Kids Bothering the Cats

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  • How to teach kids to be kind to our cat?

    (5 replies)

    My two kids (3 and 6) torment our cat and I am at my wits end. This is much more the 3 year old than the 6 year old but its a daily battle. They will chase, hold him against his wishes and throw things at him when he is under the bed. Typing that out just breaks my heart. I am a huge cat lover and my kids have never witnessed me or my partner being cruel to any animal-ever. We have done everything: model the correct behavior, talk about gentle touch, reading cat's body language and on and on. I seem to recall ARF in Walnut Creek offering a class about teaching kindness to animals for kids but I can't find it again. I wonder if it would help to get an outside expert to chat with them about this behavior. Does anyone have any ideas?? 

    We have a two year old and the rule is basically one warning/reminder to be gentle with the dogs and after that we move the dogs behind the locked baby gate for their safety. We don’t punish her but explain that if she isn’t able to be gentle we have to put them way to keep them safe. Playing with the dogs is a privilege. The dogs hate it but we give them a fun treat to play with on the other side the separation usually doesn’t have to last long. I say if your kids can’t be gentle then they can’t play with the cat. They are our family members and not toys.  Solidarity, it’s a daily struggle. 

    I would make sure that the cat has a safe place to escape to.  He's obviously trying by going under the bed but apparently they can reach him there. I don't know the logistics of your house but I think you should make a big effort to create a safe space for the cat. 

    You mention that you have talked to your kids and modelled the right behavior. Have you imposed any kind of consequences for tormenting the cat?  A six year old is old enough for a time out, or having screen/TV time taken away, etc.  Maybe the 3 year old too.  I might also try to work on the 6 yo and appeal to his/her greater capacity for self-control, and enlist him/her as an ally.  "Help me to show your little brother how to behave with the cat" etc.  Part of the problem might just be the two of them getting carried away.

    We had the same issue. We made a rule that they could not touch or interact with the cat in any way in the kitchen. That was where his food and water were and he had a cat door from there to the garage to the yard so he had a safe area and an escape route. I taught the cat to walk away in other parts of the house and then I had to teach the kids not to chase him. "when the kitty walks away, he doesn't want to play" I also tried to be extra nice to the cat - extra treats and pets whenever I could manage it. On the rare occasion when he scratched them, I took the cat's side. And of course all the obvious - modeling gently behavior, telling them to always be gentle, cat's body language, etc

    That said, that cat was amazing and really adjusted to the kids. Taught them both to be cat lovers like me.

    The kids are getting big fast, they will learn and this too shall pass

    So, you have been using no punishment? Just something mild like time-out should work. Also, create  a safe spot where the kids can reach the cat or throw stuff at it. A suction perch high up on a window or maybe something over a door or on top the kitchen cabinets. 

    Any of the behaviors you described by our kids against our cats or dogs would be cause for immediate and serious punishment in our house - time out, talking to, loss of favorite toys, loss of dessert, etc. A repeated offense would be cause for an even stricter punishment - permanent loss of favorite toy, no tv for full days, time spent doing cleaning and chores, etc. Maybe you aren’t communicating to your kids the gravity of the situation?

Archived Q&A and Reviews


10 year old won't leave cat alone

Feb 2015

We have a two year old cat that we rescued from a shelter last month. The cat is friendly and healthy. But we are having real challenges with our 10 year old son, who won't leave the cat alone. Examples: repeatedly picking up the cat and taking him (cat) under the covers, until the cat meows. Aggressive rubbing of the cat. Chasing of the cat. Too-hard squeezing of the cat. This poor cat! Prior to getting the cat, our son had to earn the money to get it, and we have sat down and explained MULTIPLE times that cats are living beings, need gentle touch, etc. We have tried taking away electronics privileges for aggressive behavior with the cat, and I have, in my angrier moments, threatened to give the cat away. (Not my finest hour, I'll admit.) We have also instructed him in the appropriate ways to handle the cat --- and yet the problems continue. We are frequently, daily, correcting his behavior with this poor feline. Another variable here is that our son is being tested for possible Asperger's syndrome, and while he isn't obviously on the spectrum, he has inklings of challenges with social cues and few friends. Dear BPN parents, I need help. The thing is, he really loves this cat. And I really love my son, and the cat too, and want them to get along. Your suggestions are most welcome. North Korea, South Korea

Oh my, I understand your issue. I had every intention to raise my son as a ''cat person'' teaching him how to respect cats' space, letting them take the lead, how to pet a cat, not to pick up a cat, etc. I remember when he was a baby I would go over and over demonstrating ''nice kitty'' slow and light petting. The reason I can relate to your issue is that with all of my deliberate teaching methods (and I am very experienced with cats, respect them greatly, and have worked as a cat behaviorist socializing feral cats), my son unfortunately never got it. He, to this day as a teen, terrorizes the cats to the point that the one we got for him 8 years ago runs away when he sees him. Not intentionally, but he has a rough hand with them and they sense that. My advice to you, and this may not be practical at all, but it sounds your son would have a better affinity with a dog. If you love this cat and want to keep it, maybe another pet for your son would distract him from the cat, while at the same time continuing to try to teach him not to pick the cat up at all, and to let the cat decide when it wants pets from him. Another tip is to tell him to get down low at the cat's level and extend his hand - let the cat sniff, before any petting. cat whisperer

