Parents-to-be are often flooded with advice—solicited and unsolicited, accurate and inaccurate. Despite the availability of good information out there, myths still prevail about cats harming children. Dr. Grant Gugisberg, DVM, of Parkview Cat Clinic offers some useful tips for combatting misinformation and helping to bring together your bundle of joy with your furry feline friend.
1. Make sure your cat is getting enough physical and mental stimulation.
“For many people, their cat is their first baby,” says Dr. Gugisberg, “Cats can become used to being doted on, and the loss of that attention can be a bit of an upheaval for them.” Cats may receive less attention even before the baby is born, due to the exhaustion of the mother and the busy preparations for the baby’s arrival. Dr. Gugisberg recommends ensuring that the time you do have with your cat is quality time, and then you make sure your cat has adequate mental and physical stimulation both with you and apart from you.
“It used to be thought that cats were so independent,” explains Dr. Gugisberg, “But now we understand that cats do need that interaction; they do need enrichment.” In addition to playing with your cat with feather toys and laser tag, you can set up ways for your cat to get some physical and mental exercise when you’re away.
“Cats are built for hunting sixteen hours per day,” according to Dr. Gugisberg. “Now we just give them this trough of food. This leads to both obesity problems and behavioral problems.” Dr. Gugisberg recommends leaving small plates around the house of food for your cat to find, as well as using treat-dispensing toys and puzzles, such as the SlimCat Food Distributor Ball and the Cat Amazing Interactive Puzzle Box.
2. Toxoplasmosis and other parasites can be avoided with some simple precautions.
According to Dr. Gugisberg, “Toxoplasmosis and other parasites remain one of the top concerns of expectant parents. However, you’re more likely to get toxoplasmosis these days from unwashed vegetables or undercooked meat.” Some basic precautions include having someone other than the pregnant woman changing the litter box, making sure the litter box is cleaned every day, washing fruits and vegetables, and not contaminating surfaces in the kitchen. For more information about toxoplasmosis, go to http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/idepc/diseases/toxoplasmosis/. Keeping a clean litter box is also important in avoiding parasites such as roundworm and hookworm, as well as making sure your cat receives an annual fecal test and that she is on a scheduled deworming program.
3. Prepare your cat for the sights and smells of a new baby.
“A screaming baby can sound like a screaming cat,” says Dr. Gugisberg. This can be upsetting for cats, sending them into retreat mode. To prepare your cat for the sound of a screaming baby as background noise, buy CD’s or download MP3’s of the sound of a screaming, crying baby, and play at a low volume when you leave the house in advance of the baby’s arrival.
Additionally, while a cat might not be as reactive to the smell of a new baby as a dog may be, Dr. Gugisberg recommends bringing home a baby blanket or similar item home from the hospital to introduce the scent to your cat.
Pairing these sounds and smells with things that are pleasurable for your cat, such as favorite toys or treats will help to build positive associations.
4. Teach your cat that certain places are off-limits.
“Cats and babies like a lot of the same things,” according to Dr. Gugisberg. A bassinet or crib filled with cozy blankets appears to the cat to be a great cat bed. They too love smaller spaces with soft things. So just as you must teach your cat that some places, such as kitchen countertops are off-limits, you should also teach your cat to avoid the bassinet, the crib, and other areas that you want to remain fur-free. One way Dr. Gugisberg recommends doing this is to make the area unappealing for cats. You can place an upside-down carpet runner on the surface of the area, for example, and the cat will find it uncomfortable and avoid the area.
5. Help your baby and cat bond over mealtime.
“Kids often don’t know the difference between ‘pet’ and ‘pat’,” says Dr. Gugisberg, “So feeding time can provide a nice, gentle introduction.” Dr. Gugisberg recommends feeding your cat wet food everyday, both for the health of the cat and for the bonding opportunity. “Feed the cat the wet food when the baby is there,” says Dr. Gugisberg, “And when the child grows older, make it his responsibility to feed the cat.” This can be a good way for cats and kids to bond.
Dr. Grant Gugisberg, a St. Paul native, is a 1991 graduate of the University of Minnesota – College of Veterinary Medicine. He lectures nationwide on feline health and behavior topics in shelter cats for American Humane, Petfinder.com and Petco Foundation and has participated on national roundtable discussions regarding Feline upper respiratory tract infections. Clinical interests are internal medicine, upper respiratory disease and whole life behavioral issues. As part of his practice he operates a referral cat behavior service doing both in clinic and in home consultations. Dr. Gugisberg lives his wife Heidi, 3 cats (Oskar, Mr. Peabody, and Chester), a Labrador named Nigel and 20 laying hens. Dr. Gugisberg is a member of the AVMA, MVMA, Fellow of the AAFP and past member of the St. Croix Animal Shelter Animal Care Committee. For more information about Dr. Gugisberg or Parkview Cat Clinic, go to http://www.parkviewcatclinic.com.