Everything You Need To Know About Cats And Toddlers
How to make sure they actually become BFFs 👶😽
Kids and cats can often form a bond that leads to them becoming best friends and lifelong companions. But when kids are still teetering through toddlerdom, that relationship between kid and cat is put through the ultimate test — a cat’s prickly attitude plus a toddler’s loud curiosity can be a recipe for disaster.
So, how can parents make sure both their toddlers and their cats stay safe during what can be a tumultuous few years?
The Dodo spoke to Nicole Ellis, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA) who also works with cats, about the dos and don’ts of interactions between toddlers and cats.
Cat and toddler dangers
“Cats can be gentle and delicate animals, but when upset they are happy to express this with hissing, showing their claws and even occasionally biting,” Ellis told The Dodo. “Unfortunately toddlers don't always understand this, and that can lead to such incidents as cat scratches.”
And because toddlers are still learning empathy, they can also harm cats without understanding that it’s wrong. Lack of empathy and understanding could present itself in tail pulling, ear pulling, picking up cats the wrong way, throwing toys at cats and other common toddler behaviors.
So be aware that a toddler may not know how to treat an animal kindly at first, and that you’ll have to teach them as their relationship with the cat develops.
How to keep cats and toddlers safe together
Supervise, supervise and supervise some more.
“By supervising toddlers and teaching them how to pet and respect your kitty family members, they can grow up to be the best of friends,” Ellis said, adding that it’s necessary to always supervise the situation when your toddler is around your cat.
Learn your pet’s stress signals.
“Stress signals are signs your pet displays before a growl or a hiss and can be crucial in avoiding not only a dog bite or a cat scratch, but also in avoiding unnecessary stress to your pet,” Ellis told The Dodo.
Stress signals could present themselves as flattened ears, widened eyes and whiskers pointed forward. Or you might notice your cat is getting agitated if she’s flicking her tail more than usual. Learn your cat’s individual triggers and stress signals to avoid a bad situation before it happens.
Make sure your pet has a safe space away from your toddler.
You don’t want your cat to feel trapped if and when they aren’t having fun with your toddler, so it’s important that you make sure your cat can get away and hide in a safe space away from curious kids.
Ellis suggested giving your pet a space that’s close to the action, but far enough that they don’t feel “forced to interact.”
She said, “Give your pet a safe spot to lay, like a blanket, while you are with your toddler.” That way your cat can feel included without needing to actually get involved.
Tall cat trees can also provide a cat a place to escape to where they’re still part of the action, but out of reach of a toddler’s grabby hands.
Educate your toddler on how to properly interact with the cat.
“Teach your toddler areas to pet (and avoid) and how to pet gently,” Ellis suggested. And begin teaching them to recognize what your cat’s stress signals are — if you’re getting a new cat, these lessons should start on day one.
“Upon welcoming your new pet home, teach your kids about stress signals of animals and how they communicate,” she continued. “Give your pet a few days at home to get comfortable before overwhelming him with cuddles and new things.”
“It can be the most beautiful bond between a child and [pet] when the pet's signals are respected,” Ellis said.
If you’re adopting a new cat, make sure you work with a professional.
“When adopting a pet, many rescues can let you know if the pet is good with children, which will give you a big jump start,” Ellis told The Dodo. Be sure to be open and honest with the rescue professional about the situation at home and your kid’s personality, and how your toddler has acted toward cats and other animals in the past.
As your toddler continues to grow and develop their social skills, you’ll be able to teach them the rights and wrongs of interacting with the family cat. And they’ll pick up on things by watching you interact with the cat, too — so lead by example, vocalize dos and don’ts and make sure your cat has plenty of breathing room and personal space as he warms up to the idea of living with a small child.