My cat can't get along with my toddler
January 11, 2020 7:24 PM   Subscribe

My cat keeps swatting at my toddler leaving scratches. I'm at a loss and might need to rehome my cat. Assistance, advice, needed.

Hazzy (no linked picture, but my profile pic is him for cat tax) is an 8 year old nutured male. Babysky is nearing 20months.

Babysky has been taught gentle and appropriate petting. We have seen Hazzy just outright swat (claws, there has been no biting) toddler before skittering off somewhere else. There is no hissing before this happens . Please note toddler is not pulling, scratching, poking or otherwise harassing kitty. Sometimes toddler isn't even touching or acknowledging kitty in any way (like she's snuggling mom on the couch and cat is resting above and just swipes at her head!)What we've seen is in these instances is that the cat is on higher ground than the child and then choses to attack usually scratching at her face or head.

We have taken kitty to vet, with another appointment coming soon where he will be getting imaging to rule out chronic pain issues, and getting dental work done under sedation. We were just out of town for a 10 days and that hasn't changed the behavior now that we are back. We've tried clipping kitties nails. Seperating them and being proactive. There are three cats and the apartment total, we've had no problems with the other two. We've tried discouraging the toddler from being around specific cat (which she expresses less interest in now after multiple scratches at this point), but we all live in less than 1000 sq feet of space and it hasn't been working.

It's not that she has gotten scratched by my cat once that is the problem . It is that this cat has decided that my toddler is appropriate to swipe at any time he perceives to have the upper hand. Likely if I waited a year or two my child would be big enough that the cat wouldn't behave this way, currently they are within 10lbs of eachothers wieght and we're having incidents with enough regularity that I'm asking this question, the vet is involved and my child's pediatrician is aware.

So upcoming considerations are to rehome the cat? He has lived here almost his whole life . He hasn't had issues with attacking adults at all. He gets along with the two other cats well enough. Litterbox trained. Sometimes he's a little defensive when touched (which is why we're ruling out chronic pain with him). We can constantly clip his nails, but we've been trying and he's still managed to break skin. Maybe some medicine for anxiety will be discussed at his vet appointment.

Complications: cat is 100% indoors. we live in a small city apartment, so unless I confine the cat to a bedroom 100 percent of the time, incidents are going to continue to happen. He is a bonded with our senior cat, which will likely lead to some emotional depression for both cats . In addition I love him, and would be sad for him to go.

Anything else I should try? How should I ethically rehome this guy of that's what I should do? Chicagoland area, if you have specific suggestions.
posted by AlexiaSky to Pets & Animals (17 answers total)
Your toddler can't defend herself and the cat is hurting her. Your duty here is very clear. Poor baby. Surrender the cat to a shelter, tell them she has to be in a home without little ones.

It's ok. Things happen. This isn't your fault - fault isn't the issue - it's what you have to do as a responsible parent.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:56 PM on January 11, 2020 [9 favorites]

Best answer: If he'll let you clip his nails, I bet he'd let you put Soft Paws on. They're plastic-ish nail covers. You have to reapply them every couple of months, but it sounds like as your toddler gets older the problem will resolve itself so it's not forever.
posted by Weeping_angel at 7:56 PM on January 11, 2020 [34 favorites]

We had to rehome our cat a few months after our first child was born. The cat saw the kid as competition, and try as we might, we couldn't change that. The cat ended up in another good home, without small kids, and our kiddo got to be safe in his home with us. It was sad, but ultimately it was necessary and for the best.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 8:17 PM on January 11, 2020 [3 favorites]

Another vote for Soft Paws before the stressful and very final option of rehoming. They absolutely make swatting harmless, and some cats eventually figure out that they can't claw their object of loathing and skip straight to cat sulking instead.

However, if kitty continues to be utterly miserable (some cats just hate hate hate small children), definitely try anxiety meds or Feliway plugins (test him around it in an enclosed space where kiddo can't go first! Some cats react veryyy negatively to Feliway!!) Kitty will also chill out as he gets a just little older, he's right on the tipping point between merely adult and "elder" and some cats get a little extra cranky around that age, especially when something new starts being in their favorite spaces.

Was Hazzy an asshole about baby when they were a baby-baby? If not, something has changed either in Hazzy's body or it's the newness of a weird shaped and smelling tiny human suddenly able to walk, poking where they "don't belong". Protect the kid with soft paws and active monitering of cat-child interactions, go to the vet, and just wait a bit to see if he calms down before going nuclear.
posted by zinful at 9:03 PM on January 11, 2020 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: Soft paws are now purchased.

Cat and baby were fine until about two months ago, so after babysky started walking proficiently. The first incident was out of direct sight so I'm not sure exactly what happened, the next one was clearly baby doing her thing that didn't involve cat and cat decided he was not having it. He seemed sort of defensive, and he may have had a paw injury at that time. We got the initial vet appointment and by the time he was evaluated nothing seems overtly wrong, but we do want to rule out any thing on imaging that we can treat and dental. That appointment is late next week.

Whatever it is, it is a pattern now I think.

If the softpaws work we can try some different medications and experiment to get him calmer. Otherwise we will have a honest idea of the health of the cat to provide to whomever we rehome to. In the meantime we are just keeping them separated and being as careful as possible.
posted by AlexiaSky at 9:44 PM on January 11, 2020 [6 favorites]

My cat went through a short phase of swatting the baby (who, to be fair, was being a dick to him), and eventually they figured out how to coexist. It might pass?
posted by chiquitita at 10:25 PM on January 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

Definitely try meds for chronic pain and anxiety first. One of my cats had gotten much less snuggle and much more prone to being a jerk until she went on gabapentin for pain. It’s night and day. Hope you can find a good solution!
posted by jzb at 2:44 AM on January 12, 2020 [3 favorites]

Have you tried Feliway?

