We all know that kids love to physically handle things quite aggressively. Just watch a toddler play with their toys. The way they strangle their stuffed animals and toss around their action figures is not quite “cat-friendly.”
Fortunately, none of that stuff bites back. But a cat might. Here are three reasons why you should never let your kid squeeze the family cat.
1. No squeeze, no bite (or scratch)
Kiddos love wrestling and cuddling with their feline pals, but when they get too pushy, your cat may not be gentle with the warning. If your child places sudden, unwanted pressure anywhere on the cat’s body, the kitty is likely to react out of fear.
Your kid may have accidentally hurt their pet by hugging it a bit too tightly or perhaps grabbing a paw a little too firmly. This could lead the cat to believe that your child is intentionally trying to hurt it. So, naturally, the cat is going to fight back.
Such interactions can lead to nasty scratches or bites, which can snowball into even worse problems like infections or “cat scratch disease.”
Bite and scratch injuries are alarmingly common in the US. Each year, an estimated 400,000 cat bites occur. These are significantly more prone to infection than human and dog bites, reaching up to a 50% infection rate.
Animal bites are well-known for introducing several types of bacteria into the wound, which presents a separate category of disease risk entirely. What’s worse about cat injuries, especially compared to humans’ and dogs’, is that cats tend to have much longer teeth and claws.
This means your child is more likely to get a puncture wound, creating a deep gash or laceration that is tougher to clean and, of course, much more painful. Your kid might need stitches in such cases and may even need a tetanus shot if their last one is over five years old.
Plus, if you’re not prepared to clean the wound with saline or sterile water immediately, your kid is at risk of further bleeding, fever, swollen lymph nodes, and the onset of infection within 12-24 hours.
While accidents can never be 100% preventable, there’s a lot you can do to reduce your child’s chances of getting bitten or scratched by your cat. Set an example of appropriate interactions with the kitty by demonstrating gentle touches, and explicitly discourage your kid from holding the animal or its body parts too tightly.
2. Possible injuries for the cat
Your child’s not the only one who could be hurt in excessively forceful interactions with the cat. You’ve got to think about your fur baby's wellbeing, too. This applies to your cat’s physical and mental state.
Even “scruffing,” the act of lifting a cat by the extra folds of skin you can squish together at the back of its neck, has been condemned as harmful to cats’ relationships with their humans. Veterinarians say that scruffing induces fear and stress and triggers a “behavioral shutdown,” contrary to the relaxation that people have assumed for years.
Lifting the cat in a similarly uncomfortable manner, including the various ways your little one might devise, could inspire the same terrified reaction. This is damaging to your cat’s mental health, disrupting its ability to feel safe and secure in the home. Instead, it must always be on-edge, ready for the next moment it’s going to be lifted off the floor so unpleasantly.
On that note, your child is likely to physically harm your cat by squeezing it, whether it’s an adult or kitten. However, kittens are far more fragile since their little bodies are still developing. (This is why American Humane suggests cats that are two years or older are best for kids under five to six years old.)
Because of this, kittens are more likely to end up with soft tissue injuries or sprains from rough handling. Such injuries can lead to bruising, inflammation, limping, and tenderness in certain parts of the body.
If your child wants to cuddle up with the family cat, demonstrate the best practices to prevent any surprise veterinary visits.
3. Rough handling = rough play
The last thing you want is for your cat to think it’s acceptable to nibble and swat at humans. Rough-and-tumble physical activities, such as squeezing it tightly, might send the wrong message. This is especially likely if you or your child is the type to giggle with uncertainty when your cat nips you after you’ve squeezed its leg, tail, or whole body unexpectedly.
The lack of correction and the appearance that you’ve backed down from the cat’s “disciplinary” or defensive behavior suggests that you either approve of it or it’s effective in getting the cat what it wants. In other words, your cat is now the boss.Teaching your cat appropriate play behaviors looks a little more like this:
- Whenever you play with your cat, you should be using a toy, such as a “fishing pole-type” toy with chase-able feathers or a similar item that’ll awaken your cat’s inner hunter. Never allow your cat to pounce on your hands or another part of your or your child’s body.
