Cats Protection have just launched their latest campaign, Baby Love: Kids & Kitties. It’s a campaign that educates and encourages couples to keep their cats during pregnancy and beyond. Their recent survey concluded that over half of couples had their concerns, and one in twelve couples resorted to giving up their cat because of young children.
With simple preparation and a little consideration, your child could benefit from a very loving, playful and affectionate relationship with the family feline from a very young age. We chat to cat lover and Emmerdale star, actress Samantha Giles on the ways she prepared her cats for the new arrivals; how she established a harmonious family life, as well as explaining the role her cats have played in teaching her children about compassion and responsibility.
Firstly, tell us all about your cats and how much of a comfort / company they were during your pregnancies.
The cats we’ve got now we’ve only had for three years, we had two different cats when I was pregnant, but unfortunately we lost them due to old age.
My two cats now are Bob and Maggie, two rescue cats from a Cat Protection St Helens Adoption Centre. Bob is ginger and white, he suffers from epilepsy, which we didn’t know about when we got him, but he’s very loving and very sweet. Maggie is a long-haired tortoiseshell, very feisty, and very sweet in temperament.
When I was pregnant we had a female tabby called Tilly, I got her from Battersea years ago. We also had my husband’s cat – when we got together we both had a cat each. He had a male black and white cat called Buckley, who had a very big personality. Buckley wasn’t aware of the pregnancy, he was a bit dozy, but Tilly was a very loving and sensitive cat who used to come and lie on my tummy – she knew something was going on.
What (if any) changes in routine did you adopt during pregnancy i.e. cat litter?
I didn’t really know about the cat litter thing when I was pregnant, so I didn’t really do anything different. Buckley used a litter tray that we kept outside. I used to do the litter as normal, obviously washing my hands after. For most families, cats go to the toilet outside so the litter cleaning would be irrelevant, but if I were to get pregnant now (which I’m not) I would always wear gloves, or get someone else to change it.
How did your cats cope with your children when you first brought them home?
They were absolutely fine. I remember when we bought my eldest daughter home in the car seat, we bought her into the lounge and called the cats to come and have a look. They had a little sniff and walked off. Neither had been around little ones and cats can be quite scared of children so we were careful to incorporate the cats into the baby’s life right from the word go.
Cats learn to adapt to babies quite gradually, after all it takes a while for a baby to start moving about. We did shut Buckley out of the baby’s room – he seemed very interested in the room and I knew if we’d left the door open he’d go in and sleep in the cot. We kept the door shut permanently so he knew it was out of bounds.
What did you do to establish a harmonious household when your children were babies?
We just always said right from word go ‘come and stroke Buckley, come and stroke Tilly’. ‘Be very gentle, stroke them on the back of the head, and don’t put your face down onto them.’ We would explain that it’s frightening for an animal to have a big human face looming over them
What precautions did you take?
We’d make the children aware that cats like to play. If you’re making fast movements, or for instance, playing with string, a cat will want to play too. We explained to the children to be cautious, and mindful the cats might get their fingers, but it’s not that they mean to hurt you.
We’d be careful to watch the cat’s behaviour – if they’d start flicking their tail we’d move the baby away.
READ MORE: The Truth About Cats, Dogs, Babies, Children and Pregnancy, by veterinary surgeon Nick Haley MA VetMB MRCVS
What reassurance would you give to any readers worried about life with babies AND cats?
It’s common sense you wouldn’t leave any baby or young child alone with an animal, it would just be silly to do that. Cats like warmth, they like human contact, so if your baby is upstairs sleeping, keep the door shut and the monitor on so you can still hear and see your child.
Once the cat has been introduced to the baby they’re really then not that interested in the child. The baby can’t stroke or feed them – they’re much more interested in the adults who fuss and feed them! They just need to understand the baby is within their territory and to accept them as part of the family.
Have you found that your cats have taught your children about responsibility and compassion?
Definitely. My daughter was too young when Buckley died, but when Tilly died around 3 years ago, my girls were two and six years’ old. My eldest daughter Eve was so upset. I had to take Tilly to the vet to put her to sleep and when I came back, I have to explain to her that Tilly had died. I explained that 17 was a good age, and that sometimes putting an animal to sleep is the kindest thing to do.
Having a cat has given taught them to care about something. My eldest daughter helped choose our two rescue cats Bob and Maggie, and helped name them. Both daughters have really good relationships with the cats. When the girls go up to bed, the eldest reads in our bedroom before sleeping, and one of the cats will always go upstairs with her and sit on the bed while she’s reading.
They don’t go into my youngest daughter’s bedroom, and actually, they’re shut out of the upstairs at night times. Bob’s epilepsy means it’s safer for him to be downstairs on the tiled floors if he has a seizure. He once had one on our bed while he was sleeping and he wets himself, so it’s better for him to be downstairs when we’re asleep.
If you’re worried about the cats roaming the house at night, keep them downstairs, and keep a door shut. As long as they have access to food, water, a dirt tray or a cat flap and somewhere warm to sleep they’ll be fine.
Why do you think cats make a house a loving home?
Cats are very sensitive to your moods and I think they’re incredibly comforting and calming.
If you’re expecting and are worried about how to mix your cats with your new arrival, fear not. Cats Protection has a webpage dedicated to providing you with all the advice you’ll need to ensure a happy home for everybody.