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Kid n play n Cat
November 12, 2011 9:59 AM   Subscribe

Adopting a kitty... Tips/advice for helping the new cat (9 months) and boy (4 year-old) adjust.

For the kid, looking for suggestions for "kitten rules", opportunities for teachable moments, etc. For the kitty, we have had cats before, but never with a small child. Will be sharing our NYC apartment -- includes all the mice she can catch!
posted by bodega to Pets & Animals (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Make sure your son knows the kitty is not a toy. He should know not to pull its tail, chase it, or make loud scary noises at it, and other things that might freak out the cat.

You can help the child and the cat bond by giving the child treats to give the cat and having him help feed and give water to the cat.

Show your son how to pet the cat softly and not aggressively.

Get a big picture book for kids on cat care and read it together.

Have your son pick the cat's name.
posted by xenophile at 10:19 AM on November 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Cat - neuter now, if not already done.

Cats aren't like dogs - their preferred interactions with humans are all about self-pleasure, relaxation / grooming, and they don't bond like dogs [no pack structure]. S/he probably will avoid the Boy at all costs, especially if there is roughness, loud noises, extreme hyper-action in movement or inability to read her signals. Cats have no compunction about hissing / clawing unwanted attention, and probably will react badly under stress circumstances if you have a small apartment that doesn't allow escape (whereas dogs rarely bite, unless badly trained / mistreated, and have much higher tolerances for rough n tumble).

Keeping pets in small urban apartments isn't something I'm favourable to.

Boy - get him a puppy when you live in the country.

Major thing is basically instilling a "Do. Not. Fuck. With. The. Cat." mentality, without making it a fear issue. Even teaching soft stroking / petting is no guarantee because 4 yr olds rarely know the boundaries of this: expect a lot of maintenance of "NO! Do not hurt kitty!" reinforcement. Expect Boy to want to interact with Cat when Cat doesn't want to, and have to enforce "Kitty is tired now, and doesn't want to play". Instruct on how to treat the cat with respect, make clear boundaries of what is ok, and what is not. Make sure the Boy knows you cuddle him just as much as the cat - mutual cuddle-fests all together on a couch (parents + Boy snuggled in middle + cat overlaid works well) are good.

Teach 'play with cat' using string ball on lead (although, at 4, there's probably not the distance awareness to preclude roughness) but, unlike dogs, cats 'play' to perfect hunting, so cat will often ignore / be off if introduced by Boy.


Experience: 3 1/2 yr old niece in household with three cats.
posted by Cheradine Zakalwe at 10:37 AM on November 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


My family had a different experience than Cheradine Zakalwe seems to have ... YCatMV.

I got 2 kittens for Christmas when I was 4. Of course, I don't remember it all that well, but according to my parents the cats were incredibly tolerant of me not quite knowing how to interact with them - way more so than they were for adults. I wasn't the type to torture them on purpose, but I know they tolerated a lot of "pick the cat up like a sack of potatoes, and carry it around".

You need to give the cat a space to retreat to where it's guaranteed to not be bothered by anybody, and make sure your son understands that. Maybe make it somewhere tall so he can't violate the cat's space.
posted by Metasyntactic at 11:20 AM on November 12, 2011


A great book to introduce kids to the gentle handling of kittens is "Koko's Kitten", which is filled with photos of giant gorilla Koko and her itsy bitsy kitty. She's a great example of how to be gentle with a small cat, and it's a fun way to introduce that concept to kids. If a huge gorilla can softly stroke a kitten, so can he!
posted by OolooKitty at 11:20 AM on November 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


Meta - I was harsh for a reason.

9 months old isn't a kitten any more - it is an adolescent, if not already entering adult-hood. [5/6 months is usually entering sexual maturity for a cat]

And, worst case stuff is easier to plan around, and you get to crow and say "Well, our Boy was taught right, and look how well him + Cat got along". Far better than it resulting in either a clawed face or cruelty to Cat via torture.



"People" need to treat animals / pets qua animals / pets. i.e. Cat qua Cat. Dog qua Dog. The amount of distress on both sides when this isn't followed is sad, and scarring to both.
posted by Cheradine Zakalwe at 11:34 AM on November 12, 2011


Experience: cat owner for 24 years and counting, parent of an ex-4-year-old, animal rescuer with many years experience with twitchy cats

Most cats are fine pets for an urban apartment. All cats are different, and so are all children. So, to keep the apparent horror story in the above poster's experience from happening in your house, bodega, here are some suggestions:

Nine months is prime silly kitten play age. Get an assortment of fun toys, like plain old ping-pong balls, those sticks with feathers at the end, laser pointer, etc., that your boy can use to play with kitty. (Goes without saying that sticks aren't used to hit, laser pointers aren't pointed in kitty's or his own eyes, etc.) Let them tire each other out! Although, I guess you have to be aware of the Herd of Elephants Syndrome: Kittens and boys running down a hallway chasing ping-pong balls will sound remarkably like a herd of elephants to your downstairs neighbor.

