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Pet Bucket Blog

Kids and Cats - A Potential Match Made in Heaven

 by simone on 04 Jun 2014 |
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Cats and children can be the best of friends; living, playing and relaxing together. But the first rule that children need to understand and follow when around cats, is to respect the cat’s space and mood. 

There’s no doubt that a cat will be dressed up, chased, pushed around in prams, cars, boxes and receive some unwanted cuddles when around children. Some cats will tolerate this behaviour better than others but no cat, child or parent wants play time to be about scratches, bites and screams. Cats love calm and gentle attention. Once a child is taught how to handle, treat and respect the cat, then a fun, safe and loving relationship will thrive.

Choosing the right cat

In some respects, a cat can be the best first pet for children as, generally, they are low maintenance when compared to dogs. Cats are often happier to be indoors, do not need frequent baths or to go outside to do their business. However, this is not the case for all cat breeds so research a breed's grooming requirements and temperament before choosing it for a pet in a household with children. Some breeds are more social, tolerant of handling and affection than others but even the most friendly and chilled-out breeds will find noise, activity, overzealous handling and rough play very stressful and upsetting. Children must be shown and taught to treat a cat kindly and gently.

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Caring for the cat

Despite their best intentions, young children tend to be very excitable, enthusiastic and clumsy with cats and kittens. This can lead to an anxious and frightened cat who may scratch or bite the child. Always supervise toddlers around a cat and kitten. 

Children should be encouraged to take an active role in caring for the cat. Young children can be taught how to groom and play correctly with the cat, and older children can be involved with feeding and cleaning the litter box.

It is not advisable to allow cats to sleep in the bed of young children because of the potential for suffocation. Also, there is some risk that fleas, ticks and worms can be transmitted from cats. This is another reason why only older children should be cleaning the litter box as young ones are likely to come into contact with infected faeces and not wash their hands. Cats view outside sandboxes as a perfect, big litter box. Make sure your sandbox has a cover to stop any chance of children coming into contact with faeces. And, have your cat wormed and treated for parasites regularly. 

Time Out

Just as important as teaching children to respect the cat and the right way to handle and play, is to have a quiet ‘escape place’ for the cat. Ideally this would be a childproof room -perhaps where the cat’s food, water and litter box are kept - where the cat can go if it’s feeling overwhelmed or annoyed. It should be a comfortable and safe place for the cat and it must be emphasised to children that when the cat is in there, it is to be left alone.

Consider installing a cat door or child gate for the room and include some shelving, boxes or a high perch. Cats love high places, so it’s a good idea to also have a perch elsewhere in the house that children cannot reach. 

It also needs to be made clear to children that when the cat is eating, using the litter box or sleeping, it should not be disturbed. A woken cat can become frightened, feel threatened and strike out with teeth and claws in defence.  

Reading the signals

Children should be aware of a cat’s body language so they can recognise when it is time to stop what it is they are doing and let the cat move away. If a cat backs away or hisses, is crouched down, tucks their tail under their body, flattens their ears against their head, has an arched back or their fur is standing up then the cat does not feel safe or comfortable. Unlike a dog, when cats wag or lash their tail, it is a sign of annoyance, not happiness.

If the cat displays any of the above signs, the child should stop immediately, allow the cat to run away and leave it alone. 


Some cats don’t mind being handled but there are definitely do’s and don’ts that need to be followed. Unlike dogs, most cats do not like their bellies touched or rubbed. Also, tails and ears should never be pulled or squeezed. Cats tend to like their head, neck and chin scratched. 

Young children should not lift or carry cats. Older children who can support the weight of a cat should be instructed not to hold or carry cats by their armpits. Instead, one hand should be slowly placed on the cat’s chest with the other hand or arm supporting its hind legs. The cat should be held against the child’s body but not squeezed. Most cats don’t like to be held for a long time so if it begins fidgeting or tries to get away, the child must let the cat go.

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Play Time

Playing is important for cats as it provides exercise, allows them to practice their natural hunting skills and use their minds. Limit play time to 10-15 minutes sessions throughout the day. Cats love toys that move and games where they can stalk, chase, pounce and bat objects around with their paws. Never allow your child to encourage the cat to bite, claw or strike at their fingers, hands or feet.

Balls, wand or rod toys, ribbons, fabric, dangling toys and puzzle/ball feeders are all great ways that a cat and child can play together. Just make sure that whatever is being thrown or rolled isn’t a choking hazard for the cat. A torch will keep a cat (and child) occupied as they chase the ball of light around the floor and walls. 

Cats love climbing and exploring and children love building cubby houses. Using cardboard boxes taped together, children can build and decorate a cubby house for the cat to climb on. Put some large holes in the boxes so that the cat can move around and explore. Incorporate the cat's toys and other objects that a cat can climb on or walk through, like chairs, laundry baskets, pillows, large cylinders and it becomes even more fun for everyone. 

It’s pretty difficult these days to tear kids away from smartphones, tablets and computers so why not have them use some of the time for playing with the cat. And yes, of course there are several games and apps available for cats. There’s bugs, mice and fish that the cat can bat on screen and noises to denote success. Let’s face it, anything that moves across the screen will be temptation enough - just make sure your cat’s claws are trimmed unless you don’t mind the possibility of scratches on your screen. 


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