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Cats are a great addition to the family. Find out more about what you can do to ensure cats and children get along.

Cats are wonderful companions for children young and old. Not only are they a great influence, teaching empathy, compassion and responsibility, but also some cats will strike a particular bond with a child.

Deciding to welcome a new pet into your home is a big decision, which is why we’ve created this article to helping kids and cats get along. Whether you’re thinking about adopting a cat or you want to teach your child to care for animals, we’ve covered topics such as choosing the right cats for children, selecting the best cats for toddlers, or what to do if a cat is scared of a child.

The benefits of adopting a cat when you have children

Growing up with a pet is a hugely rewarding experience for many children. Quite often, children prefer to talk to their pets rather than other humans and kids and cats can quickly become best friends. If you’re considering adopting a cat, you need to think about choosing the right kind of cat for the child’s age, your lifestyle, and the cat’s own needs.

You should bear in mind that every cat is unique and has their own likes, dislikes and personality. For example, a timid cat might not be happy in a loud, busy environment. It could make them feel stressed, upset and appear aggressive if they feel threatened, or even start to hide more.

Choosing a cat for kids

When choosing the best cats for kids, look for the following qualities:

  • confident and friendly
  • not too stressed by loud noises or changes
  • happy to be stroked and handled
  • calm and curious when meeting new people, especially children
  • a positive history with children or a personality that would suit a busy home environment

If you’re not sure which cat would be best for you and your family, speak to your local Cats Protection branch or centre. We’ll be able to match you to your purrfect feline friend.

Find your nearest branch or centre

Adopting a cat with young children

It’s definitely possible to adopt a cat with young children at home, although it will require extra consideration as balancing the needs of a new pet and small children can be a challenge. As well as selecting the right cat for your home and lifestyle, you should also consider the age of the cat you’re interested in adopting.

It can be tempting to pick a kitten, but kittens and children aren’t always the best mix. Kittens need training, lots of care, and are still learning how to use their claws which makes them more likely to play rough.

They’re also not the best cats for toddlers. Young children can be loud and unpredictable, and they don’t yet understand that fluffy little kittens are not soft toys. Instead, you might prefer to choose a slightly older, calmer cat who can better tolerate young children at home.

Watch our helpful video to see some important dos and don’ts when adopting a cat with young children. You can also read heart-warming success stories of kids and cats living together, from real owners, here.

How to settle your cat into your home

First impressions count, so take your time when welcoming a new cat into your home. Here’s a few things you can do to make the transition go smoothly and help your kids and cats get along. Cats and kittens need predictability, consistency and choice.

  • Bring home something familiar – If you can, take some of your new cat’s bedding home, as a familiar scent can help them feel more secure

  • Create a sanctuary in your home – Start slow by keeping your new cat in a separate room with the door closed, with everything they need in one place to allow them to adjust slowly at their own pace

  • Consider using pheromones – A Feliway diffuser can be helpful in creating a secure environment for cats so it’s useful to have one in the sanctuary room such as FELIWAY® Optimum or FELIWAY® Classic

  • Share your smell – Give them a piece of your clothing to help them get used to your smell

  • Give them space – One of the best things you can do is give your cat time and space, let them explore in their own time and approach you when they feel comfortable. Cats need to get used to their sanctuary room first before meeting any family members

It is normal for new cats to feel stressed by the change of being in a new home and it may take some time for them to settle. Refusing to interact, eating less, scratching and spraying are all signs of stress. Be patient with your new pet and if you’re struggling, get in touch with your vet or the Cats Protection team.

Find out more about bringing your cat home

Creating a safe space for your cat

No matter how confident and energetic your cat may be, all cats need peaceful spaces to eat, sleep and get some much-needed rest. Your cat should have a safe space, ideally in a quiet part of your home, to go to when they need some time alone.

Your cat’s bed and food should be placed away from the busy communal areas of your home, such as the living room or the hallway. If you have very young children who don’t yet understand how important it is for your cat to rest, you could install a baby gate to create a ‘child-free’ space and prevent children wandering in.