Teach him that a cat usually unsheathes claws in self-defense, but kittens need to learn where the boundaries are - just like puppies roughhouse with their litter-mates by biting and wrestling, so do kittens. So a little roughhousing with the kitten is OK (unless he's too rough, which I'm sure you would notice), but he should know that kitty might fight back. Teach him not to get mad at the cat at those times, but instead to back off a little and let kitty have some space. Your reaction to a scratching is important here - don't get mad at either one, just give them both a little breathing room. Not a "time out", if that is what you use for punishment in your house, just redirect him to something else for a while. This also teaches the cat that play time stops when he scratches someone. And it's OK if your boy has a loud reaction, like crying or shouting. That's how the cat knows he hurt him. Just don't allow him to react physically against the cat.

I wouldn't let a 4-year-old pick up a half-grown cat unsupervised. I think by 9 months, the kitten is probably too big and squirmy for a youngster to handle without supervision. (Obviously depends on sizes of cat and boy.) It might be better that the rule is he can only hold the cat if he is sitting down and someone is there to help. Obviously, we never pull on the tail, because the tail is an extension of the spine, and that would hurt kitty.

Some cats like to be chased, some don't. You'll have to figure out which camp yours falls into by trial and error. I would err on the side of No Chasing the Cat until you can figure it out.

Probably goes without saying that you have a discussion about the litter box, and that we don't put our hands in there. But we also don't bother (follow, watch, take the lid off the box, try and look inside the flap, etc.) kitty while kitty is trying to do his business. You don't want the cat to associate the litter box with ANY unpleasantness, even if it's just well-meaning attention from a young child, because then kitty might take his business elsewhere, and elsewhere usually means under your bed or behind heavy furniture.

I would probably let your boy be in charge of giving out food and treats. That way the cat associates him with good things.

Get the boy a child's camera and teach him to watch kitty for good picture-taking moments.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 11:39 AM on November 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Try to avoid this kind of situation.
posted by mikeand1 at 11:41 AM on November 12, 2011


mikeand1: "Try to avoid this kind of situation."

OMG!

I forgot to mention one thing in my novel above: Do you think your neighbors or landlord might put out rodent poison? If so, be careful about allowing the cat to chase mice. Not sure how you would prevent that though. I'm just remembering rushing my dog to the emergency vet when he ingested a huge chunk of that solid blue rodent poison. He's fine, but only because I noticed it right away and got his stomach pumped. Be careful!!!
posted by SuperSquirrel at 11:45 AM on November 12, 2011


Yep, mike, that constitutes "Do. Not. Fuck. With. The. Cat.". Dogs will often tolerate that kind of hitting (and pathetically so), Cats do not.

For the record, SuperSquirrel, there was no horror story. Niece + household she was living in had no problems with said three cats, because there was a tight handle on what a three year old Girl wants, and what three Cats want. Rules apply when animals are concerned, because the animals have an entire differnt set of rules than us. My point was to emphasise that the OP is in a position of responsibility both to the Cat and the Boy.

Cats are predators. They are not toys. You can semi-enforce childish behaviour in them (which is what domestication is, to a large degree) but they are still predators.


Regarding poison - no landlord should put down accessible bait, it is against the law (in most Western Countries) for a very good reason: Boy / Girl could eat it just as easily as Cat / Dog. If you find accessible bait [i.e. not in a plastic pipe / container / rodent trap] then it is illegal.
posted by Cheradine Zakalwe at 11:52 AM on November 12, 2011


My kids grew up with cats from birth, as did I, so we never had the problem of introducing them to each other. We come from a long line of cat people. We never had a problem of kids hurting kitties or vise versa. The suggestions about cat toys and books about kittens are all good ones. Relax, your son will be delighted to have a cat, and kitty will adjust to one more smaller human in his territory. Just keep on eye on both at first and see how much fun it will be.
posted by mermayd at 12:11 PM on November 12, 2011


My cats were always very sweet animals who would tolerate any kind of rough handling by any child. I raised them all from kittens and they were ANGELS. Please don't let some comments scare you into thinking your child will be torn to shreds by the kitty. Plus, kids are tough. I would chase feral kittens in my barn as a child, they would scratch me, I would go into the house and get some Neosporin. Just teach your son that cats can scratch and to be gentle with them. He will be fine and he will love the cat! How cute!
posted by 200burritos at 12:21 PM on November 12, 2011


[Couple comments removed. Askme is not the place to start an argument, and if you want to talk about moderation you need to either write to us at the contact form or take it to Metatalk.]
posted by cortex at 12:56 PM on November 12, 2011


When I was 4, I tried to teach my cat how to do somersaults. I wound up dislocating her back hips. She healed well, but I still feel incredibly guilty. Keep in mind that I loved my cat, and that, at four, I knew full well that I shouldn't hurt the kitty and would never have dreamed of doing so. This is just to illustrate that when you're teaching your son how to interact with his new cat, don't just tell him not to hurt the cat. He'll know that. You need to explain, in detail, the sorts of behaviors that could potentially harm the cat that might not be obvious to him.
posted by coppermoss at 1:03 PM on November 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Great stuff here.

