How to Introduce a Cat to Children


Cats are the most prevalent family pet in the United States and it’s no wonder. They’re quiet, compact, and easy to care for—a perfect match for busy families with kids. Raising children with pets provides many benefits. According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, pets can:

What cat lover wouldn’t want to share these wonderful values with their children?

Children are naturally drawn to cats, but it’s important to lay some ground rules for the safety of all concerned. An overzealous toddler could severely hurt a kitten. On the flip side, cat scratches and bites can pose serious health risks to your child. The key to promoting harmony between cats and kids is to monitor their interactions at all times and to teach children how to handle cats with kindness and respect.

Cats and Babies

There’s an old wives’ tale that a cat can become jealous and suck away a baby’s breath. This has no basis in fact. Most cats will steer clear of a new infant, whose sounds and smells seem altogether alien. Your cat is more likely to be upset by all the changes around the house than by the baby itself. New parents are often busy, tired, and much less focused on the family pet than they used to be. Here are some suggestions to make things go smoother when baby makes four:


Cats and Toddlers

When baby goes mobile, the real fun begins….but not for your cat! Your toddler regards a cat as an animated stuffed toy just waiting to be squeezed, prodded and chased. Young children don’t have the ability to read a cat’s body language or reign in their own angry or aggressive feelings. Toddlers operate at your cat’s eye level, move erratically, and emit unearthly giggles and squeals. Even the most confident cat can sense danger. And the gentlest feline may strike out when cornered or hurt. It can take a while to teach your child to interact appropriately with your cat, but it’s never too early to start.

Cats and Older Children

School-age children are more reliable and are ready to start learning important lessons about caring for their feline family member.

Health Concerns

Too many cats end up homeless once a baby is on the way, because of fears the cat may carry disease. These risks can be minimized with the proper precautions.

Update on Pet Allergies

Experts used to think that exposure to furry pets promoted allergies and asthma in young children. Sadly, many expectant parents with a family history of allergies were told to get rid of the family cat. Newer research indicates that the exact opposite is true. One prominent 2002 study indicated that having two or more dogs and cats during the first year of life actually reduced the child’s chance of having pet allergies at ages six and seven.2 Another study showed that childhood exposure to cats decreased the likelihood of cat allergy in adulthood, especially when there was a family history of allergy to cats.3 It seems that early exposure to pets can actually “educate” the immune system in children.

Learning empathy and respect for another living creature is the best education of all.

  1. “Facts for Families #75: Pets and Children” 2006. American Association of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. 26 February 2011§ion=Facts+for+Families
  2. Ownby DR. Exposure to dogs and cats in the first year of life and risk of allergic sensitization at 6 to 7 years of age. JAMA - 28-Aug-2002; 288(8): 963-72.
  3. Roost HP. Role of current and childhood exposure to cat and atopic sensitization. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology - 01-Nov-1999; 104(5): 941-7.

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