Growing up with pets is an amazing experience for children. Raising toddlers and cats together allows toddlers to start reaping these benefits at a very young age.
There are numerous benefits for kids of living with pets, including the following:
- Less risk of developing allergies and asthma
- Incentive to stay more active to keep pets engaged and healthy
- Increased general comfort level around animals
- Reduced stress, loneliness, and anxiety
- Improved control, social skills, and self-esteem
- Higher level of personal accountability and responsibility
Cats and babies
When you first have a baby at home with cats, the most important thing to be aware of is keeping babies safe while they’re sleeping. Placing babies on their backs to sleep is the most effective way to eliminate the possibility of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), which is the most common cause of infant death in the United States. [Source]
When you have pets in the house, it’s important to ensure they don’t try to climb into a bassinet or crib or engage in other behavior that will interfere with newborns’ breathing. During the first weeks at home with a baby, keep a close eye on your cats. Many cats will never attempt to climb in a bassinet or crib with a baby in it and have zero interest in babies while they’re sleeping. If you do have climber cats, the best way to keep them away from sleeping newborns is to close the door of the sleeping baby’s room.
If you don’t have cats when you bring home a baby, why wait to adopt until they’re older?
I wanted to cover a few tips for pet safety with babies because it’s critical to keep newborn babies safe while they’re sleeping. You’ll have the best results raising toddlers and cats together when you bring home a new baby with cats already in the house. The cats will learn to adjust to life with kids gradually, as it’s much easier for them to be around a newborn baby than a toddler. In turn, your toddler will learn how to treat a cat right from a very young age.
If you don’t have cats when you bring home a new baby, I recommend waiting to adopt cats until your kids are four or five years old. At this age, children will be much more naturally inclined to treat cats right and can help out with playing with them and taking care of them.
With that being said, here are my best tips for raising toddlers and cats together successfully.
Raising toddlers and cats together successfully
Keep everyone on a regular schedule
Both toddlers and cats function best when they stick to a regular routine. Eat three meals a day at roughly the same time each day. Feed your cats around one or two of the family mealtimes or choose other regular times for them to eat when they’ll be able to enjoy their meals undisturbed. Putting toddlers down for naps on a regular schedule will help both toddlers and cats function better as well. Toddlers will grow accustomed to the schedule, making it easier for them to fall asleep. Cats will appreciate knowing that there are stretches of the day they can get attention and have free reign of the house.
Keep the cats’ claws trimmed
I’ll be honest: when we adopted our two older cats, we fully intended to de-declaw them. I had no idea that de-clawing is now a much-discouraged practice. [Source] On the advice of the humane society, we let our cats keep their claws. We have alternated using Soft Claws and simply keeping the nails trimmed. If you let cats keep their nails, it’s important to trim their nails or apply new Soft Claws regularly, ideally once or twice a month. Cats will get used to the routine from a young age. My cats don’t love it, but they don’t put up a huge fight either.
If you opt for Soft Claws, I highly recommend purchasing separate super glue. I love Soft Paws, but I don’t love the included super glue tube. My personal recommendation for super glue is Loctite Super Glue Gel Control, which I’ve been using for Soft Claws as well as numerous DIY projects for years. The glue control is amazing, and it doesn’t dry out as quickly as many small super glue tubes.
Additionally, if you have cats with claws, invest in at least one or two scratchers. Cats are programmed to scratch and will do so wherever they can. The younger you can train them to use scratchers, the more likely they are to stick with it. My cats really like the S scratcher and cone scratcher. It may take some trial and error to determine which scratchers work best for your cats.
Make a conscious effort to keep giving the cats attention
As a parent, you get stretched thin. Typically when my son is sleeping, I just want my alone time to get things done or relax at the end of the day. But my cats all lived with us for years without kids and really need a lot of attention. I often have one or two cats hanging out with me at the beginning and end of the day and during naptime. When I’m working on the computer while Tommy naps, I have a cat on my lap about half the time. One of our older cats needs a lot of playtime, so I often do a round with the cat dancer or infrared thermometer (aka the best laser ever) during naptime. The automatic laser is also very popular.
I’ve seen way too many parents who say, “Oh, no one has time for the kitty. The poor thing is somewhat neglected now.” They make zero effort to change the situation, which is incredibly sad. Your cats will get bored and resentful. At best, they’ll retreat and become less social. At worst, they’ll lash out to you or your kids or will resort to naughty or destructive behaviors. Neglected cats are very unlikely to interact with toddlers in a positive manner. As the parents, it’s important that you give all family members the attention they deserve.
