Thursday, 8 September 2016

Baby love

This post has been written by Lisa Jackson, a volunteer at our Southend & District Branch, and her husband Dan Jackson

I’ve recently had a baby and have always loved and owned cats. I adopted two cats from Cats Protection while I was pregnant and some people questioned whether having cats and a baby was a good idea. So, although I was sure it was, I thought I’d look into it.

Funnily (or not) my cats were given up to CP because the owner was pregnant and couldn't cope.

It’s often thought that cats don’t mix well with pregnant women, however this is far from the
 truth.

A special bond can be formed between cat and baby

During pregnancy it is important to remain calm and according to mentalfloss.com: ‘Owning any pet is good for your heart. Cats in particular can lower your stress level – and lower the amount of anxiety in your life. Petting a cat has a positive calming effect. One study found that over a 10 year period cat owners were 30% less likely to die of a heart attack or stroke than non-cat owners’.

However, there are, of course, precautions that you should take to protect you and your baby. One of the things to consider with cats and pregnancy is toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by a parasite that can be present in cat faeces. It’s difficult for cats to transmit it to humans and there’s a greater risk of becoming infected from eating raw meat or gardening! It is generally harmless* – the NHS says that for pregnant women ‘toxoplasmosis could cause a miscarriage or stillbirth, or the infection could spread to the baby and cause complications.’** However this is very rare in the UK with only one in 10,000 to 30,000 babies being affected. This sounds scary, but you can take simple preventative measures (probably measures you’re taking anyway). When cleaning the litter tray (or cleaning up any cat faeces) wear gloves, always wash your hands afterwards and never touch faeces directly. But this is good advice in general. Or, if you can, get someone else to do it for you.

Cat and baby resting together

Before the birth, ensure you keep vaccinations, worming and flea treatments up-to-date to keep them healthy and don’t forget that things are likely to change for your cat.***

Once your baby has arrived the change may still come as a bit of a shock to your cat, so be aware of this and ensure that your cat always has an escape route to a quiet room they can retreat to.

You should definitely allow your cat to get close to and smell your baby, to investigate and learn about their new housemate, but never leave your baby alone with them, just in case. Even a playful tap can hurt a baby, or a playful tap from a baby can scare a cat! Over the past few weeks our cats have gone from leaving the room whenever the baby makes a noise to coming up and sleeping right next to him on my lap!

When your baby becomes a toddler, it’s important to teach them to respect your cat and make sure the cat still has an escape. If the cat wishes to leave, your child shouldn’t prevent them for doing so. It goes without saying that you should teach them to never pull a cat’s tail! Animals are a great way for young children to learn responsibility and compassion. Get them to help look after any pets as they grow older, but never allow your toddler to go near a litter tray as they tend to put everything in their mouths!

CP cat with a newborn baby
Thanks to Sue Bennett for the brilliant Cats Protection T-shirt!
So please don’t get rid of your cat just because you’re pregnant, with a bit of common sense having a cat can be great for both you and the baby. I am already seeing a lovely bond forming between our baby and cats and it’s really a joy to watch!


Veterinary note: Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by a microscopic parasite called Toxoplasma gondii (T gondii). As it is a disease that can affect unborn babies, many pregnant women are understandably concerned. However, recent studies have shown that – contrary to some misguided beliefs – while cats are involved in part of the parasite’s life cycle, human contact with cats does not increase the risk of infection with the parasite. In fact, vets working with cats are no more likely to be infected with T gondii than the public, including people who are not even in contact with cats. To find out more, read our leaflet Cats and pregnant women – Toxoplasmosis.

*for most people unless they have a compromised immune system. Many people infected will develop a lifelong immunity if exposed

** These risks are if the mother has not has previously exposed to Toxoplasmosis prior to pregnancy and becomes infected during pregnancy.

*** Cats are creatures of habit and thrive on routine. Introducing a new routine gradually for your cat before the baby arrives will help ease the situation when the big day comes. Begin by:

  • putting the nursery room strictly out of bounds – this is particularly important if your cat has previously had free rein in the house
  • reducing the amount of ‘lap time’ your cat gets – you won’t have time to give your cat as much attention once the baby arrives
  • if you need to move your cat’s feeding or toileting place, do it gradually so it will not upset your cat’s routine too much

Pet ownership is associated with many health benefits and there are really very few instances where a pet needs to be rehomed to safeguard their owner’s health. Cats can also be wonderful companions to children and there are a number of things you can do to prepare them for your growing family before baby arrives – follow the tips in our leaflet Cats and people.

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