It’s a good idea to keep your cat’s litterbox somewhere out of the way. This provides a safe space for your cat to use the bathroom, preventing accidents, as well as stopping children from messing with the contents of the tray, which could make them ill.

Cats love having access to high areas, as it allows them to observe family life but create much-needed space. Adding furniture such as tall cat trees, or even cat shelves, is not just a great place to rest, it also provides your cat a place to sleep far away from grabby hands. Cat shelves in particular can be used effectively to create little cat highways on the wall. This could help them to get from one room to another for example, without having to walk on the floor, and is especially useful in busy areas. Ensure that any high places are easy for your cat to get down from as cats are better at climbing up than they are at getting down!

Introducing your cat to your child for the first time

It’s really important to teach your children how to safely and respectfully treat your cat from day one. Children need to understand that cats like to be left in peace when eating, drinking, toileting or sleeping, they are frightened by loud noises, and they don’t like to be grabbed or handled without warning.

To keep everyone safe and happy, you should always supervise interactions between kids and cats, and give your cat the option to run and hide.

When introducing your cat to your child for the first time, follow these six simple steps.

  1. Go slow! Once your cat is settled in, and is comfortable with the adults in the household, encourage your children to sit quietly in a neutral space, ready to meet your cat. It might be best to keep young children behind a baby gate to make sure they don’t suddenly lunge at your new cat.
  2. Encourage your child to let your cat sniff them (at their own pace) by holding out their hand. You might also wish to give your cat some clothing or a blanket belonging to your child ahead of this first meeting, so they can get used to the smell beforehand.
  3. Allow your cat to approach first. Don’t force your cat to come closer or keep them in the room if they’re scared, they should always be free to return to a safe space.
  4. It might take a few interactions like this before your cat is happy to go further. Build up time spent together slowly and allow your children to play with your cat if they’re willing.
  5. If your cat is happy to be touched, emphasise how important it is to treat your cat kindly and gently. You can also show your child where cats do and don’t like to be touched.
  6. Encourage different activities! Teach your child that they can do more than just pet. They could play with a fishing rod toy, throw bouncy balls for your cat to chase, and even give them treats in moderation. Children make great playmates for energetic cats, and vice versa.

Teaching children to care for cats

Bringing a new feline friend home isn’t just a chance to grow your family, it’s an opportunity to teach your child empathy, compassion, and responsibility.

Teach your child to care for cats by showing them love and respect, and get them involved in day-to-day responsibilities. Encourage your child to help with activities like gentle grooming, playing and feeding. These are all great bonding opportunities to help them get along.

If your child is old enough, you might also want to teach them the basics of how to handle a cat properly, so they don’t hurt the cat or themselves. Always pick a cat up by supporting their chest with one hand and their hind legs with the other, holding them securely to your chest. If they wriggle or struggle, gently place them on the floor and let them go.

Lastly, you should teach your child how to understand a cat’s body language. This will help them understand when your cat is friendly and ready to play, and when they’re scared or want to be left alone. Swishing tails, ruffled fur and hissing are all obvious warnings to stay away.

However, it’s important to teach them the more subtle behaviour signs when the cat is feeling uncomfortable, such as dilated pupils, ears turned out to the side or back, licking the nose, fast twitching the end of the tail, suddenly grooming a body part quickly or looking away. If the cat is given space at this point, then it means the cat is unlikely to escalate their behaviour to more obvious signs of stress.

How can I tell if my cat isn’t getting along with my child/children?

There are a few ways to tell if your cat isn’t getting along with your children and even if your cat is scared of your child. If your cat is adjusting well to living with children, they should be eating, drinking, sleeping and going about their normal routines.

Pay attention to your cat’s body language. If they seem relaxed and comfortable, especially when near your children, they’re probably fine. But if you spot behavioural changes, a reluctance to come into the house or be near your children, hiding or issues such as spraying and aggression, it’s likely your cat is unhappy.

If you feel that your cat isn’t getting along with your children, there are ways to make them more comfortable and reduce stress. Speak to your vet first to rule out any possible medical reasons, and then a qualified behaviourist from the Animal Behaviour and Training Council (www.abtc.org.uk).

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