Make sure that the cat has some good hiding places, like under the bed or in the back of a closet, then let the kid and the cat work it out. Leave them alone! Most cats will not tolerate being treated poorly. If the cat sticks around when the kid approaches, that means that the cat is fine with the treatment it is getting. Generally, a cat will run and hide, or hiss, or bite and scratch when it is uncomfortable. If you are seeing none of this, the kid and the cat are getting along just fine. Just relax. Let it go. Anon

What's the problem? Is the cat showing (by biting, scratching, growling, or running away) that he doesn't like this treatment from your son? If not, I don't see the issue. He's showing affection in the way he feels comfortable and the cat is OK with it. You seem to think it's not appropriate but if it's bothering your cat it will definitely make that clear by biting or scratching (natural consequences). Otherwise I'd let the cat and your son be. Kat

Toddler is manhandling the kitten

July 2013

Hello all, I am curious to hear other people's experience with teaching their toddlers to be gentle with pets. We have a 16 month old son, a 5 month old kitten and an older cat. We never leave our son alone with our pets but there are times when we can't catch him before he is in contact with the cats.

Our older cat has a clear sense of when to get out of the way of our son. She generally escapes to a perch, furniture or window sill when our son is making a beeline for her. Our new kitten has no sense of self preservation. She flops down on the floor when our son toddlers towards her and doesn't move, even when he is grabbing her or pulling her tail. Our older cat has never scratched, swatted at or tried to bite our son, even the few times he has made contact with her and grabbed her. Our new kitten has only scratched once when she was attempting to squirm out of his grasp.

He is not being malicious and often tries to kiss the kitten in addition to manhandling her. He is genuinely trying to pet or play with the cats, but he doesn't understand to keep his hand open. My husband and I have been modeling good petting techniques, saying ''Gentle'' and ''Keep your hand open'', ''grabbing or pulling hurts the kitty'', etc. I know our son is young, but I wanted to hear if there is anything else we can do, how long it took for your children to learn how to be gentle and what we should do with this gentle kitten who won't escape when she has the chance like our older cat. I really don't want our son to accidentally injure the kitten, but her tendency to flop down on the floor isn't making it easier to keep our son away from her, even when we're in the room.

My husband and I get frustrated and speaking sternly doesn't seem to work. I'm hoping to hear about new techniques to try and about how long it took other kids to learn to be gentle.

trying to teach 'gentle'

Really, the only thing for it is time. I can't remember when our son went from dangerously mangling the cats to just sort of getting up in their space and squeezing a bit too much (he's 5 now) but probably we were mostly out of danger at age 3. One cat puts up with him; the other knows to run.

Make sure the kitten has escape routes and doesn't get backed into a corner. Hopefully she'll learn quickly--and the odds are that she'll learn before your son does!

We went through the same thing with our daughter, now 7, and our two cats. I can tell you that this is the just the age you are dealing with and there is really nothing that you can do other than what you are already doing. Basically, toddlers have little motor control to be able to treat a pet gently, as much as they think they are, and they also don't take direction.

The good news is, our daughter has developed into a child who loves and cares well for her pets and other animals. It is a great thing to be exposed to this early on, as when petless kids come to our house, they never know how to act appropriately and we have to help them with this.

The best advice I can give you is to try to separate your kitten from your toddler when you are not able to 100% supervise, if that is possible. I think that is important for both the short and the long term-- aside from the risk of immediatet injury, you don't want the kitten to grow up to be a cat that distrusts and fears your child.Our two original cats used to often give us a look sometimes that seemed to say, ''What were you thinking, bringing this kid into our house.'' Marie

I have a realistic, not necessarily optimistic answer for you. I am a total cat person. The cat preceded my son in the ''most cared about in household'' role and that, of course, changed the day I brought my baby home from the hospital. My cat was pissed. Who was this new family member getting all the attention? I was determined to be diplomatic. Being the very experienced cat lover that I am, I was prepared to teach my son how to properly handle cats and I was sure I would succeed. I tried for 12 years. From as soon as he coud understand I taught him how to pet the kitty by repeating in the same slow low tone, ''nice kitty''. It didn't work. To this day, at 15, my son has never become the cat lover I had hoped he would be. He terrorizes both my current cats (one of which he picked out 6 years ago to be his cat, but soon freaked the cat out with his sudden movements, loudness, and general unsubtleties that cats are super sensitive to.) He continues to try to ''make friends'' with be cats, but it's a known fact in our household that he will never be a cat person.

Bottom line advice to you is this: Little kids and cats don't mix. But what to do? Try to be respectful of the poor cats and don't let your little boy terrorize them. Maybe try to keep them separated until he gets older. I used to counsel people at the shelter when I worked as a cat behaviorist to wait o adopt ntil their kids were at least 8 years old. kitty mom