2017-03-01 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

The arrival of a new baby changes the routine of every household member, including pampered cats. Our feline friends are not fans of change, especially surprise arrivals that rock their world. There are ways expectant parents can slowly prepare their kitties for the blessed event beginning early in the pregnancy. Below are several suggestions:

Think like a cat: Cats are creatures of habit, and take long to adjust to any change of routine, even rearranging the furniture. Pam Johnson-Bennett, a well-known cat behavior expert, says: “Many people incorrectly assume any negative behavior a cat displays toward the new baby is based on jealousy but that’s not true. It’s really confusion. The cat’s environment suddenly becomes unfamiliar. He wakes up one day to discover a strange-smelling, strange-sounding creature has just landed in his territory. And what’s worse is everyone around kitty suddenly starts acting all panicky and persists in shooing him away or yelling at him if he so much as attempts to approach this strange little hairless creature. Add to that, the fact no one seems to have time for the cat anymore.”

Create a safe haven: Long before the baby is born, choose a room with a door to serve as your cat’s getaway. This room should contain pet necessities and comforts: litter box, food and water bowls, pet bed, cat furniture, scratching post, windowsill and some favorite toys. Coax your cat into this room for a few minutes at a time, with the goal of expanding that time to a few hours. Besides shielding your cat from some crying, the room will be a great escape when all sorts of excited “strangers” invade the home to meet the baby.

Set the stage: If possible, ask friends with infants to visit. When they do, feed your cat at a safe vantage point- a windowsill, corner of the roomso the cat can see the tiny guest but is not forced to interact. Buy a baby doll and get your cat used to seeing you cradle the doll in a blanket, talking to it in baby talk. Try to pair this with one-on-one attention with your catpetting, belly rubs, a few treats- all positive associations with the fake infant and your cat.

Don’t overdo attention before baby arrives: Some expectant parents make the mistake of trying to overcompensate for the future deficit. They shower their cat with petting and playtime during the pregnancy because they realize they will not have enough free time after the baby comes. The cat is then upset when this new, attentive schedule disappears. It’s better to create a play schedule with the cat before the baby comes which can be maintained afterward.

Later when you are busy with the baby, your cat needs his normal playtime schedule. Engage in at least one or two interactive play sessions a day. Do play sessions while the cat is in the presence of the baby to help form a positive association. Solo playtime is also important so your cat can have something fun to do while you’re interacting with the baby. Make the solo playtime fun – leave surprise toys. Place a fuzzy mouse in an empty tissue box or put a toy in a paper bag. Use puzzle feeders. Continue to groom your cat and keep his claws clipped.

Help your cat get used to baby sounds: Babies cry at varying decibels. Buy a CD of baby cries (or record a friend’s baby crying or download a sound-effect online). Amazon sells a “Baby Sounds for Pets” CD. Start by playing the sound at a low volume while your cat engages in something positive such as playtime or receiving yummy food. Gradually, in subsequent training sessions, increase the volume.

Baby toys and furniture make unfamiliar noises and also move in an odd way. Stage an early baby shower. Set these pieces of equipment up ahead of time so your cat can investigate. Get your cat used to things like bouncy swings, musical mobiles and talking toys.

Let your cat’s nose know: Allow your cat as much sniffing as he wants while you set up cribs and changing tables. If your cat is getting nervous about anything new coming into the house, distract him with playtime or treats. You can help speed up familiarity by simulating “cheek rubs.” Take a clean sock, gently rub your cat around the mouth and then rub the corners of the furniture. Cats have scent glands on their cheeks which release pheromones. These scent chemicals left during cheek-rubbing are “friendly.” Usually cats won’t cheek-rub objects unless they feel comfortable and secure.

Start wearing baby lotion and baby powder so your cat gets accustomed to your newborn perfume. This will also help your cat link your scent with the baby’s smell. It’s a good idea to bring home a hospital receiving blanket that has been wrapped around the baby.

When baby comes home: When all is quiet in the nursery, allow the cat to approach and check things out. Make sure he doesn’t jump into the crib. While there’s no truth to the myth cats suck the air out of babies’ lungs, a newborn does not have the ability to turn over or even move her head at first. A heat-seeking cat that chooses to cuddle close to the baby’s face could make it difficult for the infant to breathe. Close the nursery door when the baby is napping. If there is no door, install a temporary screen door or hang mosquito netting over the crib to keep the cat out.

Adoptables at Babylon Town Shelter (631-643-9270): “Dina” 17-69 is a sweet, stray Dachshund with an uncertain health prognosis. The shelter sent her to have a mammary mass removed which biopsied as malignant. “Mercury” 6- 475 is a handsome, 10-month-old cat in the lobby. He came so close to being adopted Saturday. At the last moment the family chose two other cats.

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