How To Introduce A New Kitten To Your Kids
Cutest BFFS ever 😻👶
If you’re already a human parent but you also want to take the plunge into becoming a kitten parent, you know your child is going to want to hug your new cat and squeeze her and shower her with love.
It’s the cutest concept ever — in theory — but if you want your kitten and your kid to be BFFs, you need to know the right way to introduce them.
The Dodo spoke with Dr. Andrea Y. Tu, medical director at Behavior Vets in New York City, to find out the best way to introduce kittens and kids.
How to introduce a kitten to kids
Similarly to when you’re introducing a kitten to an older cat, you should separate the kitten in a small room (like a bathroom) when you first bring her home.
You want the process to be gradual, and let your kitten get used to your kid’s smell first.
“You could wipe down the kitten and then wipe down your kid’s hands, because that’s transferring the kitten’s own scent onto your kid’s hands, so the cat can smell that,” Dr. Tu told The Dodo.
This will help your kitten recognize your kid as something familiar, since she’ll be able to pick up her own scent.
This also works both ways, so your cat can get used to your kids’ scents, too.
“While we don’t produce the same pheromones a cat would recognize, we do have other scents that the cats could recognize as being familiar,” Dr. Tu explained.
You could get your kitten accustomed to those scents by giving her something like a blanket or a towel that your kid is always holding or even sleeping with.
What kids should and shouldn’t do when meeting a kitten
When introducing a kitten to her home (and new family members), you want to make sure you aren’t overwhelming her because that could cause her to form negative associations.
“[A] big thing when it comes to introducing kittens to kids is training the kids,” Dr. Tu said. “What I often will see is that kids are much too rough.”
A kid’s first instinct is to grab a kitten and pick her up and squeeze her but — while we can’t really blame them since kittens are so stinking cute — that’s not a good approach.
“Cats, compared to dogs, don’t really like to be picked up,” Dr. Tu explained. “They like the sensation of the ground underneath them.”
So it’s important to teach your kid the right way to interact with your new kitten, which means hands off!
“[Make] sure that the kids that you’re introducing the kitten to understand that a kitten is a living being, and you learn to respect the kitten from far away instead of [picking it up, grabbing it and squeezing it],” Dr. Tu said.
According to Dr. Tu, that’s going to be the best way to make sure the introduction is successful.
Ways your kids can respectfully play with your kitten
Making sure your kid is respectful of your new kitten’s space is huge, especially when you’re trying to make sure your child isn’t being too rough with her.
But just because your kids need to take a hands-off approach, it doesn’t mean they can’t play with their new BFF at all.
There are just certain ways they should go about it.
“The easiest mistake people will [make] is to use their hands to play with kittens, as in your hand is the thing that’s taunting the cat,” Dr. Tu explained. “It’s cute when [she’s] a tiny little kitten, but [when she grows up,] the cat then starts treating hands like toys.”
So you always want to make sure your kid is using a toy when playing with your kitten.
Having your kid throw something for your kitten is also a great way to play.
“If it’s a really young kid, the best game for them to play is for them to toss something for the cat to chase, or tossing treats away from the kid,” Dr. Tu said.
It’s important to remember that your kid should always be tossing the treats or the toys, and not using them to get the kitten to come closer.
“You never want to have the kid use a treat or use a toy to lure the cat because kids often aren’t able to catch those subtle body language changes so then you’re forcing the cat to make a difficult decision,” Dr. Tu explained.
Aka, you’re making your kitten choose between getting the treat and putting herself in an uncomfortable situation, or not getting the treat but feeling safe.
And if your kid makes a sudden move (as kids often do), that could scare your kitten and cause her to start hissing or even swatting — and that’s certainly not what you want to happen.
To avoid that, throwing those treats is key.
“Have your kid toss the treat behind the [kitten] so when the [kitten] goes to get the treat, they have to go further away from you,” Dr. Tu said.
That guarantees your kitten a treat, and allows her to put some distance between herself and your kid, in case she’s feeling scared.
Things to watch out for when introducing kittens and kids
When you’re introducing your kitten to your kid, you’ll want to make sure that your kitten isn’t showing any signs of stress.
These can include:
- Ears going back or flattening
Since things like hissing and swatting seem aggressive, your first reaction might be to reprimand the kitten, but that’s actually not the right call.
“If the [kitten] hisses, a lot of times what the parent will do is scold the [kitten],” Dr. Tu said. “What you should be doing is separating the kid and the [kitten] and reassessing the situation and see[ing] what happened. If it’s a case where the kid grabbed the [kitten], then you need to scold the kid, not the [kitten].”
That’s because hissing just means your kitten is scared or stressed, not being mean.
“The worst thing you can do is punish a cat,” Dr. Tu explained. “A lot of people will say ‘we’ll just use a spray bottle.’ That’s going to add to your cat’s fear and stress, and that’s going to add to your cat’s negative emotions.”
If you — or your kid — makes your kitten feel afraid, she’s going to end up running away from you and not wanting to be around you.
And no pet parent wants that!
If your kitten seems to be stressed more often than not, Dr. Tu recommends getting a pheromone diffuser for your home.
And while it’s totally normal for your kitten to take a while to warm up to your kids (think weeks or even months), if you suspect your kitten is having a more difficult time, Dr. Tu recommends reaching out to your vet or behavior specialist right away.
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