Children and cats can share a relationship that is mutually beneficial provided each is old enough to respect the other. The good-natured dog may put up with a child’s playful tousling, but the dignified cat may be less tolerant. From the start the child should be taught how to properly hold the cat, providing support under the chest and under the back legs. Touching the sensitive stomach area will bring a natural reaction of “grab and bite” and the child should be alerted to this. He should also be taught some basic feline body language so that he will know to back off when he sees the ears flatten and the tail twitch. This important lesson will help to prevent some tears later on.
Helping the child see things from the cat’s point of view will not only ensure a healthy relationship between child and pet, but it will help to build an empathy for all living creatures. The Golden Rule is a standard that when learned and practiced, will benefit the child for his lifetime. Nothing is more satisfying than loving and being loved–something our feline companions have known since they decided to curl up on the first lap five thousand years ago.
If you have children under 6 or 7 years of age, it is best not to adopt a kitten under four months old. An overly affectionate toddler can injure a small kitten with a well-meaning hug. A more mature kitten or cat can better withstand a young child’s noise and quick movements, but even an adult cat may swat at a tail-pulling child. The key to harmonious interactions between young children and cats is adult supervision.
Parents are always looking for ways to teach children responsibility and often try to give children cat care duties. This is usually not a good idea. Children can be forgetful and easily distracted and it is the cat who will suffer if they forget to put out fresh food or water or clean the litterbox. Even if they are conscientious about their chores, having to care for the cat, midst parental reminders and scoldings, can build a resentment toward the animal. Instead, they should be given tasks that do not involve the welfare of a dependent living creature, such as emptying wastebaskets or setting the table. The parent is the responsible one to care for the cat.
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