June 24, 2019
by Robyn Paterson
Just when you've got pet parenthood figured out, you discover there is a baby on the way. This is an absolute time of joy and celebration. We will correct a few misunderstandings about cats and babies and let you know how to prepare your home and your cat to welcome the new baby home.
Before Baby Arrives
One of the first panics of cat-loving expecting mothers is toxoplasmosis. Believe it or not, expecting parents still surrender cats to shelters out of fear of contracting toxoplasmosis. This is absolutely unnecessary. Yes, cats can carry toxoplasmosis. It can be transmitted to people by touching their feces and then ingesting the organism, but that is pretty disgusting in the first place, so it should be easy enough to avoid transporting cat poop into your mouth, right? The simplest way to prevent toxoplasmosis is to wash your hands after cleaning the litter box. If that isn't enough of a precaution, wearing rubber gloves when doing any litter box chores and then washing your hands when you take the gloves off will provide all the protection you need. Of course, it would be quite chivalrous for the expecting father to take over the litter box duties as a symbolic way of protecting his baby and helping out his child's mother throughout the pregnancy and infancy stages.
Before the baby arrives, the next important step is to prepare your home for the peaceful cohabitation of the baby and cat. Bengal cats tend to be territorial. If the whole house has been your Bengal's territory, then shutting the Bengal out of individual rooms once the baby arrives will end up causing more harm than good. You want to provide a safe space for the cat in zones of the house where the baby is bound to spend a lot of time. Let's start with the baby's room. Whether you realize it or not, you'll be spending quite a bit of time at the changing table. If you haven't picked out a changing table yet, we will encourage you to get one with as much extra space as possible, so your cat can join all the activities that will take place here once he feels comfortable. That may not be possible, but what is necessary is to have a shelf or a cat tree near the changing table so that the cat can watch the activity on the changing table from a safe space. You want your cat to have a safe space to observe the baby but not have to be too close if it is not yet comfortable. Their relationship will last for years, so you want it to be a good one for both of them.
The next thing you want to consider in preparing the baby's room for the cat is scent soakers. A common concern that people have is that their cat will pee on the baby's stuff. It will mark inappropriately if it cannot mark appropriately. Often the room that becomes the nursery has been open to the cat before its conversion into a nursery, so that space is part of the cat's territory. If you suddenly take this territory away, it will be a hard adjustment for the cat. You want to have objects that belong to the cat in the baby's room that the cat can leave its scent on - places for the cat to scratch, rub its cheeks, and lay down that will retain the cat's odor - which, by the way, we can't smell. Bringing the new baby home will be a significant change in the territory for your cat, but you want the cat to feel that his territory is still secure - that it is still his. The best way to do this is to prepare the baby's room well in advance and give the cat plenty of time to leave its scent in the room by scratching and rubbing on items in the room well before the baby comes home.
You will want to use this same concept out in the family room or living room - wherever you think the baby will spend the most amount of time when not in its nursery. In this space - or spaces - you want to make sure two things exist: high spots where the cat can escape the grasp of the baby's fingers and plenty of scent soakers for the cat to place its scent appropriately. Have as much of the baby's stuff - play rugs, bouncy chairs, etc. - out and open for your Bengal to sleep on before the baby comes home. When you put the baby on these items, the baby's scent will merge with the cat's scent, making the baby much more appealing to your cat.
Another step in preparing your cat for the baby is to prepare the cat for baby noises. Find a soundtrack of a baby crying and play the soundtrack, starting softly while your cat eats his favorite meal. If your cat stops eating, you've set the volume up too high. Find the level at which the cat will still eat while you are playing the soundtrack of a crying baby. With each feeding, increase the volume a little. Continue to do this until your cat eats its meal through the cries of a baby at the same volume they would be if you had the baby in the same room. This gets your cat to associate a crying baby's sounds with a positive experience instead of a negative one.
Finally, while you are preparing your bag of essentials to take to the hospital once labor has started, also have the pajamas you have most recently been sleeping in or a T-shirt that you have recently worn right next to your hospital bag. Be mindful of having an article of clothing that has your scent to leave out for your cat while you are at the hospital. Remember, the scent is crucial in determining a cat's security in its territory. You are a normal part of its territory. If you will be gone a few days before you bring a new person into the territory, it is best to leave your cat as comfortable and secure as possible, which means leaving it with clothing to sleep with that is covered in your scent. As you run out the door to the hospital, leave this article of clothing in one of your cat's favorite sleeping spots.
Bringing Baby Home
The first thing you can do to make the transition as easy as possible once the baby arrives home is to keep up a routine. As much as you possibly can, do not change your cat's typical play-then-feed routine. We explain the importance of a play-then-feed routine in our article on How to Play with Your Bengal Cat. In a perfect world, both parents will be home with the baby for the first few weeks, and just like you will take turns with baby's responsibilities, you should take turns with the feeding and playing routine of the cat. The worst thing you can do for your cat right now is to ignore him and focus all of your attention on the baby. Keeping up the cat's regular play-then-feed routine will give it security that the new inhabitant won't change the daily rituals that your cat has become accustomed to. If you don't have a routine already established in which you play- then-feed your cat 2-5 times a day, then before the baby comes home, establish a play-then-feed routine at times that will be most convenient for the schedule you have planned for your baby.
Once the baby is home, include your cat in as much baby activity as it wants. It is an old wife's tale that cats can suck the breath out of a baby, so don't allow a myth to cause fear, but you want to be mindful. Infant babies can suffocate on pillows and blankets, so if the baby is too young to sleep with a loose blanket or pillow, it is too young to leave the cat unattended in the room with a sleeping baby. The cat could snuggle with the baby and, in doing so, inadvertently suffocate it in the same way a blanket or a pillow could suffocate a baby. If your cat doesn't show any aggression toward you, it is unlikely to show any aggression toward your baby. If your cat doesn't scratch you, it is unlikely to scratch your baby. However, if your cat plays with its claws out, you want to keep up a regular nail-trimming routine. Your cat isn't going to mysteriously change its typical behaviors once the baby arrives as long as you keep up the norms you established before the baby arrived.
Many people are worried about how a cat may make the home environment less sanitary for the baby through its litter box, raw food, or mere existence. While every family must find its own comfort level regarding sanitation, we would encourage you to read the most modern research on how our hypervigilance to keep everything sanitized may be doing our babies more harm than good. The same principles that evoked change to the 2017 guidelines for reducing peanut allergies by exposing babies to peanuts throughout gestation and during infancy to minimize nut allergies' chances and severity apply to pet allergies and overall health in general. In other words, having a cat in the house during pregnancy and infancy is likely to reduce the chance of your baby developing allergies or the severity of the allergy if one is developed. It is a good idea, before the baby arrives, for expecting parents to discuss their thoughts on sanitation expectations regarding the baby. An excellent place to start is reading an article such as "Is Dirt Good for Kids" and expanding your research outward from there.
Sadly, there is a myth that cats don't make good pets for kids. As evident from the pictures above, that is absolutely not true. The most significant factor in determining the quality of your cat's relationship with your baby is you.
Are you thinking of getting a Bengal cat and want it to come with a lifetime of expert advice? Check out our available Bengal kittens.