8 Tips To Help Cats and Kids Get Along
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8 Tips To Help Cats and Kids Get Along

Est. read time: 5 min.

This National Kids and Pets Day, we want to make sure your cats and kids are playing nicely! We know that cats can be some of the best pets for kids. However, there may be times when one or both species needs a reminder on how to interact with each other. Use these tips to help cats and kids best get along.

Black and white kitten held in the arms of a girl - how to help cats and kids get along
Photo by Mieke Campbell on Unsplash

If you’re bringing home a new cat, prepare your kids.

Don’t spring a cat or a kitten on your child as a birthday gift, especially if the child has never expressed interest in having a cat as a pet. Adopting a pet is not like bringing home a new toy, and you should make this distinction clear with your kids well in advance. 

Discuss the responsibilities involved with raising and caring for a cat. Prepare your children for the fact that the cat may not be sociable with them at first. Emphasize the importance of being patient and allowing the kitty some space as it adjusts to new surroundings.

Make slow introductions.

Once you’ve brought the cat home, remind your kids not to overwhelm their new furry family member. While some cats and kittens take to children right away, others will need a little more time. It’s best to create a kid-free zone early on, such as a separate bedroom where the cat can relax and adjust until feeling more comfortable. This room should contain all the essentials, including food, water, a litter box, cat beds, and toys.

Woman holding a white and brown tabby cat in lap next to a girl petting the cat - how to help cats and kids get along
Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

Set a good example.

Be sure to show (or reinforce) model behavior for your kids while interacting with cats. Show them how to respectfully pet, pick up, and hold the cat. (Remember, every cat has different preferences in this regard.) Spell out the guidelines however it makes sense for your child’s age and temperament. For example:

Head scratches: Good.

Tail-pulling: Bad.

Belly rubs: Attempt at your own risk!

Educate your kids on cat body language.

Cats are mysterious creatures. Even as adults we sometimes can’t fathom the reason for our cat’s behavior or what their body language might represent—so we shouldn’t expect children to know. Brush up on common cat body language and tail language so you can pass on your wisdom to your kids.

  • Signs of a happy, comfortable cat: Tail held high in the air with a tall, confident posture; or lying prone with belly exposed (but some kitties will never do this, no matter how comfortable!); eye contact, including “slow blinking”; rubbing the face against you and nearby objects; purring, chirping, and/or meowing.
  • Signs of an aggressive cat: Ears pinned backward on the head; dilated pupils; an arched back; a fluffed tail held straight up or a tail that is lashing from side to side; whiskers held out to the side; hissing or growling.
  • Signs of a fearful or pained cat: Ears pinned back and held outward; dilated pupils; lying down with the tail tucked underneath or close to the body, or tail held low to the ground; whiskers flattened against the face; hissing or growling; sometimes purring may accompany fear or pain; hiding.
  • Signs of a playful cat: Tail curved like a question mark or twitching/swishing from side to side; running and jumping; purring, chirping, and/or meowing.

Supervise interactions for a while.

So, you’ve set a good example for your kids and discussed what to watch with cat body language. Early on, it’s still important to supervise interactions between cats and kids. Observe a play session between them so you can provide verbal encouragement—or warnings—for your child. If one or both parties is playing too rough or playing inappropriately (for example, if your child is trying to dress the cat up like a doll!), you can separate them and try again later.

Keep your cat’s nails trimmed.

A child who is roughhousing with a cat will likely come away with a scratch or two. Hopefully this will discourage any rough play moving forward—but to be safe, make sure your cat’s nails are trimmed at least every 3-4 weeks. The less time you wait between nail trimmings, the duller the scratches will be! Be sure to clean and disinfect cat scratches. Do not declaw. Provide your cat with multiple scratching outlets, such as cat furniture with sisal scratch pads.

Calico tabby cat sitting with a boy - how to help cats and kids get along
Photo by Prince Abid on Unsplash

Maintain a routine.

Cats and kids both appreciate stable routines. Set a consistent feeding and napping schedule. (Let’s be honest, it’s always nap time for cats!) Scoop the litter box daily. (Or buy a self-cleaning litter box.) Make time to play with both your cats and kids every day—with and without the other one around. 

Encourage responsibility – but don’t put it all on your kids.

Cats are great pets for teaching your kids responsibility, as it is relatively easy to meet their daily essential needs: food, fresh water, and a clean litter box. However, a child under the age of 13 (or older, in some cases) should not be left entirely in charge of caring for a cat. Instead, give your child one daily task or a couple weekly tasks related to the cat. Make sure you monitor the situation daily. It is unfair (and potentially dangerous) for your cat to go without food, water, or a clean litter box because all the burden was placed on a child.

Keep these tips in mind when helping your cats and kids get along. Usually, you’ll find that with a little time, patience, and respectful space, cats and kids can become the best of friends! If problems persist, talk with your veterinarian or seek out an animal behaviorist for expert guidance.

Source: Cat Behavior Associates

Calico tabby cat sitting with a boy - 8 tips to help cats and kids get along

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