Help! Does My Cat Hate My Kids?
The cat and kid dynamic can be improved, and here’s how.
Cats and children can make an interesting mix.
In general, cats are sensitive animals who don’t love unpredictable or abrupt motion, loud noises and significant change of any kind. And kids, well … kids are not exactly known for being quiet and sitting still.
But do cats hate kids? Well, “hate” is a strong word. And while there’s no widespread evidence to support this assertion, one study published by Frontiers in Veterinary Science looked at the interaction between cats and kids and whether it was a positive or negative experience. While scenarios vary, the study did find that cats are more affectionate to adults in the household compared to children.
We spoke with Dr. Michelle Burch, a veterinarian with Paramount Pet Health, for more information on cats and kids, the study’s results and what, if anything, can be improved when it comes to your cat’s relationship with children.
Why would cats hate kids or babies?
More often than not, cats dislike change to their environment, which can lead to stress and aggression. Especially when it comes to babies. Dr. Burch told The Dodo, “When a baby is introduced to the home environment, the new sounds, smell and routine can become jarring for a cat. Unfortunately, it can lead to a dislike of your latest addition.”
Meanwhile, toddlers can be loud, unpredictable or rough when handling a cat. “Small children have a hard time understanding boundaries or body language, and this can cause negative interactions, leading to anxiety and stress in your cat,” Dr. Burch said.
If your cat doesn't like children, what can you do about it?
Creating a safe space for your cat, providing adult supervision when a child is around, and learning to read your cat’s body language can go a long way in a cat’s relationship with kids.
“I recommend working on creating a positive environment for your cat while teaching your child proper etiquette in their interactions,” Dr. Burch said. “When your cat is overstimulated, he can retreat to his safe place, which a child cannot access. Examples of safe places include high cat trees, elevated walkways, or placing a baby gate in a room designated for your cat.”
Wherever your cat’s safe space is located, teach your child that the cat’s special haven is off-limits. “Children playing in a cat's haven can cause your feline friend to avoid the area and increase anxiety or aggression,” Dr. Burch said. “And a cat should never be forcibly removed from its own hiding place.”
Dr. Burch also advised to never leave your child alone with access to the cat, since bites and scratches can be serious and happen in an instant.
Children should also learn to read a cat's body language to know when their pet’s happy or wants to be left alone. For instance, when a cat’s back is arched, this can be a sign of aggression. Meanwhile, a crouched-down body may mean your cat’s feeling stressed or anxious and is trying to appear small.
“While learning a cat's body language, I recommend involving a child in the cat’s daily care. Helpful activities include giving meals, handing out tasty feline treats, playing with interactive toys, grooming and cleaning the litter box,” Dr. Burch said.
In turn, these interactions will go a long way in forging a friendship between the smallest members of your household.
The news about cats and kids isn’t all bad
The study published by Frontiers in Veterinary Science revealed a couple of other interesting points related to cats and kids. The study found that homes with multiple cats showed a positive relationship between feline and child (versus homes with one cat).
Additionally, cats brought into the household with children as kittens or adolescents were more likely to be affectionate with the children (versus older cats, who can be rather set in their ways).
So there you have it. If you have both a cat and a kid, there’s no reason to think about giving either of them up (that’s a joke, by the way). In all seriousness, if kids are taught to be gentle with cats, to give them their space (especially if your cat has his own private oasis) and to become involved in their daily care, a wonderful relationship between your cat and child is within reach.