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How Do I Give My Cat Space From My Rough Toddler?

Today’s column is brought to you by Gaea Stephens, an expert in the art of living with a toddler. Gaea is an (almost) 14 year old cat who lives in the Southern VT/NH area. She lives with her human parents, their 2 1/2 year old daughter and an enormous dog. She spends her days sleeping, eating, loving and plotting.

gaeaQ: Dear Gaea,
My toddler tends to play rough with our cat– tugging her tail, squeezing her, etc. The cat takes it like a champ, but I want to make sure she’s as happy as she can be. What can I do to ensure that my cat has ample space from my terrorizing toddler?

A: Sounds like you have a pretty great kitty and a toddler brimming with love for her. Just like kittens, human children show their love through rough play. What seems mean to a human adult can be seen as a sign of love for a toddler. And sometimes, love hurts!

Make sure that your feline friend has plenty of places to take respite from the rambunctious toddler. In my house my human parents allow me to hide in their room if I need some space. They have also provided vertical real estate for me– perches high enough that the tot can’t reach but I can still feel like part of the family.

Trust me when I tell you that your kitty will openly express her disdain if the kiddo takes things too far. I usually give a quick claw-free tap or a loud vocalization as a warning. I also show other signs such as flattening my ears and ceasing all purring. I have even been known to fluff up my tail and hiss a little when she gets really crazy. That is when the humans step in and remind their little one to be gentle with me. More often than not though, I really enjoy my little person’s company and affection. 


  1. Rachel | | Reply

    Love it! I like the reminder that our cats really do love our kids. My toddler adores her catfriends and they can generally be found hovering around her, so it seems to be mutual. The only times they have injured her is when she accidentally seems to have triggered a hunting impulse. So if she is under them and making noises, then sometimes she’ll get the claws, but for the most part, they clearly don’t want to hurt her. A little guidance for her and a clear escape route for them does wonders for their relationship.

    Loving and caring for cats is an amazing learning opportunity for children. I am always sad when I read of people rehoming their cats when they find out they are pregnant, because their kid is going to be missing out on a great friend and the cat is losing their wonderful home, through no fault of their own. Thanks for writing this column Nora, I hope it helps lots of toddler-cat families out there!

    • Nora | | Reply

      Thanks, Rachel! I’m glad you mentioned the hunter instinct. Lots of people think that we are just being mean or spiteful when we scratch or bite– but the truth is that we’re just wild at heart and our hunter instincts sometimes get the best of us.
      I’ve never lived with a toddler myself, so I’m grateful that Gaea was able to give us her expert knowledge. –Nora

  2. Megan | | Reply

    Baby Gates! I had baby gates everywhere! We have a boxy house, so several well placed baby gates kept my son from being able to chase our cats. They always had a way to escape from him. I also tried to teach him to leave the cats alone when they were sleeping or sitting/perching in certain areas (ie: favorite spot on couch) as the territorial instinct would kick in. When my son was in a particular rowdy mood, I encourage my cats to disappear on their own, or I place myself in between them. For instance, on the couch, I would purposely sit close to where they would perch so I could protect them from my son jumping all over the place. If he was rowdy in his own room, I would kick the cats out. Safety for both is key to happiness. We are very lucky, the most he has even gotten was hissed at for being disturbed and a gentle no-claw tap on the head.

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