Bringing home a new born baby can be a stressful time for parents, but your cat won't know what's hit it! Not only will he have to put up with your baby’s loud crying, which may be very scary to a cat that has never met a baby, but it will also have to tolerate changes to its environment when you introduce baby equipment into the house, the unfamiliar odours that these bring, and the distinctive and varying odours of the baby itself. Your cat will also have to cope with receiving less attention from you, as you will naturally have less time for your cat when you are caring for a new baby.
Cats can react to babies in different ways. Those that have previously met a baby may not be unduly affected by the new arrival. However, others may hide all day or spend more time outside in order to avoid the unusual and potentially scary sights, sounds and smells associated with a new baby. Others may develop inappropriate behaviours, such as persistent attention seeking, or even more upsetting stress-related behaviours like aggression or house-soiling.
You should very carefully and gradually introduce the different aspects of having a new baby in the house to your cat. This will help your cat accept these changes to its environment. Cats that enjoy their owners’ attention may suffer the most from a change in the way their owner interacts with them or the time they spend with them. If your cat enjoys your attention and actively seeks attention from you then you must get your cat used to your attention no longer being available whenever he wants it. To do this you must start ignoring any attempt your cat makes to get attention, including miaowing at you, patting you, jumping on your lap, or even just looking at you. You can then use your attention to reward and reinforce independent behaviour. So when your cat is resting or entertaining himself give him a fuss or a game with his favourite toy. This will teach your cat that there is no point in coming to you for attention as he will not get any but that instead you will fuss him on your own terms, i.e. when you have time. This way your cat will cope better with the inevitable change in your interactions with him and will also discourage him from trying to get your attention and getting in the way, for example, when you are trying to feed or change the baby or having a well-deserved and much needed nap!You will also have to get your cat used to other aspects of having a baby around. You can prepare your cat for your baby’s delightful vocal range by quietly playing a recording of baby sounds, such as crying and gurgling, to your cat when he is eating or playing. Each time you play the recording you should increase the volume by a very small amount and make sure you reward your cat’s relaxed behaviour with play or food rewards. If your cat seems anxious about hearing the baby sounds then stop playing the recording and play it again later but at a lower volume so that your cat is relaxed and able to associate the baby sounds with something positive. Recordings of baby sounds can be bought or you can make your own if you know someone else with a newborn baby, however, you should ensure that the recording is of good quality and that the sound system is also of good quality so the recording does sound like a real baby and not a muffled, tinny sound. Make sure you start this well in advance of your baby arriving to ensure your cat is ready and confident with loud cries.The unfamiliar odour of your baby may also upset your cat’s sensitive sense of smell. Therefore, if you know anyone that has recently had a baby, ask to borrow a used baby blanket and leave it lying around your house where your cat will come across it. This will allow him to get used to the new smells gradually.You should also try to buy all of the new furniture and equipment you will need for your baby over a long period, rather than buying it all at once. This will help your cat get used to the presence and smell of each new item one at a time rather than being overwhelmed by everything at once. However, do not let your cat climb on these objects so that he does not try to access them when you are using them with your baby and use a cot net to stop your cat from climbing into it. It is important that you introduce your cat to all of these different aspects of bringing home a new baby in a gradual and staged manner well before the baby is due to arrive. Gradually exposing your cat to these changes and new experiences will help him accept and tolerate the arrival of the baby and everything that comes with it.
Once your baby starts to move around by himself your cat will be presented with a new range of potential upsets, such as the baby grabbing his fur or tail, or when your baby is a bit older even chasing your cat. Therefore, it is very important to teach your child to be gentle with your cat right from the start and not to shout at your cat or make any sudden movements as this may scare him. Explain to them, once they are old enough to understand, that your cat should be left alone when sleeping, eating or hiding and you should make sure that your cat does have somewhere dark to hide in or under or a high shelf to retreat if he does feel frightened. However, you should never leave your baby or young child unsupervised with your cat as accidents can happen.