Bringing Home Baby: Tips for Introducing Your Cat

You have this sweet, cuddly bundle of joy. Just looking at him brings a smile to your face. He’s so darn cute that you even forget about the early morning feedings, bathroom mishaps and random crying jags in the middle of the night. 

Then, you decide to have a baby.

So, how do you make sure your newest family member and your beloved cat get along? We have tips to help make the introductions pleasant and safe for both parties.

  1. Time. When you bring home a new baby, you will have much less time for your cat. So, in the months prior to your baby being born, as harsh as it may sound, try spending less time with your cat to get him accustomed to this inevitable change. If your cat is particularly attached to you, try having your significant other form a similar bond with the cat so she won’t feel abandoned when the baby arrives. Similarly, if mom used to be the one to do certain things -- like cut his nails, brush his fur or cuddle with him at night -- these duties should be handed off before the baby comes, as well.
  1. Space. Since your cat won’t have complete access to your lap anymore, teach your cat to sit on the floor next to you, or wait to be invited into your lap, as opposed to jumping up on his own volition.
  1. Smells and Sounds. Desensitize your cat to the new sounds and smells that accompany a baby by putting baby oil, powder or whatever products you plan to use on your own skin so your cat can smell them and have some time to get used to them.

Get your cat used to baby sounds by playing recordings or YouTube videos of crying or babbling, and turn on any noisy gadgets like ambient noise machines, swings, etc. well before the baby arrives. Try to make these experiences pleasant by petting your cat and/or giving him a treat at the same time.

  1. Health and Safety. Get your cat used to regular nail trimmings, and if your cat exhibits behaviors like swatting, nibbling or biting, it’s extremely important that you enroll him in behavior classes before the baby arrives.

Consider carrying a swaddled baby doll around the house to get the cat used to the presence of a baby, and invite over friends and family members who have babies. Always supervise any interactions between your cat and a baby, and never force it. If your cat chooses to stay away, let him, as it could be a sign that he’s stressed.

5. The Initial Meeting. Once the baby is born, ask a friend or family member to take one of the newborn’s used blankets or onesies from the hospital to put in your cat’s crate or bed so that he can become familiar with the baby’s scent. Then, when you bring your baby home, ask someone to stay outside with your baby while you go inside to greet your cat. Spend some time with him, giving him lots of love and attention, and then go outside and bring in your newest bundle of joy. Though the cat may initially run away, he will eventually come back. Allow the cat to investigate, but also set healthy boundaries. Since new babies can’t control their head movements or roll over, a snuggly cat can be dangerous, and a stressed out cat may pee in the crib. So, if he is showing interest in jumping into the crib, consider getting a crib tent to keep him out.

Protect Your Cat From Houseplants

Cats are both perceptive and incredibly curious critters. They seem to know every inch of their territory. If you have a house cat, this means your pet has a mental map in place of almost everything in your home. Move just one fixture and most cats will immediately go to that spot to investigate the change.

The same holds true if you bring in new items, such as a houseplant. Cats have a natural curiosity about plants. Add that to the newness, stinky dirt, leaves, moisture and more, and it is no wonder that cats find most plants to be fascinating.

The first thing you can do is provide your cat with its own indoor mini garden. This can include oat grass, other edible grasses and catnip. You can find these seeds in most pet stores or online.

Plant the seeds in a heavy, shallow container that your cat is unlikely to knock over. Offer the plants to your cat when the shoots have grown to about 4 inches tall. (If your cat nibbles before then, he could kill the plants.) Keep the edible plants watered and maintained, and monitor your cat’s access, if necessary.

Aside from placing other houseplants in areas that are hard for your cat to reach, the only foolproof solution is to avoid plants that are potentially poisonous to pets. According to The Humane Society of the United States, more than 700 plants contain potentially dangerous compounds for cats and dogs. Sometimes the leaves are poisonous, and other times the roots or other parts are. The Humane Society recommends that you keep a list for reference in an accessible spot.

How to Toilet Train a Kitten

It is easier to first have a kitten use a regular litter box before graduating to a human toilet. Mother cats do help train their kittens, but felines in general naturally gravitate to material they can easily dig when nature calls. Most kittens and cats therefore have no problem finding the litter box and using it, as long as there is not a problem with the box’s placement, an underlying health issue, a behavioral problem or other complication.

