5 Lessons Children Should Be Taught About Living With Cats

Author: Dr. Jason Nicholas

Published: June 12, 2014

Updated: May 19, 2021

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young child face painted like a catGrowing up with a cat has many well-documented benefits for your children. From a greater level of empathy and better social skills to a lower risk of allergies, growing up with cats can be great for your children. Along with all of the benefits though, come some dangers — both for the children and the cats.

Whether you’re a parent, aunt, uncle, grandparent, or just a friend to someone with kids you need to stay aware and vigilant.

Adult awareness can help prevent problems and ensure that the balance stays on the side of the benefits. Here are five crucial lessons that all children should be taught about living — or even just interacting — with cats.

Cats and Children: Five tips for living together

  1. Respect the cat.
  2. All cats can bite and scratch.
  3. Learn to read cat body language.
  4. Stay away from the litter boxes.
  5. Stay Tidy.

1. Respect the Cat

It’s important that children learn from an early age to respect cats. Cats need their space, comfort, and the ability to make their own decisions as living beings. Teaching respect includes teaching children not to pull on tails, ears, legs, or fur, and to never poke at a cat’s eyes or mouth. It also involves not hugging excessively, pushing, leaning down on the cat. Respect definitely means no jumping on the cat.

The simple rule of respect won’t just serve your children well as they grow and bond with your family cat. It will also help your children as they meet and interact with other cats, and other people, too. It’s not just your child who benefits either. Respect will also serve your cat quite well, by minimizing the stress and anxiety (and potential pain) many cats experience living with young children. This is an important lesson all around, so please don’t overlook teaching it to your children. Make sure all adults show respect to cats, as well. Be sure to take a little bit of time to designate and get your cat comfortable in a “safe place.” This can be a room or area within the home where your cat can easily go when stressed. All other members of the household should be taught to not disturb the cat when she is in her safe place.

2. All Cats Can Bite and Scratch

Regardless of a cat’s size or typical personality, all cats can bite and scratch. This is a truly important concept for children to know from an early age. Not only can bites and scratches be painful, but they can also lead to a debilitating disease. What’s more though is that such bites and scratches can also leave emotional scars that could prevent your children from deriving the full benefit of growing up with cats. This could be because your child may become timid around your cat after such an incident, or even because many parents (sadly) give up the cat following a bite or scratch. By teaching your kids to respect your cats, and how to safely interact with them, you can help them prevent bites and scratches.

3. Learn to Read Cat Body Language

Very few, if any, cats bite or scratch “out of the blue.” It may seem like cats do because of the speed at which they bite or scratch. However, most cats really only bite or scratch after provocation, when they are in pain, or when feeling threatened. Pretty much all cats give off certain “warning signs” before doing so. These warning signs are part of the feline communication system — or cat body language. All children and adults should learn to recognize and appreciate how cats communicate. Contrary to what many people believe, cats are actually quite expressive. They communicate lots with their tail, eyes, and ears. You just have to know what to look for, and what it means when you see it. For some helpful information and demonstrations of common cat body language signs, check out this great video of Body Language in Cats from Cats Protection and also see these helpful descriptions of feline body language from The Humane Society of the U.S.

4. Stay Away from the Litter Boxes — Unless You’re Cleaning Them

Not only can young kids contract diseases playing with the cat’s litter boxes, but it’s also important to keep the kids away for the sake of your cat. Much like you don’t want to be disturbed while you’re going to the bathroom (which, let’s face it, if you’re a parent, you very rarely get this wish), your cats also don’t like it. The difference being that should your kids deprive your cats of their bathroom privacy, your cats are likely to start using the carpets. Even worse, they might hold it in altogether, with potentially devastating consequences — read our article on urinary obstruction in cats. If your kids disturb you, I’d imagine that you’d more likely just soldier on. Until your kids are old enough, and responsible enough, to help you actually clean and maintain the cat’s litter boxes — a glorious day indeed — it’s best just to have a flat policy that the litter boxes are off-limits.

5. Stay Tidy

Not only will this help you keep the house clean, but it’s also very important in protecting your cat’s health and safety. While your kids should pick up any dropped food before your cats can get to it, what’s even more important is that the kids know never to leave rubber bands, hair ties, balloon ribbon, or other string-like items lying around. These are often just too enticing for cats to pass up. A cat’s curiosity here can lead to potentially life-threatening obstructions in your cat’s digestive tract.  Keep these well out of your cat’s reach. Remember to be particularly vigilant around birthdays and holidays when balloons and beautifully wrapped presents are plentiful.

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About the author

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Dr. Jason Nicholas

Dr. Nicholas graduated with honors from The Royal Veterinary College in London, England and completed his Internship at the Animal Medical Center in New York City. He currently lives in the Pacific Northwest.

Dr. Nicholas spent many years as an emergency and general practice veterinarian obsessed with keeping pets safe and healthy. He is the author of Preventive Vet’s 101 Essential Tips book series.

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