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There is an old myth that cats can climb into cribs and “suck the air” out of babies. While this is generally considered an old wives’ tale, it may have a basis in fact. Cats are either cuddly creatures or aloof pets, depending on their temperament. Cuddly creatures enjoy snuggling up to other cuddly creatures, including babies. Since very young infants are incapable of turning their heads or moving their bodies away from the cat, the danger of suffocation does exist. Additionally, some babies may be sensitive to cat hair or dander, both of which will be deposited on the sheets when your cat naps.

So how do you keep the cat out of the crib?

During pregnancy, you can start preparing your home (and your cat) for the introduction of the new family member. Be very consistent about keeping the cat out of the baby’s crib. Resist the temptation to put the sheets and crib blanket on just yet – cats love to curl up on beds and new places. Conversely, most cats despise plastic and will not lie on the uncovered, plastic mattress.

If you’ve already caught your feline drowsing in the crib, take steps to prevent it from happening again. Placing soda cans or inflated balloons in the crib will deliver a shock the first time she jumps in, and probably keep her from returning. You can also try placing double-sided tape on the mattress, which annoys cats. Keep the room relatively cool – cats prefer warmth – and allow your cat to explore the nursery while maintaining the crib as an off-limits area.

While keeping the door closed will work as a short-term measure, keep in mind that this may only heighten your cat’s natural curiosity and make her even more eager to explore the treasures behind the closed door.

Squirt bottles of water are a tried and true technique for teaching your cats certain behaviors are off-limits. Keep the bottle handy and squirt the cat when you catch her in the crib. Be careful, however, that you don’t spray the cat when she gets near the baby: like toddlers, cats are natural explorers and curious about their surroundings. Allow your cat to familiarize herself with the baby. When your bundle of joy becomes a bundle of energy, your cat will be more accustomed to him as a family member, instead of an untouchable object.

If you’ve tried these measures and they haven’t worked, or you’re looking for a little extra reassurance, many child safety companies and baby stores sell “tents” that you can position over the crib to keep the cat from jumping in. You can use these tents for several months, until your baby is able to turn over or thrash about on her own. Cats hate having their sleep disturbed and most likely won’t want to cuddle with a wriggly baby.

Once your infant is old enough to take an interest in the cat, teach her how to befriend the cat by being a good role model. Never hit your cat or pull her tail, even in fun; this teaches children that animal abuse is an acceptable behavior. Early on, allow her to pet the cat (if Kitty will allow it) with short, soft strokes and simple, repetitious words, such as “Pet nice” or “Nice kitty.”

Although cats themselves rarely pose any danger to infants, it’s always a good idea to keep a close watch when baby and kitty are together. Infants are unable to grasp basic concepts of “nice” and “not nice,” while toddlers may gleefully pull on a cat’s tail just to see what happens. Watch out for cat bites and scratches – clean them thoroughly and contact your pediatrician should this happen. Spay or neuter your cat before the baby comes; this will reduce many aggressive behaviors and help prevent your cat from urinating on baby’s belongings or on the carpet.

Don’t forget one of the most important aspects of pet ownership: love your cat. Continue to provide affection and attention to your feline, so she doesn’t feel “pushed out” by the baby and exhibit aggressiveness toward him. Establish a personal space for your cat out of the baby’s reach – a new bed, a high perch, a soft blanket atop a dresser – so that she has a place to “escape” from the stresses of baby.