Baby meets kitty… friends pawever

“You better be careful, don’t let the cat too near baby!”
“So young can touch animals meh?”

Photo: Chilling at home with Shadow, the day before RJ's birth
Photo: Chilling at home with Shadow, the day before RJ’s birth

Since finding out about my pregnancy, we began to wonder how Shadow -our six-year-old Russian Blue cat – would fit into the equation. I’ve had Shadow since he was six months old, he is usually a well-behaved house pet whose trademark indifference to human interaction has been a source of amusement to visitors. Still, like every new parent, we had our concerns and wanted to make sure the transition from a pet-minding family to a child-raising one would work out well.

We received a lot of advice, questions, and comments regarding raising kids to share a home with pets. Most express concern about (a) fur allergies, (b) safety, will the animal scratch baby, and (c) hygiene issues/ disease transmission.

Here’s what we’ve been doing to help Shadow accept (and hopefully get along with) Ruby.

1) We introduced our pet to the baby during pregnancy

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We felt it was important to give the cat an early heads up, because from previous experience, he didn’t seem to like children. Kids loved him because of his irresistible furry appearance, but the feeling was not mutual. In fact, he was traumatised by the kids chasing him around, pulling his fur, and wanting to “play” with him.

Call it supersonic smell or sixth sense, animals can sense a pregnancy in the family, even before the baby bump is visible. We started telling Shadow about the baby in my tummy even before we knew the gender.

He seemed to understand. He was very “manja” and kept wanting to spend time with me. It was nice to have some furry company to curl up to when I was feeling uncomfortable, especially in the late stages when I was anxiously awaiting baby’s arrival.

2) Help your pet get used to “life after baby” 

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Photo: Daniel “practicing” how to hold a baby and a diaper bag, circa my 6th month of pregnancy

Your furkid will be used to being the centre of attention, he needs to learn that this will change after baby is born. Whether he likes it or not. The myth of the jealous older sibling may even hold some truth for the pet!

Anybody who’s ever tried to sit on Shadow’s favorite chair will testify that cats are creatures of habit, who may get a tad attached to physical items in the home.

Shadow needed time to adjust to the changes in furniture (I kept moving things around! Blame the nesting instinct…) and also the changes in my behavior.

We also started closing off certain areas in the house so that he would get used to not being allowed into the rooms.

3) After baby is born, you may want to enforce pet-free spaces and limits

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By my 8th month, we closed off the room where we anticipated to spend most time with baby in the day time. Unfortunately, that was also his favorite room as it gets the most sunlight.

I felt sorry for him because he would meow and paw the glass door with a confused look on his face. Once or twice, he even swiped his tail under the door to try to find a way in.

For the first two months of RJ’s life, we did not allow the cat to be in the same room as her. Slowly, we allowed the cat to come nearer but kept the distance between them and maintained supervision at all times. As the Malay saying goes, “harapkan pagar, pagar makan padi“…

4) Make the introduction a gradual one

 cat4From month 3 onwards, we allowed the cat to see and sniff the baby from a closer distance. We wanted him to get used to her smell and sounds.

In the initial two months, he kept away from her anyway, because he was terrified whenever she cried. Yes, we all need time to adjust to baby’s shrieks, even the cat.

If Shadow’s first impression of RJ was fear, it turned into curiosity once he realised that this loud creature was a permanent resident in our household now, and that she would occupy most of our time. Slowly, he accepted her presence with a grudging tolerance.

5) Give them time to get used to each other

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Once baby was more mobile and not always asleep, we allowed the cat to observe her from a closer distance. He stopped being wary of her or afraid of her jerky movements. I guess he figured out that she was unable to control her motor skills so well just yet.

RJ also showed some interest in the cat. By month 4, she was aware of the cat’s presence and could distinguish him as a living creature, not a soft toy.

6) Supervised contact, when both parties are ready

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It’s important for the child and the pet to know what is the right way to touch each other. This can be taught from young, with close supervision from adults. Once RJ could control her arm movements and aim well instead of flay her arms about randomly, we allowed her to pet the cat briefly. Shadow was pretty calm and patient with her “exploring” with his fur.

Or course, choose a time when both baby and pet are calm and make sure that baby does not use too much force or touch areas that are normally “off limits” that may aggravate the pet.

Remember to wash baby's hands afterwards, so that she doesn't suck on her fingers!

7) Interact in a social setting

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A rare photo of the 3 of us, taken by a friend who visited. (inset: Matilda’s cat is a wonderful children’s illustrated book given by the visitor. It helps children understand about how to play with their pet.)

Another way to neutralise the interaction is to allow baby and pet to interact when there’s other people around, too. Usually, Shadow is more mellow when there are visitors. I’m not sure if this applies to dogs as well, because I know some dogs get agitated around strangers.

Don’t forget to bathe your pet as frequently as possible and observe proper hygiene with common sense. Long-haired pets like Shadow may need more frequent grooming/ haircuts if they have problems shedding.

It is a good idea to spend some one-on-one time with the pet as well to make sure he does not feel neglected after baby’s birth. That way, you can minimise his need to compete for your affections. Both baby and pet will learn to feel secure and loved.

So far, the 4 month old baby and 7 year old cat are doing OK with each other. We’ve made a lot of progress since the early stages, where Shadow would literally run away from the room whenever there was a child-sized visitor.

We hope that RJ will grow to love Shadow and that he will in turn learn to cope with a new family member. I suppose when she can crawl, it will be a whole new ball game! Making a mental note to make sure she doesn’t “accidentally” eat the cat’s food…

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