Kids love kittens. If you have kids and do not already have a kitten, you are unlikely to escape the pleas for one. Lots of people want to get their child a pet. Bengals tend to be a popular choice due to their desire to play. But is a Bengal kitten the right choice for your family? It depends on what your children expect from a cat. Do they want a cat to play with and train? Then Bengals are a great choice. Do they want a cat to dress up like a doll? Then a doll is a better choice than a Bengal.
Before Deciding to Get a Kitten
Before getting a Bengal kitten, you want first to take some time to see if your children are the right children for a Bengal kitten. One of the first assessments is how well your child listens. Kids go through stages, and sometimes they exhibit their need for power by not listening. You want to take some time to observe your child's listening skills. While talking to your child about a kitten, frequently pause and ask your child to repeat information you have recently covered.
Teach your child how to read a cat's body language by getting them to focus on the tail. Explain that all animals, including people, communicate their emotions through their body language. There are many charts like this one by Alley Cat Allies that you can use to teach children about cat body language. If your kids are relatively small, you can even make a Memory Game out of these charts by pasting pairs of the different pictures on note cards.
Next, teach your children how Bengal cats like to be held. Bengals are an all-four-on-the-floor breed. This means Bengals do best when their feet are on a hard surface, such as a lap. They are not keen on being held up in the air with their feet free. Teaching children the phrase four-on-the-floor not only helps with proper holding techniques but also with putting the cat down. Ensuring that all four paws on the floor when the cat is released prevents the child from dropping the cat mid-air, which may disintegrate trust. Practice how to hold a kitten by using a stuffed animal before the Bengal kitten comes home. Show the child what all-four-on-the-floor looks like by immediately placing the stuffed toy in your lap and show them what it does not look like by holding the stuffed toy in the air with all four legs dangling. During this process, it is important to assess how desperately and in what manner your child wants to hold the kitten. If holding the kitten tight is a stronger desire than playing with the kitten, it may be best to postpone acquiring a Bengal kitten. Bengal cats want to play chase, fetch, and hide and seek, but expecting them to tolerate being dressed like dolls and sitting at a tea party is unrealistic. Some Bengals have the ability to sit in a costume at a tea party, but that should not be the expectation.
Picking a Kitten
When picking a kitten, it is important to work with a breeder who cares about placing the right kitten in the right home. Not every single kitten was born to handle the quick movements and loud noise of children. You want a kitten who is confident and nonreactive. When looking for a breeder, try to get a sense of whether they want to send you home with the next available kitten or if they are willing to help you pick a kitten that will be good for a family.
If you can pick in person, it is good to do so, and it is good to bring your children with you. When watching how the kittens react to little people, observe how your children interact with them. Holding back at strangers' first approach is normal, but the kittens should start to lose the hesitancy and play with the toys once the toys come out as long as the children are not moving too quickly or making too much noise. When picking a kitten up, remember the four-on-the-floor technique. Expect the kitten to squirm, but it should not bite or hiss.
If you cannot pick a Bengal kitten in person, select your kitten through a live video call. With modern technology, a responsible breeder should be willing to do a live video call if they do not want strangers in their home. Live calls are better than videos as there is not an opportunity for editing. During the call, observe kittens playing with each other. See that they are unafraid. Observe the breeder reaching a hand towards the kitten. The kitten should not be shy or fearful of its breeder's hand. If the breeder does not naturally show you the kitten's response to the approach of a hand without a toy, it is important to ask.
Finally, never work with a breeder who wants to send a kitten home before 12 weeks. Kittens are not puppies. They need to stay in the cat community where they were born for at least 12 weeks to learn how to interact with other animals and people. Research has concluded that removing a kitten from its home environment before 12 weeks can increase aggressive tendencies once that kitten becomes an adult. For further information, please read our article on "Why Kitten should stay in their Home Environment for 12-14 Weeks."
Before Bringing the Kitten Home
Prepare your home before the kitten arrives. First, you want to establish a Safe Room - the room that your kitten will move into first. Your kitten may spend a few days in the Safe Room, or it could spend a few weeks. It is important that there are not many hiding spots in the Safe Room and that there are many scent soakers in the Safe Room. The Safe Room should be a place where family members can sit quietly and read a book or watch TV while the kitten is learning to adjust to its new home. Here are detailed tips on creating a Safe Room and determining when the kitten can leave the Safe Room.
Next, you need to determine where the litter boxes will be in your home. It is important to remember that litter boxes are set up based on the cat's needs, not the people's needs. If you have a toddler at home, this is not an excuse to put all the litter boxes in the garage and install a cat door. Instead, you can use baby gates or Hiding Cube to block the litter box off from the toddler and still allow free, uncovered access to a litter box that is a cat-desired location. Read "Set up Litter Boxes your Bengal will Love" for detailed information on litter box setup.
Finally, and most perhaps most importantly, you need to make your home cat-kid friendly. When you have kids in the house, you must provide vertical space for the cats that allows the cat to get away when he has had too much. This also allows the cat to be in the family-centered rooms of the house without being forced to come into direct contact with the kids. How you arrange your home will have an immediate effect on the happiness of your kitten. Please read our article on creating cat-friendly real-estate in your house.
Bringing the Kitten Home
It is important not to rush your kitten out of the Safe Room. One factor in determining when the kitten is ready to leave the Safe Room is its confidence level with the whole family. Having children hang out in the Safe Room while playing a game, watching a video, or reading a book is critical as this allows the kitten to assess the children without being forced to interact. Children have different levels of patience. The parent's role is to prevent the child from forcing too much too quickly onto the kitten. If the kitten becomes overwhelmed by the child, the child will need to be removed from the Safe Room. Short, frequent sessions in the Safe Room will be more successful than long, infrequent sessions. If the cat shows any nervousness or aversion to interacting with children, make sure to offer it a treat after each cat/child interaction.
All cat-child interactions with toddlers and babies must be supervised at all times. Children need initial supervision to make sure they clearly understand how the cat wants to be touched. Review with your child the strategies we cover in our article "Do Bengals Like to be Touched and Held." Let your child choose a game to teach the cat. As previously mentioned, chase, fetch, and hide and seek are favorites. Save all the cardboard boxes from your newly purchased cat supplies and set your children to work building a cat castle. The Bengal will join in to help the construction. We send our families home with a dragonfly cat toy because it is great for children, allowing the cat to play at a comfortable distance for those initial interactions.
While it is important to include your children in the cat's care, it is best not to give the child the responsibility of litter boxes. Litter box duty can be equated to reading a daily health check on your cat and is best done by an adult. Kids are great at helping to feed the cat, participating in its established play-routine, and hiding a puzzle each day for the cat to find and solve.
If your child is super keen to become the cat's number one best friend, we recommend your child work on clicker training your cat. Start with a clicker training kit that includes a target stick and watch Cat School videos to learn the basics. The more videos watched, the more advanced training you can do. Clicker Training is one of the best methods of keeping a Bengal cat's mind work, which keeps the cat out of trouble.
Bengals cats are great cats for kids who want to interact with and train a cat. Ultimately, though, never get a pet for a child that you are not prepared to keep yourself once your child leaves home. One of the most painful returns we have had was from a mother who returned two cats she purchased for her ten-year-old son. When he went off to college, she returned the cats. Bengal cats should outlive a childhood. College life, young adult life, is often not the best environment for a cat. Only get a Bengal for your child if that cat has a forever home with you.