Introducing cats to children
The bond between a child and their pet cat can enrich their lives and teach them important lessons about empathy and responsibility. However, when introducing a cat or kitten to a child, it’s important to ensure everyone’s safety and take steps to strengthen their bond from the start. The following tips will help your child enjoy a safe and positive relationship with their new cat.
Sydney Animal Behaviour Service is one of only two veterinary practices in Australia with a registered specialist in behavioural medicine overseeing all cases. Dr Kersti Seksel and her dedicated team are experts in the specialist field of veterinary behavioural medicine, which is to animals, what psychiatry is to humans. The team manages a wide range of behavioural problems in animals using the most up-to-date and humane methods.
Tips for bonding
Interactions between your child and your pet should always be supervised by an adult. Appropriate interactions will depend on the age of your child.
Teaching suitable cat care for kids and how to play properly with your cat is a great way of helping them to bond. Hands or feet should never be used in play and toys on poles should be used instead. Your child should also feed your cat, as this is a highly positive bonding experience and it teaches responsibility. In addition, unless your child has cat allergies or the cat is unfriendly, there is nothing wrong with allowing the cat to sleep on your child’s bed to cement the relationship.
Your child should learn what affection your cat enjoys, such as cheek rubs, chin scratches or being stroked along its back. It’s also important that your child gets to know when the cat has had enough, by learning to read its body language. If your cat displays aggression that appears to be unprovoked, then the cat should be assessed by a veterinarian.
It’s also important to teach your child not to be too boisterous around the cat – cats are always on alert for danger. If your cat hides and takes a long time to come out, they may be suffering from anxiety and need a behavioural assessment.
Training your cat
Animal Sense is a veterinary behaviour consultancy business, servicing the suburbs of Perth. It is owned and operated by Dr Nicole Lobry de Bruyn, who has been in veterinary practice for 30 years. In addition to running Animal Sense, Dr Lobry de Bruyn teaches Animal Behaviour at Murdoch University and is a member of ANZCVS in Veterinary Behaviour and the Australian Veterinary Association.
Tips for bonding
Teach your child to train your cat through clicker training. It is a myth that cats can’t be trained – in fact, they learn in the same ways as other animals do and can be motivated to follow cues for small amounts of food. Using a clicker makes the communication clear and consistent, which is why it’s a safe and productive way for your child to create a special bond with your cat.
Cats can sometimes be out of sync with their human families, especially as children have a tendency to treat them like fluffy toys and fail to recognise that cats have likes and dislikes. If the cat’s needs are not being met, they can resort to aggression. Animal Sense can help cats in this situation by ensuring the Five Pillars of Feline Enrichment are provided. These take care of the cat’s primary needs:
- Access to resources
- A place to evade and avoid
- Times to practice play and predation
- Positive communication with people
- Respecting the importance of scent
Following this method enables the cat to fit easily into a happy life with a human family.
As a cat-only hospital, Melbourne Cat Vets offers general practice care, specialist referral services, cat boarding and grooming services for cats across Victoria. It is run in a cat-friendly designed environment by two feline specialist veterinarians along with a team of experienced cat-loving staff. They also stock a variety of cat toys, foods and treats.
Tips for bonding
It’s important to use positive language with your child to help create a bond between them and the cat – for example, a reminder such as “Gentle hands!” is far more productive than a negative command like, “Don’t touch the cat!”
Young children and toddlers can be taught to stand or sit to one side of the cat, rather than approaching them from the top or the front, and to then stroke them softly using open hands. If you have older children, you can teach them to look out for certain poses and expressions that mean the cat is afraid or upset.
You should always lead by example – handle the cat gently yourself, and give your cat space when they’ve had enough. This way, your child will learn to emulate your behaviour.
Another thing to remember is that children will generally feel more bonded if they are involved in taking care of the cat. Let your child (when age appropriate) help to feed and groom the cat, or involve the younger children in assisting you to care for the cat. Most cats thrive on routine, and most of them require mental stimulation, so it’s also important to involve the children in engaging the cat in active play with the cat’s favourite toys.
Cats can become agitated or aggressive if they’re handled in a way they don’t like. If you need additional help in learning to understand your cat, Melbourne Cat Vets provide advice on the correct handling of cats, what to look out for in their body language, and how to remove them from a conflict situation safely. They also offer a variety of techniques and remedies to help reduce your cat’s stress, enabling them to lead a healthier and happier life.
Oracle Psychology, led by Mr Daniel Wendt, specialises in the psychology of children, teenagers and young adults in the Newcastle, Hunter and Central Coast regions of NSW. The team are expert Child and Adolescent Psychologists who are registered with the Psychology Board of Australia.
Tips for bonding
Owning a cat is a big responsibility, but it also has many benefits for your child, as it will teach them about empathy, compassion, friendship and maturity. It is important to involve your child in the care of the cat to create a strong bond between them.
This can be enhanced by talking to your child about the cat’s feelings while they are helping to care for it, so your child can understand the impact that they have on the cat’s wellbeing. Let your child know when they are doing something positive that the cat obviously enjoys, such as, “Kitty loves it when you brush her hair like that”.
The benefits for children
Cats can be highly beneficial for children’s mental health, as research shows that having pets can promote self-esteem in children, increase their social skills and improve their ability to make connections. In some instances, pets have been shown to assist children with developmental conditions such as Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD), by helping them to interact with family members and participate more in the life of the household. It is important to take your family’s individual circumstances into account before committing to a cat, but in general, pets are hugely beneficial for both children and adults.
Having a pet while growing up can be a lot of fun for children, in addition to teaching them to be more caring, patient and understanding. By teaching your child the correct ways to interact with and care for your cat, you can help them create a strong and lasting bond that will continue to benefit them in many ways throughout their lives. Following these tips will help to ensure your cat has a harmonious and happy life in the home with your child.