Okay, first things first - not only is it unnecessary to declaw a cat to “protect” your children, all other declaw issues aside - the truth is that by declawing your cat you are setting up a scenario that could end in a much worse injury or infection in the event of an altercation between your cat and your child. Careful and proper supervision and training your child will prevent claws and teeth from becoming an issue, and you can prevent any altercation from escalating past the point of the cat walking away. Most cats will remove themselves with haste from a situation that they perceive as dangerous. If retreat is not an option, they will proceed with their first line of defense - their claws. While a cat with claws may deliver anything from a warning swipe with no claws extended to a mild to deep (anywhere from not breaking the skin to drawing blood) defensive scratch as a first defense in an altercation, a cat without claws will always deliver a defensive bite first- and they don’t give warning bites like they give warning swipes. The one time my supervision relaxed a bit too much, and my child grabbed a fist full of fur, my cat delivered a warning swipe to the baby’s forehead. While the baby was deciding whether or not it warranted crying, I turned her around expecting to see a nasty scratch - and there was not a mark on her. This fully clawed cat had expressed her displeasure and delivered her warning without using a single claw. By declawing your cat, you’ve removed it’s first line of defense and the feeling of vulnerability will lead them to a more extreme reaction with their next line of defense - their teeth. Defensive bites typically go deep, typically result in infection, and typically produce more emotional trauma.
Now that your child is older, it is even more important that you supervise his interaction with your cats. When a child is able to purposely reach for and grasp an object that he desires, the cat’s tail (and to a tiny bit lesser degree the rest of the cat, too) becomes irresistible. That tail waving around and looking so enticing simply *must* be grabbed! When they become old enough to toddle around, the cat’s tail becomes that much easier to reach because as the cat moves away, the child will be in hot pursuit. Young children have little to no impulse control, and as a parent, it’s your job to run interference, provide guidance, teach your child to respect your cat’s boundaries, and to teach your cat that this new little person is safe because you won’t allow anything bad to happen. I can’t stress enough how important it is to provide supervision for your children and your cat’s interactions until the child reaches an appropriate, predictable level of impulse control.
As soon as my baby actively noticed the cats, I started active, controlled interaction. If you start as soon as the baby becomes interested, and you repeat this daily, as many times and the cat and baby are willing and comfortable with, the child grows up knowing how to pet the cat, why we pet the cat the way we do, and how to recognize the signs that the cat has had enough. This must be done with the cat’s cooperation - if the cat isn’t willing, it’s not the right time. Your child must learn that petting and playing with the cat is done solely on the cat’s terms, not his own.
- Hold the baby in your lap and talk to him about the kitty while he’s looking at the kitty. Even though he may not be talking yet, repeat to him that “Kitty is pretty. We love the kitty. Kitty loves us. We pet the kitty softly.” (**Or other declarative, confirming phrases.)
- If the cat is agreeable, hold the baby in your lap, and guide his hands in softly stroking down the cats back, repeating to him “We pet the kitty softly. Kitty loves us.” **If the child fists his hand in the cat’s fur, calmly open his hand flat, stroke it down the cat’s back and repeat “We don’t grab. Grabbing hurts. We pet the kitty softly. We love the kitty.” **
- As soon as the cat shows any sign of unwillingness (tail swishing, ears back) or tries to leave, end the interaction. Tell the child “Kitty is tired now. Let’s play blocks (or other distracting activity that will remove the child’s attention from the cat).” With an older child, such as a toddler, you can say “See kitty’s tail swishing/ears back? That means kitty is tired of petting. Let’s play blocks now, instead.” **
- Do not allow child to attempt to hold the cat when the cat is trying to leave. Take child’s hands in yours so that he can’t grab the cat and say “Kitty is tired now” and get him involved in some other distracting activity.
- If your child is old enough to crawl or walk, do not allow him to chase after the cat. If he’s interested in petting the cat, and you notice him beginning to give chase, pick the child up and then sit with him in your lap or between your legs on the floor, and call the cat over. If the cat comes, then proceed with the petting session described above. If the cat doesn’t come over tell the child “Kitty doesn’t want to play. We don’t chase the kitty” and involve him in a distracting activity. Do NOT allow the child to chase the cat under any circumstance. The child *must* learn that when a cat retreats it should be respected and left alone. If you allow the child to pursue the cat you will set up a scenario for your child to receive a defensive scratch or bite.
Age Appropriate Interaction
At an appropriate age, you can begin play with an interactive toy, such as with a wand toy. Personally, I wouldn’t begin this before the age of 3 years. Again, always supervise and guide the activity until the child is dependable with the toy.
Hold the child in your lap, place the wand in his hand, with your hand over his and guide him in gently swishing it around while the cat chases whatever may be hanging from the toy. Do not hand the child the toy on his own because he will be very excited and may hit the cat with the wand accidentally. If the child becomes frustrated, or fights you keeping your hand over his, stop the play, and move on to some other distracting activity. Remember, no matter how bad the temper tantrum gets, you are the parent, you are in control, and your child is learning from you how to behave with the cat, and through your control of the situation you are teaching your cat not to fear your child.
A Beautiful Relationship
My youngest child was fascinated by the cats as soon as she was old enough to notice them. Most children’s first word is “mama” or “dada” - my daughter’s was “kitty!”
We started teaching Megan how to pet the cats at the age of four months. At the time of this writing, she’s almost 2 years, and those two years are filled with beautiful memories, like the first time she gave Pasha an open-mouthed, slobbery kiss on the top of her head. It took that cat 15 minutes of bathing and throwing me disgusted looks to clean all of that baby spit off, but before she climbed the cat tree for that bath she returned the affection with a headbutt under Megan’s chin. Then there was watching Mischa give Megan “whisker kisses” while we laid in the floor gently stroking her fur; watching Ana gently take treats from Megan’s hand, and press her close to her body and purr to show her appreciation; watching Lynx run into the room, rub hard against Megan’s back and then take off again. Megan is now old enough that I don’t have to hold her in my lap to pet the cats, although I remain close and supervise their interactions. The cats trust me to protect them with her because I always have, and because of that they are learning to trust Megan.
It takes time and dedication, but the reward of being allowed to watch your child develop a caring, respectful bond with their pets and watching cats and kids alike flourish in a loving relationship far outweighs any inconvenience that may be encountered.
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