One of my longtime cat sitting clients, Henri, has been going through an adjustment period since his human brother arrived last August. Bringing a new baby into the family is a joyous occasion, but without proper preparation it can be very stressful for your cat. The book Think Like a Cat: How to Raise a Well-Adjusted Cat–Not a Sour Puss by Pam Johnson-Bennett offers these suggestions for an easier transition for cats and babies:
Decorate Nursery Gradually
Cats are creatures of habit and need time to adjust to changes. If you plan to redecorate a room for the nursery, do one or two things at a time and give your cat a chance to investigate and get familiar with the new environment. Conduct play sessions in the new area and offer treats.
Henri’s people gave him access to the baby’s room to get familiar with all of the new things: Toys, furniture, books to name a few.
Buy Crib Early and Train your Cat to Stay Out of It
One way to do this is to fill the crib with plastic bottles or shake cans (empty soda cans with a few pennies inside). Make sure there are enough cans or bottles in the crib so the cat won’t be able to find a comfortable place to lay down. If your cat does attempt to jump into the crib after your baby arrives, buy a sturdy crib tent to keep your cat out. Make sure it’s strong enough to not become a hammock for your cat.
Familiarize your Cat with “Baby Sounds”
Baby noises are unfamiliar to cats and can be stressful. To help familiarize your cat with baby sounds, try recording a friend’s baby, or check online for crying baby sound effects. Play these tracks during play sessions with your cat to help get him comfortable.
If you have a friend with a baby, invite them to visit to help your cat become used to the movements and sounds babies make. Conduct a play session while the friend is visiting and reward your cat for calm behavior around the baby.
Familiarize Cat with Baby Scents
Scent is very important to cats, so begin using products yourself that will be used on the baby such as baby lotion or powder. Smelling the scent on you will help your cat become familiar with them when he smells them on the baby.
Henri’s people gave him the baby’s hat that was worn in the hospital. This gave Henri a chance to become familiar with his brother’s scent before the baby came home.
Keep Cat’s Schedule As Normal As Possible
If you have regularly scheduled play sessions, keep them intact. This might involve some rearranging, maybe one member of the family conducts the play session while mother tends to the baby. It’s important to allow your cat to be a part of things. If it’s baby feeding time, allow your cat to sit beside you.
Cats are very good at picking up on our moods, so keeping calm and relaxed will help you, your baby and cat build a happy relationship that will last for many years to come.
Here is a picture of Henri checking out his brother’s room. He’s still not sure what to make of the tiny human’s presence, but Henri will figure it out, I have no doubt!
Update On Henri
Henri is still working to adjust to the changes brought about by his human brother’s arrival. The baby has grown and is becoming more active. Play sessions with him often take place on the floor, which is confusing to Henri. The cat doesn’t understand why his people are on the floor playing with the small human, and not with him.
In order to get attention, Henri has started acting out, often grabbing his human’s hands, then biting and clawing them. He’s also begun chasing his people around.
This has led to much frustration on the part of his humans, and time out for Henri. Cats often have trouble adjusting to change, and arrival of a new baby is a major change.
Advice For Henri’s People
Henri is exhibiting behaviors intended to get the attention of his people. Although it’s negative attention, in the end it is still attention, so he is actually being successful. When cats exhibit behavior like this, it’s important to stop any interaction with them. Any reaction at all, even punishment, is giving them attention and actually reinforcing the negative behavior.
Reward Henri when he’s exhibiting positive behavior. When he’s biting and clawing, do not interact with him at all.then. Reward him with attention when he’s being quiet and good.
Henri is a very active cat, so I would recommend at least two regular play sessions with him each day. Maybe one in the morning, and one in the evening, depending on your schedule. Once you’ve determined the best times, be consistent with those times each day. Cats thrive on consistency. I would recommend one-on-one play sessions with him, so the focus is entirely on Henri during that time. Be sure to change the toys out on a regular basis. Henri gets bored easily. Introduce new and challenging toys to keep him busy.
Challenge Henri’s mind. Incorporate puzzle toys to challenge his mind and help hone his hunting skills. Rather than simply putting his food in his dish, put it into a food dispensing toy. That way, he’ll have to work to find his food, which will keep him busy much longer than munching food from his bowl. Have a variety of puzzle/food dispensing toys and rotate them regularly to prevent boredom.
When it comes to cats and babies, it can be challenging keeping both happy and healthy. It can be frustrating and challenging to maintain harmony, but once it’s there, it’s the best!
We’ll be checking in with Henri regularly and will provide updates on his progress.