What Kitten to Get Your Child Depending on Their Personality

"A cat or kitten can be a wonderful addition to a family," according to Vicki Jo Harrison, president of the International Cat Association.

For children, cats can be great companions and good teachers. "Living with a cat can help build a child's self-esteem, teach them responsibility and help them learn empathy," Harrison told Newsweek.

Before you bring home a kitten, however, there are several factors to consider—not least your child's temperament and habits. Here, animal behavior experts explain what you need to think about if you want a kitten to join the family.

Is It Safe to Get a Kitten If You Have Children?

Children and kittens can co-exist safely and interact with proper management and socialization, which form "the foundation for a safe and fun environment" for both, according to Harrison.

"A successful relationship with a child and cat begins by teaching the child to respect the cat and not scare it," she said, adding that if your children respect the cat, they will earn the animal's respect in return.

"Parents must be willing to teach the cat and the child acceptable limits of behavior to make their interactions pleasant and safe," Harrison said.

A young girl holding a tiny kitten.
A young girl holding a tiny kitten. Children must be taught to handle cats gently. iStock/Getty Images Plus

Should I Get a Cat If I'm Pregnant?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises against getting a new cat if you are pregnant. This is because of the risk of toxoplasmosis, an infection caused by a parasite that can be spread via cat feces and can be passed to your unborn child.

If you already have a cat, you don't have to give it up when you become pregnant, the health agency explained. You should follow the advice on its website for ways to reduce your risk of exposure.

If a women was infected with the toxoplasma parasite before she got pregnant, her unborn children will be protected from the disease by their mother's immunity, according to the CDC.

What to Think About Before Getting a Kitten

Anyone who's planning to get a cat has to consider their lifestyle and availability, as well as how they'll cover its health costs and other expenses. If you have children, these are some of the extra considerations.

Care Responsibilities

You'll need to think about whether your child is ready for the duties involved in living with a cat, said Harrison. Are they capable of playing with the kitten and helping to feed or groom it? Young cats require more time and attention than adult ones.

Zazie Todd, author of Purr: The Science of Making Your Cat Happy, told Newsweek: "Remember, the kitten is still your responsibility if your child gets bored. As well, you will probably still have the cat after your child has grown up and left home."

Hand holding a kitten in litter box.
A kitten's owner places it in a litter box. Kittens need more time and attention than adult cats. iStock/Getty Images Plus

Teaching Your Child How to Interact With Kittens

Dr. Bruce Kornreich, director of the Feline Health Center at Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine, told Newsweek it's important to educate kids on how to interact with kittens.

Children should be taught not to engage in rough play with their kittens, Kornreich said. This may teach a young cat that such behavior is acceptable, which could result in them scratching the children.

They also need to be taught that "negative reinforcement does not work" with cats. If a kitten engages in unacceptable behavior such as biting or scratching, children should be shown that "disengaging and providing acceptable alternatives" is the best way of socializing the animals and helping them grow into happy and healthy adult cats.

Todd offered the following advice for teaching children how to behave around kittens:

  • Ensure your child does not overwhelm the kitten.
  • With very small children, you should guide their hand when they pet the kitten, as they're "still learning motor control and might accidentally be too rough."
  • Teach your kids that the kitten needs to have a choice when it comes to allowing interactions. It might sometimes choose not to be petted and "probably won't like hugs, as most cats find hugs too intense."
  • Teach your kids never to play with the kitten using their hands because you don't want to teach them to bite or scratch hands.
A tiny kitten laying on a blanket.
A kitten with brown and white patches laying on a blanket. Some animal organizations say kittens aren't suitable for homes with very young children. iStock/Getty Images Plus

Health Precautions

Cats can carry germs that could cause a range of illnesses in people, from minor skin infections to serious diseases, warns the CDC.

Teach children—who tend to be extremely tactile with pets and probably even more so with an adorable fluffy kitten—to wash their hands thoroughly after handling cats or cleaning up after them. Adults should supervise the handwashing of kids under the age of 5.

The CDC website offers more advice on how your family can stay healthy and safe around cats.

A smiling child holding a black cat.
A child sits on a sofa, holding a small black cat in his arms. Cats can make great companions and teachers for children. iStock/Getty Images Plus

Kitten-Proof Your Home

To keep everyone safe, you'll need to kitten-proof your house. Young cats are very inquisitive and can "easily get into trouble or break things," said Todd. She suggested confining them to one room at first, before allowing them to explore the rest of the house.

You'll also want to keep your kittens from chewing on electrical cords, climbing onto hot stove tops, falling into toilets or falling out of an open window.

Consider Your Child's Age

A kitten may not be suitable if you have very young children.

American Humane recommends that households with children get adult cats rather than kittens, advising that cats aged 2 or 3 are best for children who are younger than 5 or 6. "You might be disappointed by this, but keep in mind that 8-week-old kittens will essentially be adults in less than a year," the organization explains on its website.

Young children are typically very active and "may be too rough with fragile kittens," which can result in injuries to the kitten and/or "a fearful, skittish adult cat." Kittens might injure the children too, by scratching or biting.

Some rehoming centers advise against cats being sent to homes with young children, according to the U.K.-based charity International Cat Care. This is because "the noise, disruption and over-enthusiastic handling" could potentially be stressful for a cat.

What Kitten to Get Depending on Your Child's Personality

Good cat breeds for families with children include the American shorthair, British shorthair, Maine coon and the Selkirk rex, according to Teresa Keiger, creative director of the Cat Fanciers' Association and a cat show judge.

"Their laid-back personalities make them accept the curiosities and learning levels of young folk" and would be "supportive of a quieter young person," she told Newsweek.

Abyssinians, Japanese bobtails, ocicats and Burmillas would suit a family where the children are fairly active. "They are all loving and laid back, but also love to play. They will tolerate and enjoy a higher level of activity."

More reserved children may appreciate the Persian and its short hair variant, the exotic, as well as the ragdoll breeds. "Their sweet and gentle personalities would resonate with a quiet child," Keiger said.

These breeds require regular combing, which provides additional opportunities for bonding between a kitten and child, so long as the child has learned how to handle a kitten properly, she added.

In homes where the kids are boisterous, it is "probably wise" not to have a pet, at least for a while, said International Cat Care.

"In most cases, very nervous and timid cats will find living with children incredibly stressful, and cats with these types of temperament should be avoided."

A child gently holding a small kitten.
A child gently holding the legs of a small kitten. Avoid rough play with cats and kittens, as it can cause them to become defensive toward people. iStock/Getty Images Plus