Kids love pets. But is it a good idea to let your child have a pet cat? Do cats make suitable pets for kids—if so, why, and if not, why not?
Are cats good pets for children? They can be. Cats can teach children empathy, respect and responsibility from a young age. Even young children can take care of cats by grooming them and feeding them. However, cats don’t like sudden movements, can be independent and aloof, and don’t always do what people want; this can cause problems for children. As such, whether a cat is a good pet for your child depends on your child. Talk with them and decide on who has what responsibility, and make things easy for your child e.g. by keeping care tools like brushes and can openers where the child can access them.
The guide below first looks at how cats get along with kids, with specific reference to babies, toddlers and teenagers. It also looks at why cats make good pets for kids and why not. To finish, we’ll help you decide whether to get a cat for your family or not, and how to teach children to take care of cats if you do.
Are Cats Good Pets for Kids?
Cats can make great pets for kids. They can provide companionship, teach your child to be responsible and caring, and be a bundle of fun the whole family can enjoy caring for.
At the same time, cats can be tricky pets to care for. They are more independent than dogs, and don’t do things just because you want them to. They also don’t readily take to rough play and sudden movements, which is a problem for kids.
Ultimately, whether a cat will be a good pet for your child depends on your child. If your child is mature, responsible, caring and accepting then a cat would be a good choice. If they’re not quite there yet, then you could consider getting your child a ‘starter pet’ like a hamster instead.
Are Cats Good Pets for Babies?
Babies tend to like pets. Newborns can hardly see a thing, so don’t have much of an opinion either way. And once babies start to pay attention to the world, everything is new to them, so they’ll find cats interesting as they find everything interesting.
As for cats, most cats don’t mind babies. They don’t do an awful lot for the cat to be annoyed by. The only thing that the cat might not like is when the baby cries, but it can at least head to another room (an option you don’t have!) when the baby starts to wail.
The only problem is that you may not know whether your baby is allergic to cats. You don’t want to bring the cat home only to find out that your baby is allergic. This isn’t a problem with older children as they will have encountered cats already and you’ll know whether they’re allergic or not.
Are Cats Good Pets for Toddlers?
Cats don’t make great pets for toddlers.
To be clear, most toddlers love cats. Toddlers are fascinated by the world around them, so having a living, breathing pet in the house is almost always amazing for them. The problem is that a toddler is most cats’ worst nightmare. Cats hate:
- Being chased
- Having their whiskers pulled
- Having their tails pulled
- Being prodded and poked
- Being petted in certain places like the belly by people they don’t trust
- Sudden movements
- Loud noises
…So as you can imagine, they don’t like toddlers either. Some cats can tolerate toddlers, and some can even like them, but the majority find them difficult to live with. You should therefore think carefully about whether getting a cat is a good idea if you already have a toddler.
Are Cats Good Pets for Teenagers?
Cats can make great pets for teenagers. It just depends on your child’s personality.
Some teenagers would very much appreciate the companionship they can get from a cat. Some would also enjoy the opportunity to take some extra responsibility in caring for the cat themselves. And if your teenage child wants to take even more responsibility, then they can be in charge of things like buying food, paying for the cat’s care, and taking it to the vet. These are all things that younger children can’t do.
At the same time, some teenagers don’t want to spend their time looking after a pet. It can be difficult to motivate your teenage child to do anything, let alone taking care of a living and breathing being. You/they may also feel it’s unfair for them to spend their allowance, or the small amount of money they get from a part time job, on looking after a cat.
The good news is that you can talk to your child at this point. You can involve them in the decision making process far more than you can with a child under 10. You can figure out what responsibilities they will take, which will be left to you, how much of their own money they’ll have to spend, and so on. Just try not to let it turn into an argument!
Why Are Cats Good Pets for Kids?
Even if you think cats aren’t good pets for kids overall, you have to admit that there are individual reasons as to why they’re good.
Pets Can Be a Child’s Best Friend
Cats can provide companionship to children. Kids love to take care of things, and in doing so build up a strong bond with their cats. That applies especially to only children. Only children can get bored at home, and have to make their own fun; a cat can break that monotony.
The flip side of this is that pets, of course, can pass away. But as the old adage goes, it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. The passing of pets can also help children understand what it means to pass away, which is an essential life lesson it’s important for them to learn before they’re older.