Make sure cats have a place to escape
Even the friendliest cats don’t want to hang around toddlers all the time. When you have baby gates up, it’s easy to keep toddlers out of certain areas of the house, such as the basement or master bedroom. I’m sure that this seems crazy, but we have the toddler gate with small pet door model, so our cats don’t have to jump over the gates. It’s worked really well.
Cats will quickly learn where they can go for some alone time and uninterrupted sleep. Additionally, give cats a few high spots, such as a cat tree or the top of the couch. Eventually, toddlers will learn to climb and high spots will become less safe. However, cats still like their high spots. Having the high vantage makes it easier for them to keep an eye on everything and plot a quick getaway. Our cats really like the cat tree that I’ve featured in the picture above and linked below.
Teach nice petting
The sooner you teach toddlers to pet cats nicely, the less redirection you’ll have to provide. It’s never too early to model nice petting and help toddlers pet the cats properly when they express interest. In time, cats will learn to trust toddlers and not run away immediately. It’s definitely a process. At two years old, two of our three cats will stick around for petting (and potential food handouts) on a fairly regular basis. It’s taken them a long time to get to this point, even with a very nice toddler.
Redirect hitting, tail pulling, yelling, and chasing
Inevitably, toddlers will exhibit naughty behaviors toward the cats or will simply get excited and yell at them or chase them. Most of the time, toddlers aren’t trying to upset cats. They don’t understand that the way they can yell at or chase a fellow toddler in a playful manner is very scary to a cat. Redirect non-malicious behaviors gently, demonstrating nice petting and soft voices. Reprimand naughty behavior, especially repeat naughty behavior, so they learn not to engage in it.
Encourage the cats to stick around for toddler petting but don’t push their limits
I have very friendly cats and a toddler who has been very comfortable around cats and dogs his entire life. He’s still a very active toddler who loves to yell and engage in chase games. Even when he’s in the mood to sit and pet the cats, they aren’t always feeling it. Don’t push cats to engage with toddlers when they’re not in the mood or are ready to leave. Forcing a cat to stay in a situation where they’re uncomfortable is likely to provoke scratching and hissing.
Keep water bowls and litter boxes in low traffic areas
Toddlers will want to play in cat water bowls. Honestly, many of them are happy to drink right out of the bowls themselves. Find a couple of out of the way spots for the water bowls where no one will step in them, toddlers won’t play in them, and cats will feel safe drinking. Cats should always feel comfortable using their litter boxes as well. The unfinished area of a basement works well. A spare bedroom or bathroom is also a good choice. The specific layout of your house will dictate the best litter box spots for your cats.
Choose feeding times that will allow cats to eat undisturbed
Cat mealtime is another source of constant curiosity for toddlers. Until kids understand that they can’t bother the cats while they eat, it’s best to work their meal schedule around your toddlers. Typically, I feed our cats first thing the morning before my son is up and then while my husband is helping him get ready for bed at night. It’s up to you to determine the schedule that works best for your family.
Give toddlers stuffed animal cats
I’m sure that giving toddlers stuffed cats seems like a ridiculous tip for fostering cat and toddler relationships. But it definitely helps. My toddler has tons of stuffed animals, including a few cats, and he is so sweet with them. He understands that the stuffed cats are kitties and carries them around nicely, gives them hugs and kisses, pretend feeds them, etc. Tommy’s favorite stuffed cat is a Wild Republic stuffed animal, similar to this one, that he picked out himself. It’s the perfect size for toddlers. I also love Jelly Cat, Gund, and classic Beanie Babies.
Model the behavior you want your child to exhibit toward the cats
Modeling the behavior you want your kids to exhibit is one of the most basic parenting techniques. However, I see so many parents struggle with it or simply dismiss it altogether. Modeling proper behavior toward pets is no exception. When toddlers see their mom and dad petting the cats nicely, using soft speaking voices to the cats, taking care of them on a daily basis, and playing with them regularly, they’re much more likely to engage in these behaviors themselves.
And yes, cats can be huge jerks. Sometimes you may yell at them in front of your toddler. I certainly do and reserve zero judgement toward other parents who do the same. Reserve yelling for naughty behavior, such as attempting to steal people food off the table or picking fights with the other cats. Both your cats and your toddlers will learn that yelling means serious business.
I have toddler children and am thinking about adopting a cat when they get a little older. What are the best cats for kids?
Of course, I have to put in a personal recommendation for orange tabbies. We have three orange tabbies. They’re some of the friendliest cats I’ve ever had. Our vet practice is always very excited to have orange tabby patients and goes out of their way to see them while we’re in the office. I don’t know anyone with a mean or antisocial orange tabby. In general, tabbies of all colors are very friendly and good with kids.
A few other popular cat breeds for kids include the following.
- American shorthair
- Maine Coon
Pet owners, what tips do you have for raising toddlers and cats together?
I’d love to hear your best advice!
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