Q: Our cat is currently our “only child,” but a baby is on the way. Any tips for a smooth introduction of pet and baby?
A: Having a baby is a cause for celebration (our family welcomed our first grandchild last year).
But, as every new parent knows, caring for a newborn is a full-time job complete with a lot more stress and a lot less sleep. All those changes mean less time and attention for our animal companions. Here are some tips to plan ahead:
1. Gradually get your cat accustomed to spending less time with you. Introduce a new scratching post and challenging new toys that your cat can use to entertain herself. By avoiding a sudden decrease in attention, you’ll be less likely to find yourself scolding or isolating your cat after the baby comes home.
2. If your pet is especially attached to the mother-to-be, have another family member pay more attention to the cat. By developing a closer relationship with another human, your cat may feel less neglected when Mom is busy with baby care.
3. If your cat is anxious or has other behavioral issues (nibbling, pouncing or batting at humans), redirect that behavior toward appropriate objects.
4. Get your cat used to nail trimming, either by you or a professional.
5. Invite friends to visit with their babies so your cat will get accustomed to small humans. Supervise all pet and infant interactions. Introduce new equipment and furniture (such as a baby swing, crib, changing table and rocking chair) and baby-related noises by playing recordings of crying babies. Use treats and playtime to give your pet a positive association with anything new and different.
6. Allow your kitty some supervised exploration of the nursery. The novelty may wear off. Keep in mind that some cats love to sleep in the new crib or bassinet. As an alternative to keeping the nursery completely off-limits, consider getting a crib net or bassinet cover.
7. Let your cat experience new smells by putting a little baby powder or lotion on yourself. Use baby wipes on family members so that smell becomes familiar.
Once the baby is born, have someone bring home a baby blanket or article of baby clothing so your cat can get used to new-baby smells. When the baby actually comes home, many cats are initially curious.
That’s fine, unless there’s aggressive behavior — in which case keep cat and baby separated until you can consult a feline behavioral specialist.
In general, reward good behavior around the baby and gently discourage behaviors you don’t like. To make it less likely that stress will disrupt litter-box habits, add extra (and accessible) litter boxes and keep them very clean. A cat urinating on baby items is probably scent-marking — seek veterinary help right away for this anxiety-related behavior problem. You can also reassure your cat by maintaining her daily routine, including at least a little bit of quality companion time doing whatever you and your cat did together before the baby.