I also had to re-home our cat after kids came along. He wasn't attacking them but was so stressed out by the noise/smells/unanticipatory nature of toddlers that it wasn't fair to him to keep him cooped up with them. I still feel bad that I couldn't make it work and honor my promise to give him a forever home, but not as bad as I would've felt keeping him in a situation where he was so stressed.

As a kid, we had a cat who would attack me and I still have scars. Some cats are not kid-cats.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 5:54 AM on January 12, 2020 [2 favorites]

Try Feliway.

Make sure kitty has a safe, baby-free space. I had an odd useless space in the kitchen and put up a shelf and a partial door so the cat's food and litter box were unavailable, and the cat was able to get under our bed for respite. We cut cat access into baby gates. My cat was not chill, but swiped my son only once, when she decided he was old enough to behave better. If your cat doesn't improve, it may be much kinder to rehome it; it may be pretty stressed and unhappy.
posted by theora55 at 8:00 AM on January 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

Does it happen when kitty is in a certain place? My cat likes to swipe people when sitting on te back of the sofa. It seems purely territorial/instinctive but hasn't always been fun. Does kitty have high spots (cat trees, cat shelves) where he can hide and feel more secure?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:45 AM on January 12, 2020 [2 favorites]

I would not put up with that at all. If a good swat doesn't stop the cat, the cat is gone. Babies come first. Medication is expensive and has side effects, so that doesn't sound like a good solution to me. Your cat will probably be happier in a child-free home where it's the only pet. (and no, I'm not a pet abuser, my cats have invariably been spoiled, but never allowed to hurt a child -neither is a child allowed to hurt a cat, though the kid would not get a swat.)
posted by Enid Lareg at 9:17 AM on January 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: PhoBWanKenobi my spouse thinks you might be on to something as it seems the back of the couch and edge of the bed seems to be a specific spots this has happened.

He doesn't seem particularly uncomfortable, he's lounging in the spots he's always liked, eating and demanding his food in the usual way and socializing with his catmates. Little girl is taller though and his spots aren't particularly high up. He's not hiding ( he does if we have guests for example) . I think protective is a better word for it.

Anyway, we will try softpaws & vet and update. Any suggestions on actually rehoming welcome because if we have to we have to.
posted by AlexiaSky at 9:58 AM on January 12, 2020

It could be that Hazzy doesn't get enough exercise and has leftover energy. A tired kitty is a well-behaved/calm kitty. We cat owners don't them out for a walk like dog owners do. The next best option is playing with the cat for 15-20 minutes every day. It doesn't have to be a solid 15 minutes, it could be 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes after work. Play time isn't you throwing a toy on the floor and then walking away, it is somebody using a toy (string, stick + string, stick + feather, stick + string + feather, or stick + string + thing. A laser pointer is good for 5 minutes but don't over do it because the cat doesn't get any pay off for his attack.) It might take several toys to a dozen toys before you learn Hazzy's toy preference. After a week or so of playing, you might notice Hazzy's relationship with you improves too. Hazzy likes interacting with you through play and might become more affectionate.
posted by dlwr300 at 10:32 AM on January 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

Can your kid be the giver of super delicious treats. My Grandmother had a poodle who hated me at first when I was little. Then came dinner time where I would drop food I didn't like on the floor for him to eat and became his favorite small human.

I feel like the cat is trying to tell your kid not to get any ideas since he's the boss cat. Anytime he swats at your kid, I'd scuff his neck and plink him lightly on the nose. It lets him know kid is under your protection and to knock it off. It might calm things down long enough for the cat to associate kid with treats. The ideas of anxiety medicine and extra play time sound like they could help too. Hope you find something that works.
posted by stray thoughts at 4:07 PM on January 12, 2020

I see a suggestion for Feliway in the thread but I am not seeing a suggestion for kitty prozac. If he's just really stressed, then prozac might help him mellow out a bit.

Also, I'm not sure if he has somewhere higher to escape from the child? If you have space, a taller cat-tree might help him feel like he has "his" space.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:27 AM on January 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

I had an anxious cat, and Feliway and Soft Paws helped immensely.

Also, seconding some sort of very tall cat tree - maybe multiple ones - that are clearly the cat's spaces. The cats can go up there to feel safe, to observe, and to not be bothered by the toddler.

I lived with a cat who used to scratch everything because he was too stimulated by the humans who lived with him, and would take it out on the furniture. Once he got a new tree to hang out in, where the humans didn't try to interact with him at all, he became a lot calmer. When he wanted human interaction, he came down from the tree. When he didn't? Up the tree he went to chill out in.
posted by spinifex23 at 3:47 PM on January 13, 2020 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Soft paws have been attached for about two weeks, kitty took to them okay (he lost a few but it wasn't to difficult to put on). He seems to have not swiped at kiddo in anyway since the last vet visit anyway, so maybe it was his teeth? Maybe he decided it wasn't worth doing? Maybe cats gonna cat?

Anyway, pretty happy with soft paws, trying to get them on the other cats with hopes of new couch cushions (one of our guys is very anti paw fiddling and he's been a challenge!) Rehoming looking to be unnecessary. Thanks for the help!
posted by AlexiaSky at 4:17 AM on January 29, 2020 [3 favorites]

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