Can cats and children live together happily? They can! Here are some tips to help you select the right kitty. Keep an eye out for our next post about tools to help feline(s) and children develop a good relationship.

Choosing a Cat

Each cat has an individual personality. You’ll want to select a cat who is confident enough to bounce back easily from surprising or scary things they might encounter while your child is learning how to interact kindly with them. To look for a confident cat, watch for relaxed posture and a tail held high in the air, particularly when the cat comes up to greet you or your child. This is a cat who feels like they can handle the situation.

Not all cats will come up to you right away, though. If you’re approaching a cat, watch the ears: are they perked up curiously? An alarmed, grouchy, or frightened cat will swivel their ears out to the side, or sometimes all the way back:


Willy’s ears are out to the side and he’s ready to flee. If anyone tries to touch him right now, he may defend himself by swatting or biting if he feels he can’t get away. Willy may be willing to make friends with a patient, gentle adult, but he’s not a good candidate to live with children. The best way to help a cat like Willy when you’re visiting the shelter with a child is to model respectful behavior by not trying to pet this cat, and keep the child from encroaching on the cat’s space.


Jade’s ears indicate that she doesn’t want to be petted right now. She is not poised to flee, but she still may swat someone who reaches into her space at the moment. Jade is more likely to learn to tolerate a child than Willy, although she may not really want to interact with them.


Spaghetti’s ears are forward, her body is relaxed, and she’s kneading the air with her paws. Spaghetti is ready for you to pet her head (not her tummy!), or invite her to play with a jingle ball or wand toy. Try spending more time with a kitty who’s showing this kind of body language! They are likely to be tolerant, and even willing to play or snuggle with a child.


Thinking about kittens? A word of warning – small kittens sure are cute and cuddly, but they are also easily overwhelmed by a child. Rough play teaches kittens that they need to defend themselves from reaching hands that are much bigger and stronger than a kitten, and you may find that your gentle little 12 week old fuzzball has grown into a 10 month old ball of claws with a short fuse. Sometimes it’s better to choose an adult cat who has the ability to get up and leave an uncomfortable situation rather than a kitten who doesn’t know how – or may not be able to.

Even if your child can play appropriately with a kitten, consider getting a pair rather than a single kitten. Your child won’t be able to provide all the interaction an active young cat needs, and having another feline who’s ready to play pounce-and-tackle at 3 am can save you from a variety of behavioral challenges later on. For more about paired kittens, see our post about choosing your next cat.

Here at the SPCA, most of our cats are housed in our three community rooms. You can come right in and see how the cats interact with your family: who’s interested in playing or snuggling, and who seems overwhelmed? Do you see a cat who’s having a good time? That might be the right one! We also have cats in cages in the lobby. You can visit with these cats, too! Ask a staff member to assist you. We’ll be happy to suggest cats to visit with, and bring them to a visiting room with some toys and brushes so that you can get a feel for each cat’s personality.

Our next post will offer some ways to help your kitty feel comfortable in a home with children, and tips for helping children interact respectfully with cats and kittens.