Congratulations on your upcoming new arrival! There is nothing more exciting and challenging than bringing a new baby into the world. However, along with the joy and elation that new parents experience, a great deal of household change will also take place. And this includes the dynamic with the family pet(s).
When cats are deeply adored by their guardians, they are considered part of the family and often treated like children. But when the new baby arrives, the amount of time and the quality of attention to the cat will likely change. And much in the same way that children often demonstrate sibling rivalry when a new baby arrives, cats can also become stressed when their lifestyle is disrupted.
Familiar routine schedules are important to cats, so even the most insignificant changes may upset them and cause behavioral problems that can be difficult to unravel once begun.
Preparing your cat
With all the unfamiliar baby scents and sounds, cats that have never been around children especially need to be prepared for this major change. Fortunately, there are many months ahead of the baby’s arrival that you can wisely utilize to help your cat more easily accept this life-changing transition.
Slowly introduce the smells and sounds that are associated with a baby (for instance, offer to do an occasional load of laundry for a harried mother in your life —the laundry basket will be a good opportunity to bring a little ‘baby’ into your home for a day). Play a baby sound CD at a low volume to familiarize your cat with the sounds that babies make, such as crying and cooing. While your cat is hearing these unfamiliar sounds, stroke her and offer her a favorite treat. Slowly increase the CD volume as your cat becomes increasingly accustomed to these sounds, while at the same time offering treats.
Acquaint your cat with the scent of baby lotion and diaper cream. Rub these products on your skin prior to engaging in an enjoyable interchange with your cat, such as having an interactive play session with a favorite toy and treats.
You can also use a baby doll to help to acquaint your cat with a newborn infant. Handle the doll in the same way you would handle the baby. Let your cat watch you change its diaper, put it in the crib, push it around the house in a stroller and bathe it in the bassinette. The more you realistically interact with the doll, the more your cat will become accustomed to being around these daily activities.
Since cats communicate with scent and identify friends that smell familiar to them, you can give your cat an advance introduction to the baby. Soon after the baby is born — but before you bring the baby home — let your cat smell something that carries the scent of your infant, such as a blanket or an article of clothing.
Introducing the cat to baby
Cats are extremely curious animals and may be intrigued by this new tiny person. Nicholas H. Dodman, BVMS DACVB, Animal Behavior Clinic Director at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, suggests that while you are holding the baby, you can allow your cat to sniff and inspect the brand-new family member.
Make sure that one parent makes extra time for the cat by taking a few minutes to play with her, pet her or engage in any of the familiar routines that she enjoys with you. While it’s human nature to be obsessed with the new baby, your cat can easily end up feeling neglected in the first few months of this new arrival to the home.
Your cat will likely be drawn to the baby’s crib and want to hop into it. The blankets, pillows and allure of a warm sleeping baby in it — along with the smell of milk — can make the crib a highly attractive place for a cat. Although it is just an old wives’ tale that cats suck baby’s breath, Dr. Dodman cautions that because babies have weak chest muscles, the weight of a cat landing on the baby can be a danger.
To keep your cat out of the crib, Dr. Dodman recommends using a cat tent. Additionally, cat tents will prevent your cat from urinating in the crib — a possibility if extremely stressed. (Cat tents can be purchased at baby stores or on amazon.com.)
To keep both the infant and the cat safe from harm, never leave the cat and baby together unsupervised. If you are planning keep the door to the nursery closed to keep your cat out, Dr. Dodman cautions that the door must be foolproof because, “a curious cat on a mission is extremely resourceful and is skillful in opening most doors.”
Health and safety concerns
Expectant mothers share several concerns about the safety of having a cat around their baby. Unfortunately, misinformed obstetricians and well-meaning friends and relatives often cause unnecessary alarm by perpetuating the myth that having a cat will put the baby’s health and well-being at risk. However, when new mothers are fully informed and armed with the facts, these worries can be laid to rest.
Before the baby arrives, schedule a wellness examination to make sure that your cat is healthy, free of external and internal parasites and that his vaccinations are up to date.
Truth about toxoplasmosis
One of the most common concerns for pregnant women is toxoplasmosis, a zoonotic disease that can be transmitted between animals and humans, and can infect the unborn baby. Cats become infected with toxoplasmosis by eating infected raw meat, or consuming infected prey such as birds or small mammals. The parasite doesn’t live in the cat’s fur, so there is a minimal risk to humans of becoming infected. However, because the toxoplasmosis cysts are shed in the feces of infected cats, pregnant women are at risk of infection when cleaning the litter box.
To avoid the risk of becoming infected during pregnancy, it’s wise to have litter box chores handled by someone else. And to further reduce the risk of your cat contracting toxoplasmosis, you should keep your cat strictly indoors.
To rule out toxoplasmosis, your veterinarian will give your cat a thorough physical examination and perform routine laboratory tests including a complete blood count, urine analysis and a biochemistry panel. If a positive diagnosis is made, your cat will be treated with antibiotics.
What is cat scratch fever?
Another infectious zoonotic disease is Feline Bartonellosis (more commonly known as “cat scratch fever”). The disease is generally transmitted in cats through contact with flea feces. The bacterium is excreted through the fleas into its feces, and then deposited on the cat’s skin. When the cat grooms himself, he ingests the bacteria and becomes infected with the Bartonella strain.
Cats infected with Bartonella typically don’t become seriously ill, beyond a possible fever, muscle aches and swollen glands. However, the bacteria can be transmitted to humans though a scratch or a bite from an infected cat. Bartonella infections are generally mild in humans — although more serious cases may require a short hospitalization. Children may be more at risk of contracting the infection because they are more apt to play with kittens who often bite and scratch during play.
You can reduce the risk of your cat being infected with Bartonella by keeping your cat indoors and using a regular, safe flea prevention program recommended by your veterinarian. — Jo Singer