by Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
Kids love cats. Cats don’t always love kids. Children are loud, unpredictable and can hurt their feline friends even when they try to act loving. Who could expect a pet to sit through kisses and hugs? Whether your own child or a guest, any child can learn to extend gentle touches to your cat.
Do not leave a cat sitting alone with a very young child. Small ones lack the judgment of what hurts and what doesn’t and may harm your cat. Even the most patient, well-behaved cat can reach his limit of endurance and scratch or bite in defense.
With careful supervision, allow the child interact with your cat. Demonstrate how to pet, “ears to tail” and praise careful petting. For some children, it helps to guide the hand. As kitty purrs, say, “See? He likes it!”
Point out any sensitive areas that could trigger a nip or scratch. Explain cat body language. Some children feel intimidated when a happy kitty bops his head against them, or repulsed when a cat presents his backside in typical, friendly, feline-to-feline greeting.
Encourage the child to speak softly and avoid grabbing or squeezing the cat. Cats aren’t the only curious ones. Kids like to see kitties’ teeth and what’s in their ears. Show them photos online or from a book instead of making your cat sit through an “exam” from a child.
If the child insists upon backward petting, demonstrate how this feels by rubbing the child’s hair the wrong way. He’ll soon get the idea of why proper cat grooming is so important to cats!
If the child tried patting too hard or hits the cat, say, “Ouch! That hurt me! I don’t like that.” Giving your cat a voice encourages careful petting.
Explain that your cat won’t want to be the child’s friend if he smacks the cat.
Introduce other ways the child can interact with your cat, such as tossing a toy mouse or dangling a toy. Cats love petting, but playtime can help both cat and child burn some energy. You may ignite a long, happy friendship, too.