Cats may have a reputation for being aloof, but many kitty parents would disagree — the little sofa lions are family. And if that family expands to include a tiny human, careful preparation can give parents a paw up when it comes time to introduce a cat to a new baby.
“Cats are very sensitive to changes,” says Bideawee Manager of Behavior and Training Desirae Cambrelen. “They thrive in constant environments. Taking the introduction slow is important for having a loving relationship in the future. It’s a lot easier to build a strong relationship off a positive first impression.”
Desirae shares these tips to ensure cat and baby get along purr-fectly (and what to do if things don’t go according to plan).
Anticipate any routine changes early
Expectant parents spend months getting themselves and their homes ready for baby — they register for gifts, set up the nursery and take prenatal classes. It’s a busy time, but be sure to put “prepping Kitty” on the to-do list.
“A proper introduction begins months before the baby comes home,” Desirae says. “This can be a variety of things [including] a new routine.”
It’s hard to completely anticipate a new routine until baby actually arrives, but parents can make educated guesses. For example, if Kitty gets fed first thing in the morning and mom and dad plan to feed the baby when they get up (spoiler alert: that’s highly likely because the baby will probably wake up first and demand to eat), start getting the cat used to that. Instead of putting kibble in her dish right away, go for a walk or eat breakfast.
If the litter box needs to move to make room for baby toys, change the location before the new addition arrives. “That may help eliminate some of the behavioral changes you might see, because if you move a litter box, suddenly the cat may still go to the bathroom in that area, and then you have to clean up,” Desirae says.
Related: Why You Should Consider Adopting an Older Cat Instead
Appeal to your cat’s senses
Babies bring new scents and sounds into Kitty’s universe. Get her used to these things before the baby makes an entrance.
“You can use baby lotion on your hands … and pet your cat,” Desirae says. “That way, your cat will already start associating these scents with someone they love.”
Parents can also rub baby socks or the going-home outfit. “The cat will recognize their own scent and already consider the baby part of the family,” Desirae says. Before coming home from the hospital, have a family member bring over a receiving blanket with baby’s scent on it. “That way, the cat can smell the baby’s scent without having to process the other aspects of the baby at the same time,” Desirae says.
Technology has also allowed parents to start introducing baby sounds early. Browse YouTube for some examples. “If the sound is particularly distressing to your cat, you can start at a lower volume and work your way up or start a play session before putting the crying on so the cat associates good things,” Desirae says.
Give Kitty a warm welcome
Depending on delivery, parents usually arrive home with a baby one to four days postpartum. Though cats can be left alone for some time, they may still miss their family. Have someone stay in the car with the baby and go inside to love up the cat. “When you first return home after delivery, there will be lots of changes, lots of sounds, probably people coming over well-wishing,” Desirae says. “[Remind your cat] some things are constant, and that is your love for them.”
How parents officially introduce their cat to the new baby will depend on the pet’s personality. Generally, Desirae suggests sitting calmly on the couch and allowing the cat to sniff the baby’s foot. “As long as the cat is displaying calm behavior, be sure to praise them, give them lots of love to ensure them this is a good thing, and they are doing a good job,” she says.
Include your cat in family time
Remember: Your family grew by a member — the baby didn’t replace Kitty. “This is an exciting time in your life,” Desirae says. “Make sure the cat is involved in all the bonding you do with your baby and the quality time you spend with the rest of the family.” Throw a few treats the cat’s way when feeding the baby, and invite them to sit on the couch.
There’s an old adage to sleep when the baby sleeps (or do laundry) — and that can definitely be in the cards, but consider using some nap times as a chance to reconnect with your cat, even if it’s just curling up in bed with her. “Let them know that all the good things don’t go away,” Desirae says.
Sometimes, even the most prepared parents and cats experience setbacks. Social cats may start hiding more, quiet ones may start meowing constantly and sweet kitties may display defensive behavior like hissing, lunging or bushy tails. “Provide lots of space for your cat to retreat,” Desirae says. These spaces should be high, like a tree, and low, like a bed in a discreet corner of the house. “This should be your cat’s sanctuary,” Desirae says. “Keep the baby stuff out of it. If this is going to be the cat’s retreat, you want it to be a calm space where they don’t have to experience territorial insecurity.”
Read Next: So You Want Another Pet in Your Busy Household? Before You Adopt, Consider This