Cats Help Children Learn Respect & Empathy
What’s especially great about cats is what they can teach your child.
Cats aren’t like other pets. They rarely put up with things if they don’t like or want them. A dog will learn commands just to please you, and will go along with whatever you want. Cats, though, are more likely to ‘argue’ their corner. That means a cat won’t play when it doesn’t want to play, it won’t let your child pet it if it doesn’t want to be pet, and it won’t let anybody pick it up if it doesn’t want to be picked up.
On the one hand, it’s nice to have an easy-going pet that doesn’t go against your wishes. But at the same time this can be an important life lesson for your children. You can teach them to respect what the cat wants, and that it’s important to do so solely because that’s what the cat wants. There are all sorts of ways this is relevant:
- Cats almost never scratch for no reason. They typically only do so when they feel defensive, which most often occurs when you try to force them to do something (be pet, be picked up and so on). Most parents would teach their child that the cat is mean, naughty or nasty; you can teach your child to respect your cat’s boundaries.
- Some cats have things they never like, even if they’re your good friend. That could be something like belly tickles or being picked up. Instead of training the cat or forcing it to accept these things, you can tell your child that it’s OK for your cat to feel that way.
- Cats don’t always want to play. You can try forcing them, but it almost never works. Instead, tell your child that your cat has its own wants and needs—and right now it wants to sleep or clean itself.
The flip side of respect is empathy. Empathy is to relate to what your cat (or another person) feels, whether you disagree with them or not; it’s to respect what your cat feels even if you don’t feel the exact same feeling yourself. This is a very important life lesson for your child to learn, as empathy can be a hard-to-find trait!
Cats Help Children Learn Responsibility
Cats also help children learn responsibility. Your child can learn what it means to take care of another living being: to feed it, house it, and ensure its welfare. This can be a part of the bargain your child makes when you initially get them the pet they’ve been begging for: they can have it, so long as they take responsibility for it.
This isn’t something your child can do alone, nor is it something that will necessarily come naturally to your child. Your involvement is therefore necessary. But with some small pushes from your side, your child can soon take care of many of the cat’s needs on its own: things like feeding the cat, buying it new cat toys, buying it new cat furniture, and checking that it isn’t obviously ill. Other ways you can help them learn include:
- Learning about money. You can bring your child along to a vet’s visit and let them see how much it costs. The same goes for buying cat food and toys.
- Learning about health. It can be one of your child’s jobs to give the cat occasional once-overs to check that it’s healthy. That can mean combing its fur with a flea comb to check for fleas and eggs, checking its ears for lice, checking its fur for ticks, and making sure it doesn’t have any soft tissue injuries.
- Learning about self-care. The pet-person relationship is about the person, too. When your cat scratches your child, your child can learn how to clean and dress a cut/scratch. You can also talk to them about how they feel when their cat rejects them—when it doesn’t want to play, for example—and how to deal with that emotion.
These are all things that your child would have to learn another way if they didn’t have a cat.
Taking care of a cat will also teach your child independence, which is the same thing as responsibility in some ways, but not in others. While you will obviously do some things for the cat, there are certain things that your child can take care of all by themselves. You could empty the litter tray, which is admittedly a disgusting job, while your child could feed the cat. If you show them how, your child can eventually do that on their own without your input.
Why Are Cats Not Good Pets For Kids?
There are, of course, many reasons why you should consider a different pet for your child.
Cats Aren’t Entry-Level Pets
If you want your child to learn responsibility, it may be best to start off with a different pet first. That’s because cats have complex personalities and care needs that may be beyond your child’s ability to control. That’s why most parents start their child off with something simpler like a hamster.
Take your cat’s personality, for example. Cats don’t like sudden movements or rough play; your child might not yet be able to rein in those impulses. Cats can be hot and cold, wanting to be pet one day, but not the next, and this can be hard for children to understand and accept. Cats also often want alone time, which again can be difficult for children.
Since there are pets that don’t have these complex personalities/wants/needs, it may be best to start with one of those instead. Then when your child is older, you could consider moving them ‘up a grade’ to a pet like a cat.
Cats Are Expensive Pets
Cats can be very expensive to take care of, especially if you’re getting a purebred cat (as children often want). You have everyday costs like buying food for your cat, buying it new toys and beds, and getting it treats. But the biggest cost by far is veterinary care. If your cat has any health problems, it can cost thousands of dollars to put them right.