Keep in mind that cats are also very driven by odors, so if they mess on your carpet or another undesirable spot, they might return to that area unless it’s properly cleaned. To prevent that, use an enzyme-based product that can help break down the waste material.

Assuming your kitten is litter box savvy and close to adulthood, you can now consider toilet training your pet. Jenn Spencer, author of the blog Cat Toilet Training, shares that the advantages of doing this are many. The benefits are “first financial, since cat owners will not need to purchase litter once their cat is potty trained to use a toilet,” she says. “Besides that, you will never have the dirty job of cleaning out a litter box again, which is typically the least favorite chore in a cat household. Another advantage of toilet training your cat is the elimination of unpleasant smells from your house, since you can simply flush it away and not have to let it sit in a dirty litter box for a few days.”

Spencer and other experts explain that training your cat to use the toilet requires several gradual steps. To simplify the process, buy a training system, such as Litter Kwitter. It includes four training discs that, over a period of time, transition the top of your toilet from a more standard litter box setup for your cat to basically just the toilet itself. The goal is to get your cat to jump on the toilet seat and take care of its business as we do (minus the jumping, of course!).

Whichever method you use, Spencer says to never force your cat to move to the next step in the training process until it is comfortable with the step you are working on. It might take a few extra weeks for your pet to get the hang of being toilet trained, but it will certainly be worth it in the long run.

How to Teach Your Cat the ‘Come’ Command

It’s a myth that cats are not trainable, so you can train your cat to come at your command. Cats just need some motivation -- like a reward -- to do whatever it is that you want them to accomplish.

It helps to start training cats when they are still kittens; they’ll retain the knowledge more readily. Even if your cat is a stubborn adult, these instructions from Gary M. Landsberg, Wayne L. Hunthausen and Lowell J. Ackerman, authors of Handbook of Behavior Problems of the Dog and Cat, Volume 1, should work.

They advise that you should use your cat’s favorite food or toy as a lure. You simply hold out the selected item and say “Come!” Repeat this exercise until your cat comes and associates the reward with the verbal command and action. Over time, you can try to replace the food or toy prize with head rubs and affection.

The authors say you can use such a lure technique to train your cat to do many things. These include using a scratching post, sitting up and begging, going to the bedroom or other rooms, and coming toward certain people. That last trick can be a real crowd-pleaser during the holidays when relatives or friends are in town. For these other tricks, just be sure to use different words. For example, say “Scratch!” for the command to use the scratching post.

How to Bathe Your Cat

I do not advocate that you frequently bathe your cat, since it can deplete your cat’s fur of natural oils and leave the skin vulnerable to problems. Cats have a good natural system for cleanliness, given these oils and their constant licking and preening.

As you point out, however, there are times when a bath seems necessary. Maybe your cat has stepped in something stinky, or its fur is out of shape beyond your pet’s control. If you go the traditional wet-bath route, be sure to use a shampoo that’s made specifically for cats (or a no-tears human baby shampoo if you’re in a pinch). Use big cotton balls to keep your cat’s ears dry, since water can get in and cause problems, not to mention discomfort, later on.

Pet stores often sell dry-bath products, but you can give your cat a homemade bran bath as well. Such baths may have originated with show-kitty owners, since regular wet bathing can leave a cat’s fur a bit soft and floppy for a few days before the oils come back and everything fluffs out again.

Foothill Felines Bengals & Savannahs, a group dedicated to those beautiful cat breeds, explains how to do a bran bath:

1. Start off with 6 ounces of plain bran, found in the health food section of your market.

2. Warm it thoroughly in a moderate oven until just warm (but not uncomfortably hot to the touch).

3. Rub the bran with your fingers against the natural growth direction of your cat’s coat.

4. Leave it on for a few minutes before a thorough brush-out with a slicker wire brush. The bran works as an absorbent, capturing excess dirt and oil. Since it’s just an edible carb, a few extra bits won’t hurt if ingested, but do try to get all of it out.

As per all cat baths, bran baths should only be given once every so often. Let nature and your cat handle the bulk of those cleanup duties.