So, your kids adore cats. They have “Hello Kitty” schoolbags and love watching Garfield. They say they want a kitten to play with, and Craigslist is just full of ads about kittens looking for good homes.
Surely, they’ll be thrilled once you open the box and let a cute fluffball out, right? So, won’t a kitten make an awesome gift for the little guys?
The short answer to this question is: No.
The longer answer is “maybe”, and under the right conditions, even a resounding “yes”!
The benefits of growing up with a pet cat
Spending your childhood with a cat can be truly magical. Kitty can be your kid’s best friend, providing him or her with hours of mutual devotion and playtime. Pets provide us with a special kind of bond, one of total acceptance with no prejudice. No matter how rough of a day your kid may have had at school, your cat will be waiting to welcome them home and exchange much needed signs of affection.
Living with a pet also offers a great educational tool for families. Children can practice being responsible for part of an animal’s care routine. They learn about the needs of others and can develop a better sense of empathy towards those smaller and weaker than themselves.
What’s more, having a pet may have health benefits as well. Recent studies indicate that growing up with a cat in the house helps build a healthy immune system and reduces the risk of allergies and asthma. The constant exposure to the tiny amounts of foreign protein produced by a pet can train a child’s immune system to tolerate the irritants.
You’re the pet owner – Not your kids
So, if growing up with a cat is so wonderful, why shouldn’t you be getting one for your kids? Well, you could and should, as long as you are ready to make the commitment and become a cat owner. You, and not your children.
An owner has sole responsibility for the cat’s welfare. Kitty would need constant care, and while you can try and enlist older children to help with these tasks, ultimately the responsibility falls on you. Here are some of the things you’ll have to do –
Providing Food And Water
If you feed wet cat food, you’ll have to serve an adult cat measured portions 2-3 times a day. A kitten would need more frequent feedings. If you feed dry, you’ll still have to make sure the food is fresh and not leave it in the bowl for more than a day. You should also provide a cat with fresh water. Some cats do well with a water dish while others prefer to drink running water from a pet fountain. Add cleaning food and water dishes regularly to the list of tasks!
Cleaning The Litterbox
Your cat will need at least one large litterbox. More if you live in a big home. You’ll have to sift through the litter twice a day to pick up feces and clumps of urine. If you have a responsible teenager, he or she may be able to take over this task, but younger children should be taught to stay away from Kitty’s box due to the risk of bacterial contamination. This task stinks, but ultimately it’s up to you to make sure the litterbox is clean.
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Keeping Kitty’s Environment Safe Yet Entertaining
You’ll have to keep your cat – especially if it’s a mischievous kitten – out of danger by providing a safe environment for him or her to explore. At the same time, you’ll have to provide adequate opportunities for them to exercise and play. Your cat will need special cat furniture and toys, as well as interactive playtime with the humans. Now, playing with the cat is something children can help with! You’ll have to supervise the interactions though, to make sure the cat gets the right amount and right kind of stimulation.
Dealing With Veterinary Care
Veterinary care costs money and takes up time. You’ll have to get the cat to the veterinarian at least several times during its first year for vaccinations and neutering/spaying. Adopting from a shelter often means you get a cat that’s already been vaccinated and neutered. Still, throughout the cat’s life, you will be in charge of getting Kitty to the vet during times of illness and providing the needed care at home. Your kids can benefit from joining you – most kids love visiting the vet clinic – but ultimately you’ll be the one in charge of providing proper health care.
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Dealing With Feline Behavior Issues
It’s important to be aware of feline behavioral patterns before bringing a cat home. Cats can and do vocalize, wake you up at night, scratch your furniture or bite your hands. These may not even be considered behavior problems, as they are part of the cat’s normal repertoire. There are ways to redirect what we consider to be destructive behaviors to more appropriate channels. For example, setting up scratching posts can save your couch, and playing with a fishing-rod type toy can save you some bite marks on your hands.
It’s up to you to learn everything you need to know about cats and how to teach them proper behavior in the home. You should be willing to accept complaints from your kids on Kitty’s misbehavior and know how to address those issues. You should also be committed to dealing with more serious behavior problems should they come up down the road.
Supervising and Managing How The Children Interact With The Cat
You’ll have to teach your children how to interact with cats in a safe manner. Toddlers and younger children in particular should be closely supervised during their first few interactions with Kitty. They need to be taught how to be kind and respectful towards their new pet, as well as practice the basics of petting the cat and picking her up. Pay special attention to kittens as they are fragile and can be easily harmed by rough handling.
If a cat feels intimidated it may lash out at the source of threat. That means your kids could get scratched or bitten if they try anything which Kitty doesn’t like. Remember – it’s up to you to teach your kids how to respect the cat’s boundaries in order to avoid injuries.
A word of caution: Kittens and younger cats often scratch and bite as part of their play behavior. Either be prepared for some playtime aggression, or consider getting an older and more sedentary cat.
A Pet Is For Life
These are just some of the issues involving cat care. Keep in mind that a cat can live up to 20 years and even longer. Your kids will probably leave home and you will be the one in charge of taking care of the cat even with no kids around. In fact, you may find out that the children and cats don’t get along at all. Maybe your kids aren’t into cats after all, or maybe the cat you’ll adopt won’t be a good match for them. It would still be your responsibility to provide that cat with a responsible and loving forever home.
A cat should never be considered as a “gift” for your kids. It’s a living sentient being that will require your attention and care for many years to come. If you want a cat, as your pet to love and cherish and care for, and are willing to make the commitment for two decades to come, then by all means, a cat can be a perfect pet for your family. Otherwise, if you’re looking for a temporary source of entertainment for your children, opt for a plush toy cat.