Admittedly, this is more relevant to you than to your child. But if you want to teach your child about money, it might be best to start small, literally with a smaller pet. Your child can pay for things like hay for a hamster from their allowance, for example, and veterinary care is often cheaper too.
Should You Get a Cat For a Child?
Ultimately, this is your choice. There are good arguments both for and against, so the decision comes down to your personal situation and the wishes of your family.
What is true, though, is that you probably shouldn’t get a cat if you don’t want one. If you’re only getting one for your child, be aware that you’ll be the one spending the most time feeding and caring for the cat. Children often promise to do anything you might like them to, only to go back on that later on when they realize how much work cats are. That’s not because your child is bad, or made a bad choice; it’s because children don’t yet have the life experience necessary to make rational decisions. They want a cat, so they have to have one!
Rather, getting a cat should be a family decision. If your family want a cat, then get one.
How to Say No To a Child Who Wants a Cat
This, obviously, is the difficult part. You probably know that there are good reasons to tell your child that they can’t have a cat, but at the same time, they do really want one.
This isn’t a site about parenting advice, so we can’t give an expert opinion. But there are a few things you could try. You could try compromising, in that you promise to get your child another pet like a hamster or a guinea pig. You can then tell them that when they’re ready, they can have a cat when they’re older. If you have to say no to the idea of giving your child any kind of pet, then they’ll be sad, but they’ll get over it in time.
You could also try working around the problem by encouraging somebody else in your family to get a cat. If your parents/the child’s grandparents have always wanted a cat but never gotten one, you could ask them if they would now. Your child would be able to visit them and see the cat frequently. Failing all that, just try explaining the problem to your child: that cats are very expensive and you don’t have the money right now, for example, or that you don’t have the time. Children often understand more than they’re given credit for!
How to Teach a Child to Take Care Of a Cat
If you are going to get your child a cat, you have to take an active role in teaching them how to take care of it.
Decide On What’s Reasonable For Your Child To Do
You should start by deciding on what your child can help with, and what they can’t. This depends on your child’s maturity level and what they can physically do. So, for example, your child may have the concentration level needed to groom the cat, but be physically unable to open a tin of cat food to feed their cat. A toddler therefore will hardly be able to help, while a teenager should be able to do most things on their own.
This is something for you and your child to decide on together. Doing so from the very beginning will stop your child from feeling overwhelmed by certain tasks they can’t do. Things you could potentially decide on include:
- Whether your child will feed the cat
- Whether your child will groom the cat
- Whether your child will help you shop for cat food
- Whether your child will come with you to the vet
- Whether your child will teach the cat things like learning to use the litter tray
- Whether your child will teach the cat things like tricks
- Whether your child will empty the litter tray when it’s full
You can also set out future responsibilities. So, your child may not be able to feed the cat now, but they could in the future. Children love taking care of pets and will relish the idea that they can do more and more as they grow up.
Make Things Easy For Your Child
There are ways you can make caring for a cat much easier for your child. These will encourage it to take a more active role instead of relying on you for help.
One example is how you feed your cat. Children can struggle to use can openers, because they’re designed for big hands. You could consider buying a new kind of can opener that’s easier for them to hold, only buying easy-open cans with ring pulls, or buying a kitchen gadget that opens cans for you. Be sure to tell your child to be careful with the edges of the cans they open, though, no matter how they open them.
You should also make everything that your child needs accessible for them. This is especially relevant for younger children. The grooming brush, can opener, litter tray and everything else should all be stored somewhere that your child has easy access to. That way, they won’t have to pester you every time they need to do something for the cat. That encourages their independence, which is good.
Monitor Your Child—At Least At First
If your child has never looked after anything before, they will almost certainly struggle to look after their cat. While they will get used to the idea, you don’t want them to get off on the wrong foot. A cat’s first impression of a person can be hard to overcome.
You should therefore monitor and guide your child to begin with. Start by taking an active role, showing and telling your child how to do certain tasks. You can then take a back seat and only help when your child gets stuck or asks you a question. Eventually, they will learn to do all these things on their own, and you won’t need to monitor them at all.
This isn’t just for the sake of your cat, but for your child too! Children can thrive when they get the opportunity to show you that they’re capable. That can mean it’s good for you to step back and avoid ‘helicoptering’ your child—so long as they’re not making big and obvious mistakes!