Bringing a new born baby into the home can be a stressful and exciting time for parents. Spare a thought for your cat for whom it will seem that their whole life has been turned upside down. Not only will your cat be exposed to the baby’s crying and smells, but it will also have to tolerate physical changes to its environment, i.e. new baby equipment and furniture. Inevitably, once the baby is born, you will not have the same time to give to your cat.
Cats can react in different ways to the introduction of a baby. Those that have had previous experience of babies may take the new addition in their stride. However, others may hide all day or spend more time outside in order to avoid the ‘horrors’ associated with a new baby. Others may start to show inappropriate behaviour, such as persistent attention seeking, or even more upsetting stress-related behaviours such as aggression or house-soiling.
Cats that enjoy their owner’s attention may suffer most from the change in their routine. If your cat is an attention seeker you can start to get it used to less attention even before the baby is born. Ignore any attempt made by your cat to get attention but when they are resting or amusing themselves, reward this independent behaviour with attention and play. This will teach your cat that there is no point coming to you for attention but that you will fuss it when you have time.
There are, of course, many changes created by the presence of a baby. In advance of the baby’s arrival, purchase or make a recording of baby sounds, e.g. crying and gurgling. This can be played quietly to your cat when they are eating or playing. Very slowly turn the volume of the recording up, all the time rewarding your cat’s relaxed behaviour with play or food rewards. If your cat seems anxious about hearing the baby sounds then stop the recording and play it again later but at a lower volume so that your cat learns to associate the sounds with a positive experience.
If you know anyone that has just had a baby, ask to borrow a used baby blanket and leave it lying around your house so that your cat can experience the smells of a new baby in an unthreatening way.
It is important not to rush things. If you carefully introduce the different aspects of a new baby in the house your cat will slowly accept this change to its environment. Try to buy new furniture and equipment over a period of time, rather than all at once. This way your cat will get used to the presence and smell of each new item on its own, rather than being overwhelmed by everything at once.
It is important that you introduce your cat to the disruption caused by bringing home a new baby in a gradual and staged manner. If you gradually expose your cat to the changes, preferably before the baby arrives, your cat will cope much more easily. You will then be able to enjoy many happy family moments with your baby and your cat together.