Friends or foes: cats and babies

The following video was thrust upon me via my facebook feed yesterday and it shows a cat very sweetly comforting a baby.

Since Elphie’s arrival, a number of you have been wondering how Carrie, our cat, has been coping – is she patting her to sleep for instance. Obviously we had done none of the cat preparation techniques I had planned in my blog post on the subject as I had planned to do all of that while on maternity leave, so the cat was entirely unprepared for her world to be rocked when a little grub-like human turned up in a car seat.

The first few nights were, one could say, challenging. Carrie was confused about the sleeping arrangements – I had moved onto Fred’s side of the bed which she knew she wasn’t allowed on, but her territory (my side of the bed) now had Fred on it – so was she allowed on it or not? Confounding!

Then there was the screaming, Carrie was very distressed by the screaming. Generally she had decided to give the grub a wide birth, but the screaming was too much – something needed to be done, but what?

As Elphie screamed, Carrie would make her assault on the bed to investigate but she would never get far enough for us to work out what she was planning to do as we’d always fend her off. Her behaviour was particularly bizarre when Fred had the screaming baby – she would advance, he would be cradling the baby in his arms, Carrie would bite his arms. Cue much pushing of the cat off the bed both in defence of Elphie and self-defence. This unfortunately resulted in at least one cat-radiator confrontation where the cat was fine but less well off than the radiator and extremely confused about what was going on.

It is difficult to tell if the biting was a sign of aggression towards the baby or towards Fred for causing the baby to cry (or not making it stop). One of the midwives told me a story about one of her home visits where she had done a blood test (done via pricking the baby’s foot and drawing drops of blood from it) which the baby was unsurprisingly not too keen on and screaming blue murder as a result. The cat, who had been on the other side of the room, launched herself on the midwife in defence of the baby, at least as the midwife saw it, because the cat thought she was hurting the baby.

After the first few nights, Carrie decided to get depressed about the whole thing – she slept downstairs and avoided the bedroom, refused to eat the little wet food we remembered to give her (she did had dry food – we aren’t that cruel!), and stopped caring for her coat resulting in matted dreadlocks, accompanied by occasionally hissing at the two of us.

Following her blue phase, Carrie has now seemingly resigned herself to her unfortunate fate. We have upped the affection we bestow on her, she is back eating, will allow herself to be groomed and is accepting strokes from any visitors (although the tummy is strictly verboten however much she offers it – this is a really good article on why she offers her tummy and then attacks when people try to stroke it summed up by: “From the cat’s point of view, they have extended their hand for a handshake, and gotten a full body hug with some outrageous fondling of their person. No one likes that.”, anyway I digress).
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She rarely approaches the baby up close, very occasionally venturing up for a sniff or to rub herself against Elphie’s little feet. Indeed baby stuff is generally avoided – with the only exception being the baby gym which although carefully avoided while baby was on it, was too tempting with its dangling bits and bright colours – when Elphie was away; Carrie could play (the cat seems to be getting more pleasure from it than the baby at the moment).

So we have entered some form of equilibrium. I don’t think Carrie intends to be aggressive to Elphie, but I never leave them alone together for too long in case I’m wrong!

In any case, I certainly won’t be permitting any of this kind of shenanigan from this video. It is very cute, but you have to be one trusting parent to allow your cat to interact with your baby like this – personally I wouldn’t let our temperamental feline do this, because, well, she’s temperamental!

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