Cats and Older Children
Cats usually do well with older children. In fact, the bond between children and their pets at this age is often one of great comfort to the child during the turbulent growing up years. Sometimes, however, the child does not always perform assigned tasks responsibly, and cleaning the litter box falls high on that list of tasks. If a child is assigned responsibility for the litter box cleaning, the parents must closely oversee the cleaing to ensure a clean litter box. Many cases of cats urinating or defecating outside the litter box are due to large amounts of stool and urine in the box. The use of covered litter boxes tends to increase the dirty litter box problems, as the amount of urine and stool present is not noticeable to the casual observer. Dirty litter boxes to the cat are equivalent to filthy restrooms or portable toilets to humans- alternate locations for elimination will be found.
Most toddlers love cats- they are soft, furry, and make lots of entertaining noises and movements. However, not every cat finds toddlers as fascinating. The high activity levels, noises, and small size that allows the toddler to approach many retreat areas for the cat all combine to make some cats avoid toddlers. In addition, toddlers usually have no concept that their actions hurt the cat-pulling on the hair, holding or carrying the cat awkwardly, or choking the cat during play are all unacceptable and potentially painful or even deadly to the cat. Toddlers need to be supervised when they interact with the cat both for their protection and the cat's protection. An injured cat may scratch or bite the toddler. A stressed cat may have litter box accidents associated with finding elimination areas that avoid the toddler, or start spraying due to stress.Also make sure that the cat has areas to retreat to that the toddler does not have access to, such as a room or piece of furniture that is a "safe place".Make sure that there are multiple litter box and food stations that the cat can access without interacting with the toddler. If necessary, antianxiety medication can be helpful as well. Many cats will hide during the day and come out at night when the toddler is asleep for attention. Give 10 minutes attention twice a day to help reduce the stress for these cats.
Babies and Cats
Children and Your Cat
A new baby in the household is a wonderful addition, but entails adjustments for everyone, including the pets. The cat may have been the primary focus of parental nurturing before the baby came. With the new baby having arrived, there may be little energy for exhausted new parents to give attention to the cat. Some cats will find this lack of attention and interaction extremely stressful, and begin to urine spray.
Like children, even negative attention is perceived by the cat as better than no attention at all. If the only time the cat receives attention is when a litter box accident has occurred, the accidents may reoccur. In addition, sometimes the negative attention is severe enough, especially when physical punishment is used, that the cat becomes fearful of the owner's presence which then increases stress and urine marking behavior even more.
How can you best handle introducing the new baby to the cat, and prevent or address litter box problems?
Bringing home the new baby:
1. If possible, have the parent that is not the primary nurturer for the cat bring the baby into the house when coming home from the hospital.
2. Offer clothes worn by the baby to the cat to allow it to smell the baby's scent.
3. With the baby on your lap, allow the cat to investigate the baby. Whenever possible, allow the cat to share attention when nursing the baby and positively interact with the cat rather than pushing the cat away.
4. Give at least 10 minutes attention twice a day to the cat to maintain the positive bond between you.
5. Most cats are a little shy of a new baby and are more likely to hide from the loud sounds and activity of the baby. It is extremely rare for a cat to be aggressive toward a baby. However, there is always a chance that any pet including cats could accidently, inadvertently or deliberately injure a baby and consequently their interactions should always be under adult supervision.
6. Cats will not try to smother a baby. However, babies cannot move their heads easily and cats should not be allowed to sleep with a baby in case the cat were to snuggle too close and make breathing difficult for the baby. A portable crib with a zip top will prevent access into the crib when the baby is sleeping.
7. If litter box accidents occur, immediately have your cat examined by your veterinarian. The stress of the new baby in the house may have triggered cystitis or other health problem. In addition, the litter box may have been overlooked in the excitement of the new addition, and this may also trigger urination or defecation in undesirable areas.
8. Do not physically punish or get mad at your cat- it's litter box problems are associated with stress, illness or litter box management, not an attack on you.