Growing up with a cat can be a wonderful experience for kids. It can teach them responsibility and empathy, and provide them with a loving friend and confidante.
Most kids under age 12 aren't ready to become the primary caretaker of an animal, however. You or another adult will have to take ultimate responsibility for making sure your cat's basic needs are met. Let your child help in ways that are appropriate for his age: A preschooler can help dish out the cat's dinner, while a 10-year-old can handle the daily brushing chores.
You can set the stage for a successful relationship by preparing your child for the new arrival:
- Talk to your child about cats. Read some age-appropriate books about cats and how to care for them. Talk about what you'll all need to do to keep your cat healthy and happy.
- Visit friends who own cats. If your child hasn't been in the company of cats, spend some time with feline-owning friends. This will help your child develop realistic expectations and show her how to handle and care for a cat.
- Explain the commitment you're making. Make sure your child understands that pets aren't something to play with for a while and then toss aside -- adopting a cat means promising to care for the animal for its lifetime.
- Give her a sense of ownership. Create the beginning of a bond by involving your child in some decisions: Ask her to suggest possible names for your new pet, or let her pick out food and water dishes.
If your child is still a baby or toddler, you might want to postpone bringing home a pet. Adopting a cat -- especially a kitten -- is like adding another baby to the family, and may increase your stress level accordingly.
Contrary to the old wives' tale, cats do not smother or suck the breath out of babies! This odd superstition probably originated as an early attempt to explain the tragic phenomenon of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
A cat who jumps into a crib and starts sniffing around the baby's head is simply expressing its natural curiosity about the newest family member. However, you'd want to discourage this behavior for commonsense reasons: It might frighten the baby, which in turn could frighten the cat -- leading to a potentially dangerous situation for both of them.
If you do bring a cat into a home with a baby (or vice versa), safeguard them both by never leaving them alone together, in the nursery or anywhere else.