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RAISING CHILDREN AND CATS TOGETHER

Some cats enjoy children, but not all felines can tolerate sticky fingers, rough tugs on the tail, or the general boisterousness that accompanies kids. Before you adopt a cat, find out which breeds do best with children and discuss the decision to get a pet with your kids. They're likelier to accept some responsibility for the pet if you lay the groundwork and they feel involved.

Training Your Child

Small kittens are easily hurt when mishandled by a well-intentioned but rough kid, and larger cats can strike out when provoked. Here are some rules to teach your children about handling a cat:

Gently approach the kitty to see if he wants to play. If he seems preoccupied with other thoughts or is sleeping, leave him alone until later.

Instead of wrestling, use teaser toys, rolled up balls of paper, or socks to play with the kitty. If you play with your hands, the cat will think they're his personal toys and that it's okay to attack hands and other human body parts.

Don't bother your pet while he's eating, grooming, using the litter box, or napping.

Show your children the correct way to hold a cat and remind them that if kitty starts to squirm, let him down gently. Don't try to hang on - you'll only end up suffering a wrathful scratch or nip.

Stroke your cat's coat gently in the direction the fur grows. Let your kitten determine what they will allow to be petted. Some kitties don't like getting petted on their tummies, hips or feet, so it's best to avoid these areas.

As much as you'd like your cat to sleep on your bed, it's best that he find his own spot to rest. Cats are more active at night so allowing them in your or your children's bedrooms may result in sleep-interrupted nights because your cat may want to play.

Advice for Parents

Supervise your children when they play with the cat. Also remember that infants and toddlers don't understand the difference between their stuffed cat and your live pet, and an angry exchange between child and cat can flare in an instant.

Always supervise a child under 6 when she holds a pet. It's a good idea to only allow a child of that age or younger to be sitting while holding the cat or kitten. Never let a young child walk around holding a pet.

Don't be surprised if the new cat frightens your young children. From their perspective, he's a hissing, scratching toe-biter who pounces out from nowhere. In time, they'll learn to check under the bed skirt before climbing out of bed in the morning.

Training Your Cat

Cats and children can become such good friends that sometimes your cat forgets your child is not one of his littermates. For example, rowdy play can cause a kitten to nip his brother, and childish exuberance can get the same reaction.

Discourage hand-biting verbally with a No, and offer him socks or other toys to nibble. If the kitten is still wound up, try a few minutes of kitty time-out in a quiet room. Even better, encourage your children to play quieter games with the kitten to prevent this behavior entirely.