Cats – the silent baby assassin?

A vet mate of mine, Dr Dave Nichol, wrote this great article recently that I thought I would share it with you.

“I’ve heard a few things recently about pets and children that have been wide of the mark. Cats in particular seem to come in for a lot of bad press.

Perhaps it was just that the nice lady leading our maternity class wasn’t a “cat person”, but I suspect it’s a wider PR issue for these oft-misunderstood creatures. For cats, unlike dogs, seem to polarise opinion. You either love them or fear them; very few people have a neutral position.

It seems that their aloof nature, tendency to scratch people they don’t like and their generally stealthy nature can be quite unsettling.

Which is perhaps why the advice in the prenatal class was so negative. Our tutor’s recommendation for cat owners was to “boot your moggies out of the house or build an outdoor pen so they didn’t come into contact with the child”.

The insinuation being that there was this huge body of medical evidence that cats are somehow a big risk to babies.

The basis for this ‘professional’ advice was that cats like heat and would therefore be attracted, like a heat seeking missile, to the warmth generated by your sleeping baby, presenting a risk of suffocation should the cat decide to sleep on the child’s face.

Appalled, but feeling like I should do some further research, just in case I had missed the whole ‘Cat vs Baby’ thing, I embarked on some detective work.
Cat V Baby

There are millions of homes where cats have cohabited with babies over the years. So with this degree of contact you’d think that there would be some solid evidence of ‘cats-on-baby’ incidents.

A scan of Google revealed only two suspected cases both grossly misreported by the press with the attention grabbing headlines:

A closer read of the articles revealed that no such proof existed, and any evidence was circumstantial. In one case there was cat hair in the cot, so the possibility couldn’t be ruled out. Hardly definitive proof, and certainly not as clear-cut as the misleading headline would suggest.

Sadly, in today’s society, because the explanation sounds vaguely plausible and was given weight by this kind of sloppy journalism the myth is perpetuated.

After a couple of hours scouring the journals and internet I came up with absolutely nothing definitive about cats suffocating babies what so ever.

Six tips for expectant parents with cats

OK, so let me give you my advice for a happy life where cats and kids can live comfortably alongside each other.

  1. The risk of your cat suffocating your baby, while theoretically possible, seems to be non-existent in reality. I mean think about it. Most of the cats I know (my own included) like the quiet life. As such they would be as likely to spend time around a screaming newborn.
    However, in the interests of promoting responsible pet ownership it would be wise to avoid letting your cat into the nursery unattended. If you are really worried, then use a crib-net to prevent them jumping in the cot.
  2. Fathers should change the litter trays each day while mum is pregnant – Toxoplasmosis is a nasty parasite that can be found in cat poo. If you ingest the parasite then it can cause serious harm to a developing foetus. So better for pregnant mums not to go near the kitty litter at all, although may only be a real issue if the faeces is left in the tray for a few days and that is highly unlikely.
  3. Wash all worktops, your hands and all your vegetables before preparing meals (especially if from your own veggie patch, plus don’t eat undercooked meat – again we’re trying to prevent toxoplasmosis and your cat might just jump on the kitchen work surfaces when you are not looking.
  4. Make sure your cat is wormed regularly to kill off intestinal worms that can harm children.
  5. Never leave infants unattended with cats, (or dogs for that matter). As the owner of a pet, you are responsible for its behaviour. Don’t put an animal in a position where it feels threatened or out of control.
  6. Use Feliway calming pheromone to reduce stress for your cat during the first 12 months with your newborn. And in between nappy changes and midnight feeds, try to make time for a few extra kitty cuddles to avoid your first ‘child’ feeling too left out.”

This post was originally written in 2012