Last week we shared a story about two cats named Ragmuffin and Nina that were returned to Heaven Can Wait when their family became new parents. Myths and adjustment to change can create a stressful atmosphere for new parents. Heaven Can Wait volunteer writer, Colette Hays, shares her personal story about how she eased her beloved cat into sharing life with a newborn.
By Colette Hayes
When my longtime cat, Miguel was 14 years old, I became pregnant with my first child. Miguel and I had a very close relationship; I had raised him from a 4 week old kitten, bottle feeding him, carrying him with me wherever I went. Miguel currently threw his 20 pounds of black fur against my chest every night and slept purring with his face inches from mine. He followed me everywhere and would only consider my lap comfortable enough to sit on. During conversations with several close friends and family members about my pregnancy, I was told stories about behavior changes in their cats. I was told that I had to be careful because Miguel could smother the baby, scratch or hurt the baby and I could get Toxoplasmosis. Hearing this I began to look at my beloved cat differently and wondered just how a new baby would change things.
I learned through research that cats smothering babies was a myth and common sense and some simple precautions were needed to allow a baby and cat to live together peacefully. Toxoplasmosis, a parasite infection, passed through the feces of cats is a real concern, but one that my obstetrician helped me deal with. My obstetrician explained that if I had been around cats for a number of years, I had more than likely already been exposed to this infection. Using plastic gloves while I scooped the litter box and hand washing frequently would help limit the possibility of catching Toxoplasmosis. Getting a family member to scoop for 9 months was also another precaution and one that got me a 9 month break from litter box duty!
Setting up the baby’s room, I allowed Miguel to sniff and investigate everything. He enjoyed jumping in and sleeping in the empty drawers of the new dresser, but took interest in nothing else. He never once attempted to jump in the crib, although purchasing a crib net would have eliminated this option for him if he had showed an interest.
Miguel’s behavior did begin changing when I was around 6 months pregnant. I began noticing a urine smell each time I went up or down the stairs. I attributed the smell to the litter box which was nearby. Thinking I was not sufficiently cleaning the box, I began scooping up to twice daily. Still the smell of urine was strong. One day I started investigating and found a corner of the stair landing saturated in pee. I ripped up the corner of the rug to discover the pad and concrete floor below were soaked in urine. Miguel was already diabetic so I figured a quick vet checkup would be the first place to start. The vet gave him an exam, ran a few tests and everything was fine. Indicating my stomach, the vet said, “First baby?” I nodded. “Cats can have strong feelings about changes in the household.” Knowing Miguel and his haughty temperament, I figured he was having super strong feelings ending in urination. The vet explained that cats can be jealous of the new baby and are sensitive to the changes that were happening in my body.
The vet gave me several suggestions to get Miguel using his litter box again. These included cleaning the carpet thoroughly, making sure there was adequate litter boxes and they were clean. Other suggestions included setting Miguel’s food dish near the spot he had chosen for his bathroom. Cats usually won’t eat where they pee. Miguel proved me wrong in that regard. I watched as he casually peed and then sauntering over to eat. I placed his litter box directly over the pee spot, but he took to peeing in the other corner. I put a second litter box in that corner and he peed in the third corner. I now had two litter boxes and a food dish placed on my landing and he was still peeing on the carpet. Finally a trip to the local home store, gave me the idea of a plastic runner. I laid the plastic runner over the landing on the stairs. The next morning I woke to find urine and feces on the runner. I was about 7 months pregnant, overwhelmed with the upcoming birth and wondering how I was going to deal with a new baby and a cat that refused to use the litter box. I considered Miguel family and knew that I could not surrender him. I mean let’s be real who is going to adopt a 14 year old, diabetic cat who refuses to use the litter box? I was angry, but I also knew that Miguel was also feeling the changes in the household and my anger directed towards him would make the situation words. After a good cry, I cleaned up the plastic runner on the stairs and landing and made peace with the fact that every morning I was going to have to clean up poop or pee or both.
A month later, I brought my son, Joseph home from the hospital. I tried coaxing Miguel to sniff Joseph, but he refused to even pretend to be interested, instead he glared at me from his favorite bathroom spot, the landing. For about 4 weeks, Miguel would leave the room when I entered and would sleep in the bathtub. I tried to pay extra attention to him and find time to spend with just him alone, but he made a point of leaving the room whenever I came to find him or hiding under the bed. I did notice that his bathroom use on the runner was lessening, instead of daily it was three of four times a week. Finally when Joseph was about a month old, Miguel jumped on my lap and began investigating Joseph. He sniffed him, watched him and then carefully sat down next to him. Within minutes Miguel was purring softly and Joseph was sound asleep.
Over the next several months, almost as suddenly as he had stopped he started using his litter box again. Miguel also began taking an interest in me again, sitting on my lap and follow me from room to room. By the time Joseph was a year old; Miguel would lie next to Joseph and allow himself to be hugged and slobbered on. Miguel eventually learned to tolerate Joseph and Joseph learned to be gentle with Miguel.
With time, patience and a sense of humor it is possible for a cat to adjust to the changes of pregnancy and a new baby. Cat and baby can learn to live together and if not like each other at least tolerate each other. While dealing with unwanted behavior changes in a beloved pet can be frustrating and difficult, realize that your cat is expressing their feelings about the changes in their lives and while we may not like how they express themselves, realize they need your love and patience during this transition.
Heaven Can Wait cat adoptions are held Thursday – Sunday in Petsmart at 7050 Arroyo Crossing Pkwy (off I-215 and S. Rainbow.) Check out all the cats waiting for new homes at: www.hcws.org
Filed under: Happy endings | Tagged: adoptable cats, animal welfare, animals, happy ending pet adoptions, HCWS, Heaven Can Wait Animal Society, homeless pets, myths about pregnancy and cats, pregnancy and pet cats | 5 Comments »