Cats and Children-The Do’s and Don’ts

child sitting on bed facing an orange cat who looks startled but calm. The child is smiling at the cat.

Cats and Children-The Do’s and Don’ts

Cats can make wonderful companions for people of all ages. They are a great addition to a family home, and can help teach children empathy, responsibility and compassion.

However, it’s important that if you’re thinking of introducing a new feline friend into your home, that you familiarise yourself with some essential safety tips first. After all, as cute as cats are, they have sharp claws and aren’t afraid to use them if a young child clashes with them.

Check out our top tips below on making sure your children get along with the new feline friend in your home!


1. Set Boundaries

When introducing your cat to your children, it’s essential to go slow first. Let the cat come to them, and don’t force them into something they don’t want. Encourage your child to let the cat take a sniff of them by holding out their hand; it might take a couple of interactions like this before your cat is comfortable to go further. Slowly build up the time spent together and, if your kitty is comfortable,  allow your children to play with them while supervised. Always emphasize how important it is to treat the cat with kindness and empathy, and to always be gentle.

close up of tabby cat with flattened ears, eyes wide and pupils dilated

2. Help Them Understand Cats Body Language

It’s a good idea to teach children the difference between a cat that’s feeling friendly and one who may be sending “danger” signals.  Flattened ears, hissing, and a swishing tail, are just some of the ways that cats convey that they’re irritated or annoyed, and want to be left alone.

When you see your cat acting afraid, angry, or even happy, verbalize that for your child. For example, you might say, “Ginger is swishing her tail back and forth. That means she’s mad and we won’t try to pet her or play with her right now,” or “Fluffy’s ears are flat back against his head which means he’s angry and not in a playful mood right now. Let’s give him some space and not touch him right now.”

3. Teach Children How To Handle The Cat

If your child is old enough, teach them the correct and safest way to handle a cat so they don’t end up injuring themselves or the cat. This includes showing them how to approach, stroke, and handle the cat. Illustrate to your children how to gently pet the cat’s head by lightly stroking your child’s arm so they can understand the sensation. Highlight the importance of not touching, grabbing, or pulling sensitive areas such as the cat’s fur, tail, ears, feet, and belly. Demonstrate to them how to pick up a cat up by supporting their chest with one hand and their hind legs with the other, holding them securely to your chest. If your cat is showing signs of distress, discomfort or anger, gently place them on the floor and let them go.

4. Give Responsibilities

If they’re old enough, why not let your children take on some cat-related responsibilities? This helps reinforce the bond with their furry friend and also teaches them an important lesson: how to care for a living animal.

If you have more than one child, you may know that kids can become territorial over their responsibilities, so it’s a good idea to assign them different tasks. One child can be in charge of replenishing the food or water bowls, and the other can ensure that the cats bed and toys are all tidy. Remind them to always wash their hands afterwards to ensure proper hygiene.


1. Leave your child alone with the cat

It’s imperative that you always supervise your child when they are near the cat. Pets, especially cats, can be unpredictable and might bite or scratch if they are irritated or annoyed. Toddlers can also be unpredictable, and can frighten or irritate the cat. Make sure your cat always has a ‘quiet space’ away from any rambunctious children where they can recoup and relax. An ideal place for your cat to relax is a cat tower. Cats love having a high place to sit where they can watch over and observe their surroundings. It can double as a scratching post and can serve as an escape out of the reach young children’s hands.

young toddler holding a bowl of food feeding a grey cat from the ground.
blonde haired child sitting down in a sunlit room, pointing finger at an orange cat who is perched happily on a cat scratcher, intrigued by the toddler

2. Run after the cat

Do not run after a cat, grab them, make any sudden or loud movements or shout, as this can not only frighten the cat, but it can threaten them. Cats, when threatened, can bite, scratch or hiss;  in order to avoid a crying toddler and an irritated cat, show your children the correct way to handle the cat.

3. Force a cat to play

Never force your cat to stay and be hugged, kissed, or played with if they do not want to. Ideally, it’s the cat that should initiate every interaction, such as to be petted or played with, and should be able to leave when they’re ready.

When playing with a cat, teach your child not to tease or taunt them, such as withholding a toy they can’t reach. This can often result in a frustrated feline, and the heightened emotions can lead to displaced aggression.

Risk of infection from cats

Cats can carry infectious diseases that can be harmful to your child. They usually pass them on by scratching or through their poo.

You or your child could develop an infection if you:

  • touch cat poo or something contaminated with cat poo
  • then touch your mouth, food, or feeding equipment

Diseases carried by cats

The most common diseases your child could get are:

  • toxoplasmosis – a common infection that’s usually harmless but can cause serious problems in some people, particularly pregnant women and people with a weak immune systems
  • cat scratch fever, which causes swollen lymph glands
  • toxocariasis – a rare infection caused by roundworm parasites

How to avoid infection

The best ways to protect your child from diseases are to make sure that everyone in your family:

  • is up to date with all their vaccines
  • washes their hands regularly, especially after handling the cat or their litter

Keep all of your child’s feeding utensils out of the cat’s reach. Keep your cat away from your child’s toys, nursery and any other equipment.

Keep your cat’s food, toys and any other cat equipment out of reach of your baby or child. Your baby or small child could choke on these items. There is also a risk of infection.


If you are expecting a baby

If you are expecting a baby, it’s important to prepare your cat for the new arrival. This is also true if you are bringing a child to live with you.

Contact your vet for advice on what to do.

Ask your partner or support person to empty the cat’s litter tray. If this is not possible, make sure you wear gloves.

Wash your hands well after handling your cat’s:

  • litter
  • litter tray
  • anything that might have cat poo on it
pregnant woman and cat

Here at Petmania we know that having a cat in your life can lead to many questions – from wondering what to feed your kitten, and everything else that you will encounter over your cat’s potential 20+ years! Check out our Cat Care Advice Centre where we regularly post new content, based on the questions our customers regular ask us.

If you have a question about your cat’s health, diet or overall wellbeing, please do get in touch and we’ll be happy to assist you.

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