- If your cat does pounce on you or nip you, walk away and don’t pay it any attention. This will end the interaction, letting the cat know that the behavior was not acceptable.
- Never physically discipline your cat, even if it does happen to nip you. Such a reaction will only make matters worse, resulting in many of the same problems that come from squeezing. Fear-based training is not healthy for your fur-baby.
Teaching Your Child Cat-Friendly Play Behaviors
The best way to prevent your child from accidentally hurting your cat is to offer guidance in their interactions with the family pet. Additionally, it’s best to supervise playtime between your little ones (the ones with and without fur).
Even if you trust your pets and kids, it’s never a good idea to leave cats and children alone since your child may not know how to read your cat’s behavioral warning signs. Plus, if anything does happen, you’ll be available right away to wash and clean the wound and take your child to the hospital as soon as possible.
One behavior that commonly precedes kids squeezing cats is chasing. Stopping unwanted pursuits is the first step in getting your child to establish healthy boundaries between themselves and their feline friend.
Explain to your child that when the cat walks away from playtime, it’s politely excusing itself – not asking to be followed. This will give your cat more opportunities to disengage and decompress if playtime got a bit too crazy.
(Hint: Making a designated “safe room” for your cat will make this even easier. This will help establish clear boundaries for your child. For example, you can suggest to your kid that when the cat goes to its “calm room,” it’s best to find something else to entertain themself for a while.)
Remember that squeezing is not the only behavior you want to discourage when playing with cats. Coach your child on how to stroke the cat’s coat without squeezing the fur, how to avoid tail-pulling, and why they shouldn’t try to pick the cat up. It’s also best to give your child pointers on what parts of the body are most vulnerable to pain or discomfort, such as the belly, tail, ears, and paws.
Teach Your Child the Proper Way to Lift a Cat
None of this is to say that your child will never be allowed to snuggle the family cat again. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Give your kid the proper know-how to safely pick up the kitty, and all will be well.
The main pointer you want to get across to your child is that the cat needs support under both the front and back legs. Lifting the animal by cupping their hands under its armpits or wrapping their arms around its waist or chest is much more likely to lead to injuries.
Additionally – this might sound silly – you need to be sure that your child is strong enough to lift the cat. Kids who are trying to overcompensate for their inability to support the cat’s weight are more inclined to squeeze it as they attempt to maintain a firm grip. This can be painful for the kitty.
So, it’s best to discourage younger children from picking up the pets at all. If your toddler really needs to get closer to the cat, sit next to the child on the couch or floor and place the cat in their lap.
Avoid Rolling the Cat on Its Back
Perhaps one of the most important things that your child will need to learn about their feline housemates is that they are not like dogs. Fido might love being rolled over onto its back for a belly rub, but a cat is less likely to respond well.
If a cat wants to roll over, it will do it on its own time. Oftentimes, it’s meant as an invitation for interaction. This is why forcing the animal to roll over can violate its personal space, in a way, and damage its relationship with the person. You don’t want to force such a display of trust at the wrong time.
Dr. Sharon Crowell-Davis, DVM, DACVB, a professor at the University of Georgia’s College of Veterinary Medicine, told VetStreet, “It can be a way of showing submission, and it can also be a way of inviting play… They’re basically saying, ‘Hey, play with me.’”
Kids squeeze cats all the time, unfortunately. Since many children aren’t strong enough to properly lift a cat or simply play too roughly, they often injure themselves or the family pet accidentally by squeezing its body too tightly.
This may seem like an innocent mistake, but it can have some pretty severe consequences if the cat reacts in fear. Teach your child how to play and interact appropriately with the family cat to keep everyone, human and feline alike, safe and happy.
About the Author
My name is Jazmin "Sunny" Murphy, and I am a science communicator and web content writer. Since 2015, I've been producing scientific content that is written in plain English. My love for life science has influenced my professional and academic aspirations since I was a kid. I hold a Bachelor of Science in Zoology and 21 units of a Master's education in Environmental Policy & Management (concentration: Fish and Wildlife Management). You can learn more about me and my science writing and reporting work at my website, Black Flower Writing Services.