Dear Ms Kitty,
I’m expecting a new baby in a few months and am worried about my cat Ranger, who was my first “baby.” He’s never been around children before. What can I do to help him adapt to my little one?
-Waiting in Westcliffe
Congratulations on your new baby! Thank you for thinking about how Ranger might react if you suddenly disappear and then show up with your bundle of joy. Perfectly wonderful cats end up in shelters all the time because their guardians didn’t think to teach them about the changes a baby can bring.
A new baby will probably change everything for everyone in the family. Ranger will have to adapt to far less time with you as well as entirely new sounds and smells and routines. And don’t forget the big changes on the horizon when your baby becomes a toddler!
Cats adapt best to big changes if they have time to adapt to smaller ones, a little at a time. Here are five tips for helping Ranger adjust and maybe saving him from having to find a new home.
Here are 5 tips to help your kitty adjust to a new baby:
Cat hearing is thirty percent more acute than even that of dogs. Your new baby will be making sounds your cat has never heard before, including distress cries which can also be stressful for Ranger.
You can help get him used to these noises by making or purchasing a recording of baby sounds and playing it for your cat (see our website for resources). Please start off very quietly for just a few minutes at a time, building up time and volume until Ranger no longer pays attention to the sound.
Cats’ sense of smell is powerful…14 times that of humans! This can also make a new baby very overwhelming. It’s helpful to start using baby lotions and powders before the little one comes home so they become a normal part of Ranger’s life. Diapers can be very overwhelming too, so if possible, invite friends with babies to gradually get him used to the smell of them too.
It will probably be impossible to maintain the level of affection you have with your cat once your new baby arrives. If mom-to-be is the cat’s main caretaker, try transferring some of that time and love to another family member.
Even a one-person cat’s affections can be shifted to someone else with the help of treats, extra playtime and/or clicker training. You can start by putting someone else in charge of feeding. Add in extra playtime with Ranger and soon he won’t miss you quite as much.
When the baby arrives, try to give him at least some one-on-one attention whenever you can, using his name to distinguish between cooing at him and cooing at the baby.
Babies come with lots of new stuff, from strollers to bouncers to gates. If you purchase these things ahead of time and let Ranger mark them appropriately with his cheeks and tail, they will naturally become part of his territory.
This should lower his anxiety and may save him from feeling the need to mark inappropriately after the baby comes, a very common problem with a cat who is stressed.
Once your baby becomes a toddler, life can still be complicated for Ranger. Toddlers simply don’t have the motor skills to handle cats gently and he may not understand why this tiny human is chasing and being mean to him.
Your cat may also need a little more equipment as your baby grows. Baby gates that have cat doors in them are wonderful for allowing Ranger an escape route.
Tall cat trees are also a great way for Ranger to be able to get away for some quiet time, yet still be a part of the family. Plus they provide an appropriate place for him to stretch, mark and scratch, so essential to all cats.
Please supervise any interaction until your toddler is about three years old so both of them have good experiences with each other. He or she will then be able to hold and pet gently…and appreciate the purrs of your happy, well-adjusted and child-friendly cat!
Sara Ferguson is the Director of Happy Cats Haven and Carole Galloway is the owner of Colorado Cats Boarding. Ask Ms Kitty supports cat behavior consulting offered on our website through our Helpline.
Thanks to Billie Hogan and Cub for their help and photos for this article!