If you're bringing a cat or kitten into a household that includes children, an important safety step is teaching the kids how to handle the new family member gently and safely. Demonstrating the basics to your child will help safeguard both him and your pet from injury.
Toddlers and preschoolers may be too young to safely pick up and support a pet, but you can get them used to interacting safely by letting them pet and talk to the cat while you hold it in your arms or on your lap.
School-age kids can learn to:
- Follow the cat's cues. Explain to your child that cats aren't always in the mood to play. It's best to let them initiate contact. When the cat rubs up against you, purring, or brings you a favorite toy, it means your pet is in the mood to be petted and played with. But if the cat is swishing its tail, staring with large pupils, or showing other signs of agitation, it is probably nervous or overexcited, and is best left alone until it calms down. Remind your child never to disturb the cat while it is sleeping, eating, or using the litter box.
- Pick up the cat properly. Teach your child never to pick up the cat by the scruff of its neck -- that's OK for a mother cat to do with her kittens, but not for people to do with their pets. Show your child exactly how to pick up the cat without hurting it: Place one hand under its stomach, just behind the front legs, and the other hand under its hind legs. Lift the cat up and hold it against your chest, keeping one hand under its hind legs for support.
- Hold the cat gently but securely. Demonstrate for your child how to hold your pet in a way that makes it feel safe: Keep one hand under the cat's hind legs while bending your arm at the elbow; the cat's lower body can rest against your forearm. Place your other hand around the cat's upper chest, near the neck, to support its upper body.
Practice these moves several times with your child before letting her try them on her own.