Taking your kids to a home with cats

Maky was always a very happy cat. She’s about a year and a half and she’s been with us since she was 4 months old. She loves people, even strangers. Every time we have guests, she loves to head bump their legs and smell everyone’s hands. However, some people are just not comfortable around cats and, from my experience, children are most often afraid, especially if they’ve never been introduced to cats before.

I’ll often hear people say things like “cats can’t be trusted” or “we’ve never had pets and the kids aren’t used to them”. Whatever the excuse, perpetuating fear of cats in children is no option! So… here are a few tips to help you prepare your kids before you visit someone with cats:

1.Respect the space

Talk to the kids about pets — before the visit. A pet is a family member. So if you’re at someone else’s home, you generally abide by their rules and respect the place you’re in. The same goes for pets. They have their own space and it’s their home too, so they should be respected.

2.Prepare the visit beforehand

Talk to the pet’s owners and ask questions about the cat’s personality. Just like people, cats are not all the same. Cats have very different personalities and not all of them tolerate the same kind of behavior towards them. Some cats were adopted later and in life and may have had a rough time with people, making them less likely to interact with strangers. It’s OK to ask the people you’re visiting if their cats are usually OK with strangers in general and kids in particular.

3.Introduction through smell

If the cats aren’t too shy to come greet you, they will want to smell you. If you take your hand away before they’re done, they will possibly follow you around until they’re done. This may give you the impression the cat is following or way too interested in you or your kids. Just keep calm, he wants to get to know you. When he finishes smelling you tell your kids to reach out their hands.

4.Watch your step

Teach your kids to watch their step so they don’t step on the cat. Cats like to walk close to people’s legs and will commonly position themselves almost purposefully in front of people. Being highly reactive, they might scratch when stepped on, as a defense mechanism.

5.Don’t shout

Avoid yelling and screaming loudly. Having strangers in their territory is stressful enough for the cats, so don’t add loud noises to that. Very loud and excited children may cause quite a disturbance in the cats’ environment. Cats are very sensitive to noise. Contribute to a calm and quiet environment and explain to your kids that using inside voices is especially important around cats.

6.No harm

This seems redundant, but you’d be amazed how many children are ignorant to the fact that purposefully harming the cat is NOT ok. Calm petting is in order and, even then, only if the cat is tolerating contact. If the cats run away or avoid contact, explain to kids that the cats need space and they are not to insist.

7.Picking up a cat

Never pick cats up without asking the owner if it’s ok. Picking up a cat requires adult supervision, teaching kids how to hold cats, supporting the right places so they don’t feel uncomfortable or hurt. Picking a cat up under the armpits as you would a human child can hurt the cat, especially if the cats are a little chubby. Cats’ arms don’t articulate the same way as ours (notice their thorax is flattened side-side and not front-to-back like ours). Having cats on your lap is not something you force. If they want to leave and are forced to stay they may feel like they’re being harmed and lash out.

Cats are individuals. They have their own personality and routines. Be calm and patient and teach your kids how to be so too. Following your lead, everything will work out between your kids and the cats you visit. Happy petting!

Author: Sara Fonseca

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