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When Cats Attack


This is not my baby. My baby isn't born yet.

There’s an old wives tale that cats and newborn babies go together like oil and water. The myth is that cats, attracted to the milk scent of the babies’ breath, sucks the air out of the baby, causing it to suffocate. Or they are jealous and try to kill the baby so that the owners’ attention is refocused back on them.

The opposing myth is that cats have a sixth sense about baby distress and alert the owner just in time to save the baby from certain death. (“What’s that Fluffy? You say baby has fallen down a well?”) This myth has inspired movies like Sleepwalkers, where kitties defended virgins from soul-sucking vampires. That Stephen King — he is sooo original.

Neither myth is particularly true, but having a cat around a newborn baby can do two things: increase your baby’s resistance to allergies, and increase the amount of poo and pee in your home. Since we’re about to bring home a pee/poo machine from the hospital, I can’t say I’m excited about getting a cat. But I’m married to a cat owner, and there’s lots of beneficial effects for us adults (besides dealing with the litter box, which sounds really exciting, about as exciting as changing diapers.) Besides, at some point, Ronan will love the cat, I’m sure.

I was completely unprepared for my father’s reaction to getting cat. This is a man who is a college professor. He has a Master’s from one of the top colleges in the United States.

“We’re getting a cat after the baby’s born.” I said.

“What?” My father said.

“We’re getting a cat.” I repeated.

“It’ll suck the baby’s breath.” He said.

At the time, I had not heard of the killer cat myth. I had heard of the 1730s Great Cat Massacre in Paris; I had watched Tom and Jerry cartoons; and I’m an even bigger fan of Sylvester. But in considering everything that could kill my child, I hadn’t really considered cats. So I responded with, “Huh?”

“They climb up and suck the baby’s breath. The cat will smother the baby.”

Now, my knee-jerk reaction was “Why would a cat care about a baby? If they liked to suck breath, why didn’t more people die in their sleep, with cats sucking out their breath?” My wife’s cat, who recently died of thyroid problems, used to sleep on her hair, but never on her face.  It reminded me of one night when I went to sleep after enjoying a tunafish sandwich. Being a teenager, I went to sleep with the dirty plate with tuna left on it on the table at the head of my bed. Living in a New York apartment, it was a small room and I woke up to find my brother’s cat sitting on my face while it ate the tuna. It was the easiest place to reach the plate. Now, like all McDonalds, Frisky was overweight, so he covered my entire head and his fat rolled over my face. Waking up to find slightly smelly fur everywhere I turned was a traumatic experience. But the fact is that the cat went for the tuna on the plate and not the tuna on my breath.

I digress. My Dad was very concerned about the cats attacking his future only grandchild. I E-mailed him the Snopes article about the myth, and he E-mailed back, “Why take the chance?”

In researching this myth, I considered the physics of how cats could do this. I’ve known several cats that don’t like anything near their face. If you came anywhere near Frisky’s face, he would start backing up as fast as he could go. Plus there’s the need for suction. In my CPR course we had to get a good seal on the rescue dummy’s mouth in order to inflate her lungs properly. So if the cat is going to suck baby’s breath, it would have to seal the baby’s mouth. Would it clamp on, opening its own mouth to cover the baby’s? Or would it stick its snout into the baby’s mouth? Either scenario seems unlikely.

Perhaps Dad will read this blog and get psyched about the cats protecting Ronan from disease, or even better, he could drop the cats-suck-breath myth and adopt the cats-as-heroes myth. He could sleep soundly, knowing that two tabbies were on patrol to scare the living hell out of whomever came near the baby. (Actually, they’ll probably scare me. I’m not really fond of small animals. A toy buffalo that fell behind my desk scared me today. I thought the plastic buffalo was a dead mouse.)

Why take the chance? It’s another one of those conundrums that you have to consider as parents. Getting a kitty may help Ronan avoid allergies and have a better life later on. Or it may sit on his chest and suck his breath. It’s your call as a parent.

Dad, if we get a cat, we just won’t tell you. Don’t worry about it.


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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on February 23, 2007 10:46 PM.

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