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How to introduce a new cat to your kids
Getting a new pet is an exhilarating time for the whole family. However, it can also be a big change for everyone, and stressful for the new addition. As cats can often be less engaging than dogs, the introduction is a critical moment. The first few weeks together can set the tone going forward.
If you’re getting ready to introduce a new cat to your kids, preparation is vital. Here are some helpful tips for welcoming your new family member.
Choose the Right Cat
First and foremost, choosing the right cat is essential. If you adopt or buy a kitten, it will grow up being surrounded by kids. As such, it won’t know any other environment. However, if you’re getting an older rescue cat, finding the right match can be a challenge.
When you choose a rescue cat, work with the shelter to find one that’s kid-friendly. Cats that have experienced abuse or trauma in the past are often unable to thrive in an environment with children. Finding a cat with a soothing, affable nature is essential.
Choose the Right Timing
Make the introduction after the cat has had an opportunity to sniff around. If possible, bring your cat home while the kids are out so that he or she has some time to acclimatize.
It’s also important to remember not to try to introduce the cat when its eating or resting. Cats can be territorial and lash out when they feel their food or personal space is being threatened. Wait until your new family member is well-fed before making the introduction.
Create a Calm Environment
When the introduction takes place, set the stage for a calm environment. It’s natural for your kids’ excitement to be high when they know they’re meeting a new family member. Give them time to burn off some of that energy in advance and remind them how important it is to be calm, quiet, and peaceful when meeting the new addition.
Make the introduction somewhere with plenty of space, so that your new cat has room to roam around. Let your new family member make the first move and go toward the kids when he or she is ready. Let the kids know how close they’re allowed to get and hold the cat in a protective embrace when the kids are petting and getting friendly with the cat.
Read the Body Language
As animals can’t speak for themselves, reading their body language is a valuable skill. It’s well-known that a cat tends to purr when they’re content, but there are some other signals to watch out for.
If your cat is arching its back or crouching down, it could be feeling trapped or overwhelmed. Watch out for a tail wiggle that could indicate an incoming attack. When cats are relaxed and receptive, their bodies are less tense and elongated.
A new cat that rolls over on its back might look relaxed, but this is an evolutionary tactic. Cats don’t like belly rubs as much as dogs do, especially in new situations. Generally, when they strike this pose, they’re waiting to clamp down on unsuspecting petters.
If your cat is swishing its tail in a care-free manner, it’s probably content. However, if it’s flicking its tail erratically, that means it’s agitated. A tucked tail indicates fear or anxiety.
Being aware of your new family member’s signals can help you manage the introduction and prevent any mishaps.
Educate and Empower Your Kids
One of the most vital aspects of introducing a new pet to the home is to educate and empower your kids. Animals will react to being handled or held against their will by lashing out with teeth and claws. Rather than scolding an animal when this takes place, it’s important to teach children to handle them with care.
Getting a new cat is a fantastic opportunity to empower your children and give them responsibilities. Young kids can be responsible for ensuring your new cat has fresh water each day or for filling up the food dish in the evening. Older kids can help with litter and grooming. These chores will both teach responsibility and increase the sense of personal ownership and connection with the new kitty.
Create Safe Spaces
Create safe spaces for your cat where it can retreat when feeling overwhelmed. Placing a nice cat bed in a quiet, “human-free” location is a great way to help your cat acclimatize to their new surroundings. You can check out Pet Life for some affordable options.
As cats gravitate toward high shelves and small, contained areas, it’s important to pet-proof your home and be cautious. Always check your washer and dryer before putting it on, and block any areas where they could potentially get stuck.
Use Gentle Reminders
While introducing a new cat can be a stress-inducing experience, you must model the behavior you wish to see. It might take time for young children to create a link between the request to gentle and determine what that feels like. Don’t hesitate to take their hand and show them what gentle means.
It’s not uncommon for kids to forget in their excitement. If they start to get too rough, remind them in a calm tone, why they have to be more careful. Getting upset can create tension, as young children might associate being disciplined with the new family member and harbor resentment.
Use gentle reminders that set the tone for the interaction. When you create a calm environment, that pertains to the feeling of the interaction as well as preparing the space.
Get Some Interactive Toys
As your children will likely be eager to start playing with their new furry friends, having a few interactive toys on hand can be helpful. With these, your kids and cat can begin to build a relationship without a lot of physical contact. Things like catnip mice on strings or feather “fishing rods” are fantastic toys for this purpose.
It can take some time and patience to find your new balance when introducing a new cat or kitten to your family. Make sure everyone has the space and comfort they need to build a lasting friendship.