If you’re pregnant and you have a feline presence in your house, you can guarantee that the first thing you’ll get asked is “what are you going to do with the cat(s)?”. The person asking is always a little purse-lipped when you say things like “erm, feed them, stroke them, take them to the vet when needed, you know, the usual…”.Apparently a cat is only considered a member of the family until another human member of the family turns up.
This is largely because of fear caused by misinformation, or at least a rather panicky take on the facts. Try as I might, I cannot find a single confirmed story of a cat smothering an infant. I can find stories of babies who have tragically been lost to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) when a cat happened to be nearby. I can also find stories of jealous cats who peed on baby things, hissed or growled at the new infant and so on, but not a single one of them said “and then he sat across the baby’s face”.
I am prepared to accept that somewhere, at some time, a cat was involved in the death of a baby in some way, but smothering with intent seems unlikely; when a cat wants to kill something, it ain’t going to sit on it gently.
There’s also the terror of toxoplasmosis. This disease has usually been contracted by cat owners and they’ll have become immune to it long before getting pregnant, but it can also be tested for during pregnancy; all you need do is ask at the booking visit. It is also rare according to the NHS and relatively easy to avoid catching from a cat, as all you need to do is not handle the faeces directly. It is also perfectly possible to get toxoplasmosis from uncooked meat, raw cured meat and unpasteurised goat’s milk, but somehow this doesn’t cause the same hysteria cats do. Maybe because then you’ll get lectures about listeria instead.
So what do you do if you have a cat and the scare stories are getting to you? Well, here are some simple safety tips that will help you feel better and make the cat feel as welcome as ever.
1) Get tested for toxoplasmosis if you think there’s any chance you might have it (check out the NHS link above for the symptoms).
2) Avoid the litter tray or, if you can’t, wear gloves and wash your hands promptly.
3) Wear gloves when gardening; even if your cat is toxoplasmosis-free, the neighbourhood cats that have enjoyed doing their business in your yard might not be.
4) Never leave any child alone with any animal. Ever, ever, ever. No, not even if they’re so perfectly trained that they poo on demand and dance the fandango when you click your tongue (the pet or the baby). Don’t do it! Kids are unpredictable, and we have not yet perfected the language of Cat, Dog or, for that matter, Budgie. While Mrs. Whiskerson is highly unlikely to smother your little ‘un, she can get peeved at being grabbed at and scratch or bite, so just don’t do it. Be there and pay attention.
There are also cat nets, to help avoid the cat jumping into a cot or pram, and it would be sensible train them from before the baby is born that it is not somewhere they can sleep (this will also involve starting to shut them out of the room the baby will sleep in, especially if that’s your room and they’re used to being in there with you).
5) Get some advice from the likes of Cats Protection on introducing a cat to a new baby, and prepare in advance, to help ward off jealousy or upset.
Barring really exceptional cases, there’s no need for the cat to lose its home as soon as your baby arrives. One of ours took longer to adjust than the other but now both are comfortable being nearby and one will even headbutt her bouncer chair affectionately as he passes. Patience, preparation and remembering that people are often misinformed despite their apparent helpfulness will get you through.
Image via dougwood's Flickr