Cats - teaching your child to be safe

Many homes have cats as pets. Having a cat can be a good experience for your child as they grow. They can help teach your child to understand the feelings of others (empathy).

But your child's safety and health is a priority.

Keep your child safe around a cat by:

  • always supervising your child around a cat
  • never leaving your child alone with a cat
  • teaching your child how to interact with cats when they are old enough, but don't expect them to understand danger.
  • leading by example.

Cats are independent animals. They need to be treated with care and respect. Your child will be influenced by how you interact with cats.

If a kitten does not have a positive experience with people, they can remain scared of humans all their lives.

Respecting the cat

Be a good role model for your child and show them how to treat cats with respect.

Don't pick up your cat to show them to your child. Make sure the cat is able to move away from the situation.

Always supervise your child around a cat.

What to teach your child

Tell your child that pets can’t tell us when they are upset or scared. They can only show us. And sometimes their way of showing us is to scratch or to bite.

Teach your child:

  • to approach a cat slowly and under your supervision - respect the cat's space
  • to be aware that cats are unpredictable and can scratch or bite without any warning
  • to leave a cat alone when it's eating, sleeping or doing a pee or a poo
  • not to run after a cat, grab them, make sudden movements or shout - this scares them
  • to stay calm and quiet around cats - noise scares them
  • to read their body language - leave the cat alone if they hiss, yowl, arch their back, bare their teeth or flatten back their ears
  • that cats may not want to be petted or to play
  • to be gentle when petting a cat and avoid rough play
  • not to tease a cat or pull its tail
  • never try to get near a cat with kittens
  • not to rub a cat's belly - many cats don't like it or will only allow people they are very familiar with to do so
  • to wash their hands after touching the cat, its litter, litter tray or feeding equipment

Remember children learn from what we do more than from what we say. Make sure you always wash your own hands after handling the cat, its food or its litter. If your child sees you washing your hands, they are more likely to do the same.

Contact your vet for advice

Your vet or veterinary nurse can give you valuable advice about cats.

They can help you with:

  • choosing a cat
  • preparing a cat for the arrival of a new baby or child
  • looking after your cat and controlling it
  • child safety and health around cats

When choosing a cat you need to make sure you choose the right animal. They should be right for your family's circumstances and your child's:

  • health
  • age
  • developmental stage

Page last reviewed: 26 June 2019
Next review due: 26 June 2022

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