Taking the time to teach your child about cats will keep your household pet safe while promoting consideration and responsibility in your child. Keep in mind the child's age and the cat's personality for the most impact. The first lesson to teach your child is that a cat is a living being, not a moving stuffed animal to be forgotten or thrown away. She has her own personality, moods and preferences. As a member of the family, your kitty is dependent on her humans for food, water, entertainment and medical care.
Though you must always supervise interactions between young children and cats, this is especially pertinent for kids under 5 years of age and baby kittens. Keep your cat out of an infant or toddler's room and likewise, provide him with a high perch or hiding hole as a retreat. To cut down on potential scratches, routinely clip your cat's claws. You must teach your child to stay out of the litter box and to never go up to strange cats, instead asking you or the kitty's companion first.
Teach your child to sit quietly and calmly near your cat rather than approaching her by running or screaming. Call her together by holding your hands out and say "here kitty" or use your cat's name. Let your child know that she can choose not to come to him. When your cat does come, guide your child's hand to gently pet her, from the top of the head to the base of the tail. Encourage vocal praise, such as "good kitty," and praise your child for good behavior. Point out the areas he is not allowed to pet, such as the feet or belly. Affirm that it is mean to pull the cat's ears or tail and that playing rough with her is unacceptable.
Other Physical Interactions
Play time is a great way for child and cat to bond. Always have your child use designated cat toys, such as teaser wands or jingle balls, never his hands or feet as this can lead to injury from biting or scratching. Also, just as he likes to win games, he needs to let your cat catch the toys to play fair. As long as your cat doesn't mind occasional grooming assistance, show your child how to brush her fur. Older children may learn to hold your cat by watching how you do it. Have him support the kitty's chest with one arm, and her back legs with the other so there is no uncomfortable dangling. He should hold her close to the body for security, not shaking her, and put her down immediately if she squirms.
Children need to learn about the responsibilities that come with cat ownership. This includes putting out fresh food and water, scooping the litter and taking kitty to the veterinarian to keep her healthy. Of course these should be conducted under your supervision. Also knowing when to stop interactions is just as important. Help your child recognize the signs that kitty wants him to leave her alone. This includes backing away, lowered ears, fluffed fur, hissing and growling. He should also learn to never disturb your cat when she is sleeping or in litter box.
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