Kids and cats can be a rewarding combination. The experience of having an animal companion can be a very good one for children—an unsurpassable way of learning about love, responsibility and general respect for life. But children do need instruction and close supervision to insure that the experience is always a positive one—for both kids and cats.
Kittens and Young Children
Often people think of getting a kitten so that a child and a kitten “can grow up together.” It’s a nice thought, but it is not the best approach. Most veterinarians and shelter personnel recommend that you not bring kittens into a household with small children.
- Kittens require a lot of time, patience and supervision. Be realistic about whether you will have enough time to care for a kitten.
- Kittens are babies, which means they are fragile creatures. A kitten may become frightened or even injured by a well-meaning, curious child who wants to frequently pick him up, hug him or explore his body by pulling on his tail or ears.
- Kittens have sharp teeth and claws with which they may inadvertently injure a small child. Kittens tend to climb up on small children, accidentally scratching them.
- Toddlers are strong enough to inadvertently harm a kitten (or even a cat). Children at this age are not yet capable of understanding their strength and this can spell disaster for the kitten, the child or both.
Unfortunately, most people with allergies react to many different things—dust, pollen, mold, and pet dander, to name just a few. Eliminating just one of these allergens will not necessarily solve your allergy and/or breathing problems.
What is the Right Time?
Many experts recommend that a child be at least 6 years old before a pet is brought into a family. If you think your child is ready for a pet, first introduce him or her to friends’ well-behaved pets so you can observe your child’s behavior around them; the way your child acts (and reacts) will tell you a lot about whether it’s time for a pet.
What Kind of Cat?
Often, the safest choice is to add a fully grown cat to your young family. Adopting a friendly, calm, adult cat who has a known history of getting along with young children is a wise choice. Before making a decision, talk with animal experts such as veterinarians, animal trainers, and animal shelter adoption counselors who can help you select the right animal for your family.
Cats with all their claws intact are by far the gentlest and safest companions for kids. A declawed cat, feeling as though its first line of defense is missing, is much more likely to be a biter. Children often do things that may irritate a cat, such as pulling its ears or tail, and the animal’s natural reaction is to defend itself. A declawed cat doesn’t have the option of scratching the child as a deterrent, and is likely to “bite first, ask questions later.” A scratch tends to be superficial, while bites are puncture wounds and serious injuries for anyone, especially a young child.
Kids and Caring for Pets
It is unrealistic to expect a child, regardless of age, to take the lead in caring for a cat. Cats have basic needs—like food, water, shelter and litter-box maintenance—but they also need playtime with people. Cats should be given opportunities to exercise on a consistent basis.
Teaching a cat the rules of the house and helping him become a good companion is too overwhelming a task for a young child. While responsible teenagers may be up to the task, they may not be willing to spend an adequate amount of time with the cat; often at this age, a teenager’s first desire is to be with friends.
If you are adopting a cat “for the kids,” you must be prepared and willing to be the cat’s primary caretaker. That will make this a most rewarding experience for everyone.