Cats and Kids: A Primer for Parents

Congratulations on deciding to enrich your and your children’s lives by adding a feline friend to your household!!  Here are ten golden rules to follow, to ensure happy and safe interactions for all of you.

  1. Choose the Right Kitty:   A sociable, sturdy cat or a kitten over 4 months is a good choice for families. Avoid cats that are going to be fearful - bear in mind the noise and activity level in your home. Avoid cats with a history of aggression. Our shelter personnel can help guide you in your choice.
  2. Proper Introductions: The first few days in a new home are often quite stressful for a cat - and very exciting for a child! Make sure to balance your child’s enthusiasm for spending time with the kitty with the cat’s need to be alone and get adjusted. Start your kitty out in one quiet room of the house. If your children are under 10, this should not be the child’s room. Acclimate the kitty to the house slowly.
  3. Safe Spaces: Whether it be at the top of a cat tree, or over a baby gate, all cats need to be able to get away when they want to. Teach your kids to respect these hideouts- a kitty should know that she is not going to be dragged out of these special places. If you have toddlers, you may need to make these spaces inaccessible to them; for older children, explaining the reasons and making sure they know to follow the rules will usually be enough.
  4. Educate: Teaching the kids about the whys and wherefores of cat behavior is very beneficial- teach them basic body language so they know when the kitty is happy and when she needs a break.
  5. Make it Fun: All rules and no fun makes for boredom and resentment! Even the youngest of children can be involved, with some help, in feeding the kitty, or in playing with interactive, fishing-pole type toys with the kitty. These positive interactions will make both the cat and the kid feel good!
  6. Keep it Safe: A cat who is chased, picked up incorrectly or picked up when she is trying to get away, is likely to scratch your child either by accident or in a defensive manner. Teach appropriate handling, and keep kitty’s nails trimmed.
  7. Do not disturb: Teach your kids to respect a cat’s boundaries while eating, drinking, or sleeping and to never bother a cat who is using or about to use the litter box.
  8. Be a good role model: Let your children see you handling the kitty respectfully, talk to them about why you are handling the kitty the way you are, and do not roughhouse with the kitty in play.
  9. The kids are not responsible for the cat. No matter how old your kids are, remember that you are the responsible one - for the kids and for the pets! While duties can be assigned to children, such as refreshing the water and cleaning the litter box - they MUST be monitored by parents! Cats can suffer if kids - being kids - forget to clean the litter box. Your couch may suffer, too, if the kitty decides to pick a new “litter box”!
  10. Supervise, supervise, supervise. This is surely the “golden rule”; the best relationships are made when parents involve themselves in their kids’ and cats’ interaction, correct bad habits from both feline and human kids, and are aware of how kitty and kid feel about each other.

These golden rules will help you and your family enjoy a positive, loving relationship with your new cat!

This material used with permission from The San Francisco SPCA.