, they have staff, or so the saying goes. If your mog feels your home is her domain, and she’s going to be sharing it with a baby pretty soon, it’s best to prepare her well in advance.
Curb her curiosity
Curiosity wouldn’t have killed the cat if it were just a passing fancy – cats are persistent when it comes to things they want to explore. So, introduce yours to your baby’s new nursery – if you’re using one – so she can have a look and a sniff around.
‘Once she’s had a look around, put the nursery room strictly out of bounds,’ says Beth Skillings, Cats Protection’s clinical veterinary officer. ‘This is particularly important if your cat has previously had free rein in the house.’
Also introduce her to any baby items you buy, such as nursery furniture or prams. ‘Let her investigate but don’t let her climb on them, and then keep them shut away,’ says Beth. ‘It is important to ensure the items are off limits because some will be very tempting places for your cat to sleep!’
The DIY way to cat proof a nursery
It may not look pretty, but you could try ripping up bits of cardboard, put double-sided sticky tape on them and put them at the entrance of the nursery. That should deter your cat from going in – and this can also work on furniture too.
Another tactic is to spray citronella on the baby spaces you’d rather she kept away from, as cats really don’t like the smell and afterwards will associate it with something unpleasant.
Remember, for the first six months your baby will be sleeping in your bedroom, so it’s worth deterring your cat from going in there as soon as you know you’re pregnant.
New sounds and smells
Cats have a very sensitive sense of smell, so a sudden influx of mini clothes, toys, buggies and your baby, could really distress her. If the arrival of your baby and her paraphernalia is too sudden, your cat may even start peeing on things associated with the baby. This isn’t aggressive behaviour. She’s just nervous and is trying to reassure herself by marking these new things as her own.
You can avoid it by introducing the baby’s scents early and gradually, and when you buy something new, give your cat a treat or play her favourite game so the new items have a positive association for her.
New sounds, like a baby crying or screeching, can also be very distressing – especially since cats have much more sensitive hearing than we do and may never have heard the sound before.Get your cat used to the sounds of a baby in pregnancy. Record a friend or relative’s baby or buy a CD that you can play on a very low volume to begin with and gradually increase the noise over time.
So, while your cat may not be too thrilled when your baby cries (who is, really?), at least she’ll recognise it.
Maintaining the schedule
If you’re the main caregiver to your cat, it’s best to pass your duties on to your partner if you can. ‘Gradually reduce the amount of “lap time” your cat gets – your attention will obviously be elsewhere once your baby arrives,’ says Beth.
It may make you feel a little sad to move away from your relationship with your cat, but the alternative is pulling away your attention all at once when the baby comes, which could confuse her.
Make sure you, or whoever takes over, maintains your cat’s schedule as best they can, to minimise the upheaval to her life. Beth advises, ‘If you need to move your cat’s feeding or toileting place, do it gradually.’
Keeping the routine will be good for both you and your cat. Beth says, ‘Try and set aside a part of the day to make a fuss of yourcat. It’ll reassure her, as well as give you a chance to grab a quiet moment and relax.’
Somewhere to hide
While lots of parents worry about a cat being aggressive towards a new arrival, her instinctive reaction to stress is to hide – preferably somewhere high up with a good view, so she can look down and assess the situation.
You might want to put a few cat beds or cardboard boxes on top of furniture, maybe with some tasty treats or a favourite blanket. That way, she’ll have a sanctuary while she works out who this little stranger is.
These retreats are even more important when your baby is a toddler. A tot’s squeals can be quite frightening to a cat, and having somewhere high up for her to get away from a two-year-old’s advances is essential.
Remember, a cat’s natural reaction when something is frightening or strange is to run away, so never try to stop her fleeing. She might feel trapped and lash out.
‘If your cat is not neutered, get this done asap,’ says Beth. Unneutered females cats can be almost constantly in heat, and you can do without a queue of tomcats at the door.
'Unneutered male cats tend to urine-mark their territory – and you can certainly do without the smell and health risks that brings! ‘And, get the vet to check her over to make sure she’s in good health for the arrival of your baby.’