Teach Your Children How to Handle and Respect Cats
In the go-go world of two-income families, the popularity of cats is no surprise. These easygoing pets have a real advantage over dogs as a pet for busy households. They don’t need as much in the way of training or exercise, and they’re happy to spend lots of time alone. Cats also offer the same advantages as dogs when it comes to the nonjudgmental love, listening and acceptance that experts agree is so important for growing children.
Children and cats are natural together, but you need to lay some ground rules for the safely of both from the moment your new pet comes home. Kittens can be injured by the loving attention of children, especially young ones. And with more than 600,000 cat bites reported every year in the United States, you can clearly see that some cats give as good as they get.
The key to keeping children and cats together safely is to make sure that their interactions are supervised and to teach children how to handle and respect cats.
Let’s start with the youngest. Under no circumstances should a cat (or and pet) be left unsupervised with an infant. That doesn’t mean, however, that you should listen to the advice of well-meaning friends and relatives and find a new home for your feline baby.
Your cat will not “suck the life” out of your infant—that’s an old wives tale, with no basis in fact. Still, keeping your cat away from your baby while you’re not present is just good common sense. One veterinarian I know even went so far as to put a screen door on the room to the nursery and honestly, this precaution isn’t a bad idea. Her children are older now, and they all love their cats.
The children that cats could probably do without are those around the toddler age. Toddlers can really try a cat’s patience, even though they aren’t being anything but normal. Young children can’t understand that roughly poking, squeezing and patting aren’t appreciated. Although most cats figure out quickly that children this age are best avoided, your child could be bitten or scratched if your cat is cornered or started. Keep an eye on all interactions, and consider putting a baby gate across the entry to a “safe room: for your cat so he can have a place to go where he isn’t pestered.
From the time a child is in school, he or she can start learning to care for a pet and take an increasing amount of responsibility—under supervision, of course. One way to teach younger school-aged children to play carefully is to play the “copycat game.” If you child pets the cat gently, stoke his arm gently to show how nice it feels. Teach your children, too, how to hold a cat properly, with support under his chest and his legs not left dangling. A cat who feels secure and safe is far less likely to scratch or bite.
As children mature, they can take on increasing responsibility for a pet’s care as keeping food and water bowls full and cleaning the litter box.
Do not let your child mistreat the family pet. Live animals are not stuffed animals, and your child needs to learn that living beings must be treated with respect. Remember that the ultimate responsibility for the well-being of a family pet rests with the parents, and that caring properly for a pet is one the best opportunities you’ll ever have for teaching some important lessons.
My favorite quote regarding this subject was sent to me by a reader who didn’t know the author: “Teaching a child not to step on a caterpillar is just as important to the child as it is to the caterpillar.”
What a great thought to keep in mind as we rush though our busy lives.