Safety Tips for Kids and Cats

We've all seen those adorable pictures of kids and their cats circulating around social media and "best of" list sites. Maybe you wondered how they all look so peaceful, sweet, and calm. If your kids and cats could be models for those pictures, you may not need this article, but if not... Read on!

According to The American Pet Products Association, 62 percent of American households have either a dog, a cat, or both. Chances are, if you already have pets and kids, they’ve learned how to co-exist (hopefully peacefully). But if you’re thinking of adopting a new cat or if your kids and cat(s) could use some help interacting, then it’s worth knowing some kid and cat safety tips. 

As you probably know, it’s really not difficult to recognize unhappy or stressed kitty behavior and know when to give them some space. It isn't enough for you to know the signs of potential unrest, though. You need to make sure your kids know, too. The great things is, once your kids learn how to interpret Kitty's body language, they'll know when to approach the cat and when to leave it alone. 

 

Reading a Cat’s Body Language: The Ears

Learning to read an animal’s body language is a good life skill to have, and if you’ve spent any time with cats, you know they rarely lash out without warning. Children of all ages can learn to tell the difference between a friendly cat and one who’s sending “danger” signs.  

As you may know, cats often telegraph their moods through their tails and ears. Hissing, a swishing tail, and flattened ears are just some of the signals that say, “Stay away!” 

Petfinder.com shares these tips on cat ears: 

  • Ears turned sideways or back – This cat is feeling nervous or anxious about something. Use caution around a cat whose ears are in this position.
  • Ears sideways and flat against head ("airplane ears") – This is a sure sign a cat is scared and feeling defensive.
  • Ears back and/or flat against the head indicates an angry, aggressive, or very fearful cat. Stay away!

 

A happy and relaxed cat will have upright ears that may be turned slightly forward. His/her ears may swivel in different directions if noise is coming from the side or behind.

 

Reading a Cat’s Body Language: Tail Talk

Like the ears, the tail is a major giveaway in how your cat is feeling. But cat tails communicate differently than dog tails, and it's important that everyone remembers that.

Remember: a wagging dog tail is happy and friendly. A "wagging" cat tail is the exact opposite!

  • For example, a cat whose tail is straight up and abnormally bushy with its hair standing on end ("Halloween cat") is either very angry or very fearful/defensive. These cats need to be left alone to de-stress before being touched.
  • A cat whose tail is held low and straight may be feeling aggressive.
  • If Kitty's tail is between his/her legs, s/he is feeling afraid (much like a dog whose tail is in this position).
  • A quickly swishing or thumping tail indicates annoyance or anxiety. 
  • Alternatively, a happy cat will hold his/her tail in a relaxed position, either upright or at a slight upward angle. If Kitty is really, really happy, his/her tail will be upright and vibrating. (Look for happy ears and whiskers that are very foward, too.) 

 

When children learn to “read” these signals, they’ll know when to back off and leave the cat alone or when Kitty is happy with what they're doing and would appreciate more of the same. 

 

The Importance of Ground Rules 

In addition to learning how to read Kitty's signals, it’s important to use common sense, and establish boundaries with any pet(s) and the people, both large and small, in your household. Sometimes kitty needs her space!

One approach that works well with cats is to give them an escape route from any interaction they may have. Whether that’s an open door, a high shelf, or a cat tree, Kitty can escape if s/he feels threatened. Being able to run away from scary or unwelcome encounters can help prevent conflicts and misunderstandings. 

It's also important to be sure your child knows the correct way to pet a cat. Toddlers, for example, tend to be "grabby" - something Kitty is unlikely to appreciate. Teaching your child to pet cats with an open hand (and the areas to avoid) will go a long way toward defusing future problems. The same is true for holding Kitty. Children need to be shown the proper way to pick up and hold your feline friend so no one is injured in the encounter.

Of course, a lot depends on the ages and temperaments of both your children and your cat(s). Supervision is necessary while the two get used to one another. Like any personalities, everyone is different. As the adult, it’s up to you to help them learn to live together in harmony. 

On the other hand, if you've already got a cat (or two or three) and you're expecting a baby, check out this article from Cat Behavior Associates on ways to prepare Kitty for his/her new family member!

 

If you have questions about your cat and household, we can give you advice to help your cat (and kids!) get used to each other. Just contact us!


 

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