Make sure the cat has somewhere to get away from the kid. Make sure the kid is not left alone with the cat.
posted by biscotti at 1:25 PM on November 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


With my 3 1/2 year old we laid down rule after rule for a year. In the end, we forgot to specify "Don't squish the cat with the racquetball paddle." We ended up replacing all rules with "Be nice to the cat."

Ultimately though, they worked it out. The cat never got hurt worse than she did. And when she came to is with hands covered in scratches she understood perfectly when we said, "Well, you asked for it!". She eventually became the cat tamer in our house, gentling down two pretty feral half grown cats into pretty good lap cats. And she happily bears the scars to prove it.
posted by SLC Mom at 2:02 PM on November 12, 2011


Has your child ever been exposed to a cat, like at a friend's house for example? Those are prime situations where you can both observe your child's behavior towards cats (even four year olds might not like them) as well as teaching him to pick up cues that Cat doesn't like That, etc.

Much of this is going to depend on the personality of the Cat, as well, which you can't predict. In addition to making sure Cat has a space to retreat to/consider a safe place when being introduced to the new home and other suggestions given above, I'd let the Cat introduce itself to the Boy (and Family), rather than vice versa. The Cat will be going through a confusing and stressful time and may be more prone to lash out or be impatient with the Household than is its natural personality.
posted by sm1tten at 2:14 PM on November 12, 2011


Thanks for all the helpful advice. "Koko's Kitten" sounds like a great addition to our library. I marked a few as best answer but the whole thread is worth reading for anyone with similar query.

We picked up the cat and so far things are great. Our son has been very respectful of our "be nice" rules and the cat's space.
posted by bodega at 7:37 AM on November 13, 2011


We picked up the cat and so far things are great. Our son has been very respectful of our "be nice" rules and the cat's space.

Congratulations!

I'm a little late to the party, but I just wanted to say not to worry overmuch about Kitty and Kiddo. As long as Kiddo understands "Be nice", and Kitty has a place to go take a break, things tend to work out well.

When Elder Monster was born, I had a five year-old cat who was pretty much King of All Creation, such that my MIL was concerned that he might hurt Elder Monster. Quite the opposite ensued, and the King and Elder Monster were completely inseparable. King Kitty put up with all sorts of indignities, and clung to Elder Monster like a burr. He was so out of sorts when Elder Monster started school, and eventually took to waiting by the door for Elder Monster to come home, and would promptly glomp him the second he walked in the door. That behavior persisted until the day before King Kitty passed on, just a smidge over the age of 20.

May your Kiddo and Kitty have a long and happy friendship like that!
posted by MissySedai at 11:44 AM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Cheradine Zakalwe: "Cat - neuter now, if not already done.

Cats aren't like dogs - their preferred interactions with humans are all about self-pleasure, relaxation / grooming, and they don't bond like dogs [no pack structure]. S/he probably will avoid the Boy at all costs, especially if there is roughness, loud noises, extreme hyper-action in movement or inability to read her signals. Cats have no compunction about hissing / clawing unwanted attention, and probably will react badly under stress circumstances if you have a small apartment that doesn't allow escape (whereas dogs rarely bite, unless badly trained / mistreated, and have much higher tolerances for rough n tumble).

Keeping pets in small urban apartments isn't something I'm favourable to.
"

I grew up with a cat, and as I recall the cat loved the hell out of me. He would come and lie on my belly when I was sick, he would rub up against me all the time wherever I was. He would hang out. Of course, I'm sure I ran after him, pulled his tail, and so on. Cats, so long as they have sweet dispositions (and some do!) will get used to this. All cats have a warming-up period. They won't like the kid for at least 2-4 weeks but eventually will seek them out for petting and companionship. This is especially true if there isn't another cat in the house.

Cats are totally fine with suburban apartments. Ours were raised in one and now they live in a house. They liked both environments equally well (although they currently lust after the basement which for exciting reasons is out of bounds).

I'd say don't worry too much about it. Both cat and child are in prime learning stage. The kid is going to learn what is and isn't okay with cats through experimentation. He isn't likely to hurt the cat, and although cat scratches and bites can hurt, unless the kid is allergic or the cat bites really, really hard, the kid isn't going to get hurt either.

Experience: 3 1/2 yr old niece in household with three cats.

Unless that niece spent the rest of her entire life in the house with that cat, your datapoint isn't that informative.

My experience: growing up since before birth with cats, took care of friends' rambuctious street cats for 2 months, raised 2 cats from young-ish kittens.
posted by Deathalicious at 8:19 AM on November 14, 2011


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