Forget everything you learned from Lady and the Tramp. Most families with cats experience a smooth transition when a new baby arrives. All it takes is a little planning. Katie Watts, senior feline behavior counselor at the ASPCA Adoption Center, offers her tips on introducing kitty to your newborn.
"The most important thing to remember with cats is that many of them don’t respond well to sudden change," says Watts. The good news: You have about nine months to get your cat ready for baby’s arrival. Start thinking about the ways that your household routine may change. Establish off-limits areas well in advance. If you need to move litter boxes or feeding areas, do so gradually and early, not the moment baby comes home. Avoid overreacting with changes, such as forcing an indoor cat to start living outdoors.
Keeping in mind that cats respond best to gradual change, begin getting your cat used to the way babies smell and sound. "Do anything you can do to ease the transition so it’s not a lot of changes all at once. Acclimate the cat to the sounds that baby makes," Watts says, who recommends using recordings of babies crying. "Gradually increase the volume." Try using baby lotion or powder to help your cat get used to the way baby will smell. You won’t be able to prepare your cat for every aspect of life with a newborn, but there are many small steps you can do to slowly prepare your cat.
"There’s the whole myth of cats stealing the baby’s breath," says Watts. "Cats aren’t going to do anything on purpose, but when you have a newborn, if the cat wants to snuggle in the middle of the night there’s a chance that the baby could suffocate." Watts recommends keeping the baby’s nursery completely off-limits for your cat. "You want to make sure that you’re very closely monitoring the interaction between any pets and a new baby," she adds.
When the big day arrives and you bring your newborn home, let your cat approach naturally. "Give the cat free rein," Watts says. "Cats don’t respond well to force, so no matter what happens, be as nonchalant as you can. If they look nervous and they’re hiding, the worst thing you can do is force them out or force them to get a close look at the baby." You may want to have a tasty treat on hand to help gently coax your cat.
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