Recently, a column in The Palm Beach Post received a question from an individual regarding pregnant women and cats. Responding to the inquiry was Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, a well-known and respected medical doctor. Unfortunately, Dr. Brazelton’s advice is causing quite the stir within the animal community, due to his inaccurate information; even veterinarians are responding to his outrageous claims.
It all started with the question: “My daughter is pregnant and has three rather large cats. I am worried that they will get into the crib with the baby as they have been the center of my daughter's life for many years and are a little spoiled. I worry they will be jealous of the baby.”
Dr. Brazelton’s response included the common information regarding toxoplasmosis, which can be contracting through cat feces or eating raw/uncooked meat. He then goes on to say that “some cats will seek out the infants' mouths and noses and lie on them to smother them,” because of their jealous nature they have over their caretakers. Dr. Brazelton concludes his column by advising the pregnant woman to “rid herself of the cats. If not, the cats must be kept away from the child for the infant's protection.”
Those who have raised children along side pets will agree that there is no need to be so dramatic. Yes, they are precautions to take and any expecting mother should prepare herself for a few changes to her normal routine if she has pets to care for (she should also prepare her pets for some changes); however, there is no need for her to get rid of her furry babies. The following is a response to Dr. Brazelton’s “advice” from Lisa Radosta, a DVM for the Florida Veterinary Behavior Service, that Alley Cat Rescue finds to be more accurate:
"In the column, he recommended pregnant women give up their cats for health and behavioral reasons. Each year in the U.S., 3 to 4 million dogs and cats are euthanized. Can you wrap your head around that number? Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control humanely euthanized 14,313 unwanted cats last year. This year, with foreclosures and job losses, the number will likely be even higher. While there are times when a pet has to be re-homed, it is irresponsible to recommend a cat be re-homed just because a woman is pregnant. How many of us grew up with cats or have cats and children currently without problems?
Your daughter is faced with the same dilemma as most pregnant women today: How do we prepare our "other babies" for the coming of our new addition? You are right to work things out now instead of waiting until your daughter's baby is born.
First, I would like to dispel a common myth. Cats have no desire to suck the life out of infants by smothering them. This is an old wives' tale. Cats aren't devious creatures — they are simply cats who think like cats. That said, anyone who has owned a cat knows they like to lie on top of warm things such as computers, sunlit windowsills, printers and often people's faces! As with any pet, we need to take precautions to make sure accidents don't happen.
There is a risk to previously uninfected pregnant women of contracting toxoplasma gondii, if they clean the litter box, eat raw, contaminated meat or otherwise come in contact with cat feces. This can be easily avoided by delegating litter box cleaning to someone else and avoiding eating raw or undercooked meats.
So, what should you do if you have a little bundle of joy on the way and you already have four-legged bundles of joy in your house? Read on for 12 tips on the best way to prepare your kitty for your new little one.
1) If your pet has shown aggression to people in any form, or has an anxiety disorder, seek help from your veterinarian immediately - well before you have your baby.
2) Confine your cat out of the baby's room well before the baby arrives by setting up the baby's room up now. If you intend to use a baby gate, get it now and put it up. Baby gates come as tall at 42 inches so most cats can't clear them. If your cat is particularly athletic, you can install a screen door on the baby's room or you can investigate crib nets. These are easily found items that go over the crib to protect baby. Think about where you will be preparing bottles, pumping breast milk or later preparing baby's food. If your cat currently is allows in these spots, teach him now that he can't go there. By the time that the baby comes, he will be used to the limitations.
3) Your cat should never be in the baby's room without adult supervision.
4) If you or anyone in your family currently plays with the cat roughly, with your feet or with your hands, stop right now. This is inappropriate for a home with children. It will not be the cat's fault if he bites the child in play, but he will inevitably be the one punished. Teach him now that kind of play no longer happens by refusing to engage him in that type of play, instead play with any toy that gets him moving away from your hands or feet.
5) Any baby furniture, including swings, cribs, bassinets, etc., that you will be using should be introduced well before baby arrives. This gives your cat time to get used to them. Cats like novel things so they investigate everything, but they soon lose interest. If you set things up early, your cat will be bored with them before the baby comes.
6) What is often interpreted as jealousy is the cat's attempts to get the same amount of attention that he previously received from the owner. Because your time will be limited as a mom, you will need to enrich your cat's environment so he has something else to do besides play with you. Try predatory toys and food toys so he is busy throughout the day. Make sure his litter box and favorite sleeping areas are not in the part of the house where you will be with the baby most frequently (they should be easily accessible to him) so he can get away from the baby when he needs to.
7) If you plan to use a baby sling to carry the baby, wear it frequently now. You can put a doll in it to help acquaint the pet with your "new look".
8) Get a CD of baby sounds such as crying and gurgling (try "Preparing Fido") and play it frequently so these sounds are not new to the pet when the baby arrives. The CD should be played at a very low volume at first (a volume at which he is unlikely to react) while the cat is relaxing with some catnip or eating dinner. Slowly increase the volume over many training sessions until your cat is relaxed when the CD plays.
9) Since it is not possible to determine before a baby arrives what her schedule will be, however, it is best to start spending structured time with your pet. This way, kitty will become accustomed to the idea that a certain part of the day will usually be spent playing or otherwise interacting with you and that sometimes, your pet will be on his own.
10) When you have the baby and are still at the hospital, send home an item of the baby's clothes for your pet to smell.
11) When you bring the baby home, one other adult should be there to help. This can be an overwhelming time for everyone, including pets. The best strategy is usually for the mother to come in and greet the pet while someone else carries the baby.
12) Remember even the most tolerant pets should never be left unsupervised with babies or young children. It's very tempting to leave the room to answer the phone or turn down the oven, but the baby or the pet should go with you. No animal, no matter how obedient should ever be left alone with a child of any age. Babies can inadvertently hurt pets, by pulling on them, stumbling and falling over them, and stepping on them. This can cause a pet to react aggressively out of surprise and pain. It's important to supervise babies who can move about when the pet is around, or confine the pet safely away from them.
Cats can add incredible enrichment to a child's life, helping teach them unconditional love, gentleness, boundaries and responsibility. Prepare your kitty for what is to come and teach him boundaries before the baby comes so you, your cat and your child can live happily ever after!"