Kittens and kids
‘I want a kitten to grow up with my child/ren’. We often hear this and fully understand why this seems like a good idea. Besides, kittens are small, fluffy, and cute!
But, in reality, kittens and small children don’t always make the best match. In fact, the best choice is an adult cat of 1 – 3 years old which is already used to children.
Here’s why we generally do not recommend adopting a kitten if you have young children (under 6):
1.Kittens need a lot of work to become well-adjusted family members.
The first 6 months of a kitten’s life are absolutely crucial and, if you don’t put in all the work in that time, you will not end up with that best friend you’re dreaming of. Families with small children are generally already very busy raising their children, driving them to all sorts of places, having playdates, going to school, etc. This means that you may not have much spare time to socialise and train a kitten, which needs to take place throughout the day.
2.Children can hurt kittens.
Kittens, as tough as they may act, are actually really fragile. And, as much as your child loves animals, youngsters often don’t know their own strength or can be uncoordinated so they may grab, pull, pinch, or fall on kittens, injuring or even killing them.
Sadly, we have dealt with many cases like this, where kittens have been injured, sometimes fatally, by children who were unsupervised and didn’t realise they couldn’t play as roughly with the kitten as they did.
3.Kittens can hurt children.
Scratching, pouncing, biting, kicking, etc. are normal behaviours for kittens as they learn to play, hunt, and socialise (this is why it’s best to adopt more than one kitten together).
They also chew and bite as they’re teething, which can go on until they’re over 6 months of age.
They have very sharp teeth and claws (which they may not know to retract).
Even during normal play, they could hurt a small child who doesn’t see it coming, and, if they’re afraid or hurt, a kitten will almost certainly lash out.
Older children generally understand and tolerate this but a baby or toddler probably won’t. You don’t want your child to grow up afraid of cats because a kitten hurt them when they were little.
4.Children can be overwhelming.
Children which love animals can be so enthusiastic that they inadvertently overwhelm or frighten a kitten. They tend to want to grab, squeeze and hug, kiss, and chase them around to play with or cuddle them. They also may shout or squeal loudly. This is not something the average cat enjoys and kittens may be terrified – so much so that you end up with a kitten that grows into a cat which hates and avoids children. And, again, a scared kitten could hurt your child.
5.Kittens are expensive.
FAW vaccinates up to date of adoption but any veterinary care thereafter is your responsibility. If you adopt an 8-week-old kitten, this means you still have 2 – 3 rounds of vaccinations to go at your cost, and you’ll need to make time to take them to their vet appointments.
Adult cats come vaccinated;the current vaccination schedule is recommended at every 1 – 3 years so you won’t need to get this done for some time. If you have small children in the house, you may already have a fair amount of outgoing costs, so this is something else to consider.
Of course, this doesn’t mean nobody with small children should ever adopt a kitten! If you are there to supervise all the time, you don’t leave children alone with the kitten/s, you teach them how to handle the kitten, and you put in all the work, things can work out beautifully. It’s all up to you.
What if your heart is set on a kitten? Here are a few tips to get you started (many of which also apply to adopting adult cats).
- Get more than one. They will keep each other busy if your family is often out and about, and can find comfort in each other if things get too much. Read more: 10 reasons to adopt more than one kitten.
- ALWAYS supervise young children when they play with animals.
- ALWAYS supervise young children when they play with animals.
- ALWAYS supervise young children when they play with animals. (Yes, we’re saying it three times because it’s so important!)
- Opt for a slightly older kitten (11 – 14 weeks, rather than 6 – 9 weeks). They’re a little more robust and will have had an extra couple of weeks to gain social skills.
- Teach proper kitten handling. This includes things like how to pick them up carefully (with a hand supporting the back legs and a hand supporting the front), not shouting, not chasing, not squeezing, etc. If children are still young, they should be taught not to pick the kitten up at all but rather handle them only when sitting comfortably on the floor. Try setting up a ‘kitten zone’ with cushions, kitten toys, etc. so your child knows that’s the spot to go for kitten playtime.
- Involve your children in the kittens’ care (but don’t leave it up to them entirely). This can take the form of helping to dish up the food or even just bringing the bowls to you to fill, checking water bowls to make sure they’re full, assisting you in cleaning the litter box (e.g. older children can do the work and younger ones can wield the dustpan and brush for stray litter), brushing the kittens, etc.
- Accept that the majority of chores will be on you. Many people try to teach their children responsibility by making them look after the new pet but they won’t learn any responsibility if you aren’t there to supervise. We have seen animals literally left to starve to death with the parents saying ‘it’s their pet, their responsibility’. Involve your children according to age and stage, and be there to help them along the way. Your children will gain valuable skills in the process.
- Provide a kitten safe zone. Set aside one room of the house which is for the kittens only so that they have a place to retreat to if things get too much. Ensure children know to leave kittens alone when they’re in there. A baby gate will stop toddlers from chasing kittens into certain areas of the house.
- Beware litterboxes and food bowls. These things need to be on the floor so kittens can access them but they can prove pretty interesting for toddlers. You need to keep them away from these things while still making it possible for kittens to access. A baby gate is a good solution as kittens can fit through the bars. You don’t want to find your child digging into the cat’s food or rummaging through the litterbox!
- Kittens shouldn’t be allowed outside for at least the first 6 months to protect them from diseases, predators, and theft. This means your children will need to know not to leave doors and windows open. Install child-proof locks if needed.
- Provide a lofty retreat. A bookshelf, counter top, desk, etc. where children can’t reach them provides an escape option for overwhelmed kittens.
- Let children give treats to help the kitten associate them with good things, and provide safe toys like feathers or soft balls for them to play with. A stick with feathers on it is great fun but small children could poke their or the animal’s eye with it so we don’t recommend these.