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My children are aged 14 months and 3 years. What are possible risks to their health from having an indoor cat?

I had many cats when I was a child but they lived in the garden - they came inside from time to time to play but that's all. I live in the UK if that helps.

  • Of course there are "bad" sides - allergies and scratches come to mind. But as with all decisions, you should perhaps weigh risks and benefits and probably phrase your question a bit more openly? – Stephie Aug 25 '15 at 12:42
  • Teeth and claws are the most serious threats, of course. Start with a kitten or very young cat so it "grows up" with the kids. The other option is to get the cat first, and have it slowly get used to the new baby, but that's not an option for you any more. – JPhi1618 Aug 25 '15 at 15:34
  • I personally wouldn't recommend a kitten with a child. With dogs there is some logic in that - though I question even that in smaller dogs - but with cats, an older cat is going to be a lot safer for the child, and given housecats are newborn-size or smaller typically [though sometimes heavier], size isn't an issue. – Joe Aug 26 '15 at 20:27
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Actually, most studies show the opposite - that having a pet is good for children's health. Specifically, kids exposed to animals when young have a lower risk for developing pet related allergies later in life, and pets in general have been shown to lower stress levels.

There are a few diseases that can be passed from a cat to a child, but for a cat who is healthy, vaccinated, and kept indoors, the risk of contracting one of these is very low. A cat should have regular visits to a veterinarian to keep up with vaccinations (e.g. rabies in the US) and be checked/treated for parasites (fleas, worms); the vet will know what vaccinations are required and/or recommended, which will depend on where you live.

The largest potential for a problem is with scratches. Cat scratches can easily become infected, so make sure to thoroughly clean any scratches, and supervise the kids when they are still too little to understand not to pull the cat's tail. That plus keeping the litter box in areas inaccessible to the kids should help keep both little ones and kitties happy and safe.

Here are some relevant articles:

The Positive Effects of Pet Ownership for Kids

Child Safety and Health around Pets – includes safety precautions.

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    "keeping the litter box in areas inaccessible to the kids " and the cat's food and water -- cat biscuits seem to appeal to toddlers and can be assumed to be covered in cat spit. – Chris H Aug 25 '15 at 15:33
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    Please note that almost all kittens start their life with worms, and you want to make sure you test and deworm any cat in your house. Most cat shelters in the US starts deworming for kittens and adult cats. If you get a cat from a private person, make sure to inquire about deworming and vaccinations (and possibly flea control), and continue that treatment as directed by your vet. Properly treated there is almost no risk. – Ida Aug 25 '15 at 19:26
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    "A cat should be vaccinated against rabies" -- for what it's worth, since the question refers to the UK there is no need to vaccinate cats for rabies unless they travel abroad. But the vet will worry about all that anyway, you just show up and say "vaccinate this". – Steve Jessop Aug 26 '15 at 15:30
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    @swilliams The UK is generally considered to be free of rabies with the exception of the odd case that pops up every now and then. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prevalence_of_rabies#United_Kingdom. As a result there is some pretty strict quarantining if you want to bring animals (pets) into the UK. – Digital Trauma Aug 26 '15 at 21:39
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    AFAIK the only rabies source in the UK is a particular species of bat, and twelve (yes, 12) rabies-carrying bats have been found in the UK since 1986. Unfortunately one of them bit and killed a bat worker, so if your cat wants a job as a bat-handler then current advice might be to vaccinate. Crucially, our foxes don't have rabies and we don't have raccoons (which are a source in the US) so there's basically no way a pet will get infected. – Steve Jessop Aug 27 '15 at 7:53
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Most kids will be just fine - in fact, you may lower their risks of allergies. An outdoor cat is actually more of a health hazard than an indoor cat, because they have access to wild prey which can transmit diseases like toxoplasmosis. Even so, the risk is minimal as long as the child doesn't have access to the cat's poop. So either put the litterbox up out of reach or in a room blocked by a babygate.

Subjectively, though, I'd say indoor cats can sometimes be more psychologically unstable than outdoor cats. The big reason is exercise - outdoor cats can get as much exercise as they want by wandering around outsde, while an indoor cat can sometimes get stir-crazy and start showing inappropriate behaviour out of sheer restlessness. The solution is to make sure your cat gets regular playtime. You could even teach your kids to wave around a cat toy - I've seen some really cute Youtube videos of toddlers or even younger babies waving around a cat wand and giggling whenever the cat attacks it.

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Allergies to cats are believed by many sourced to be cause by saliva, urine and dander. Allergies to pollen brought in on cat's fur have also occaisionally been mistaken for an actual allergy to cat's fur itself. Before I suggest strategies to help combat allergies, I'd like to stress the importance of actually be sure as whether your child has an allergy first and to be sure of what's causing it. If you start tackling the wrong problem you would not only be putting yourself, your children and your cat through unneccesary measures, but your child's condition could be worsening in the mean time.

You can help mittigate the risk of a reaction to urine by making sure your cat is toilet trained and its litter tray is kept away from your children (which you should do anyway). If the cat was able to go outside to defecate and urinate this would be less of an issue as it may be more likely to go further afield to do so. Age plays a factor here as well since older cats are more likely to become incontenant or to be less picky about where they excrete.

A well groomed cat should have less dander and most cats are perfectly capable of grooming themselves unless unhappy or unwell. If you suspect dander to be an issue you can buy cat combs and help groom your cat (but don't force your cat to be groomed if it doesn't like being groomed).

Saliva is harder to guard against, but keeping the child away from the cat's food and away from the cat when it is about to be fed can help. (Animals such as dogs and cats often pick up on signals that give away when they are about to be fed, which tends to cause them to salivate, as proven by Igor Pavlov's experiments in the classical conditioning of dogs). It's harder to keep the child away from a cat when it is grooming, the best way to achieve that would be to teach the child to be careful.

If you suspect your child might have an allergy, you should take the child to a doctor first to confirm the diagnosis. The doctor may also prescribe allergy medication which would be beneficial and perhaps provide additional information.

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