Keeping the Cat out of the Nursery

In my blog post introducing our cat Grendel, written before Lillian was born, I expressed some concerns about how to ensure a safe coexistence for our longtime pet and our impending new arrival. It seemed to be accepted wisdom that letting a cat into a baby’s crib — or leaving unattended pets around babies in general — just isn’t such a great idea, so we wanted to come up with some easy way to keep Grendel out of the nursery for when we were asleep or otherwise unable to keep a close eye on her. Here are the general ideas we considered:

  • Just keep the nursery door closed. We didn’t care for this one very much, and didn’t really take it too seriously as a solution — we just didn’t like the idea of having an opaque, sound-muffling barrier between us and the baby. Plus it seemed like it would be bad for the air circulation in the room, which we’ve heard has been associated (however loosely) with SIDS.
  • Replace the nursery door with some sort of screen door. This one was probably my first choice, but it turned out to be really difficult to find an interior-style screen door (as opposed to a storm door that goes on the outside of your house). The closest thing we were able to find — unless we wanted to build one ourselves — was a louvered door, the likes of which do exist in non-bifold form at Home Depot (though they appear to be a special-order rarity).
  • Rig up some kind of screen or gate in the doorway. Similar to the last option, but instead of replacing the existing door, it would involve installing something in addition to it. There seemed to be more options available for this approach, such as retractable screen doors that can be installed in standard interior doorways.

What we eventually decided to try was a child safety gate. Since we assumed Grendel (or any cat) would easily be able to hop over the 36″ barrier, we figured we would have to put something else above it. Like maybe a second child safety gate.

Gate for keeping the cat out of the nursery.

The child safety gate in the nursery doorway.

But then we noticed something interesting: it seemed like Grendel wouldn’t — or couldn’t — get over this gate. At first we thought this was just due to lack of interest on her part, so we devised the following ingenious super-scientific experiment to test whether or not she could actually get into the room:

You know those chewy treats that cats love? We put a little pile of those on the floor just beyond the gate, only slightly out of paw’s reach, to test what Grendel would do. It was obvious that she could see and/or smell the treats, and she made some pretty impressive efforts to get at them. She tried reaching through with an outstretched paw, she tried wrapping her paws around the bars and pulling the gate open. She even tried turning her head sideways and squeezing in between the bars, though there wasn’t nearly enough room, and we worried a few times that she’d get her silly self stuck.

We kept this experiment going for a few consecutive nights, but the treats were never touched. And we figured that if our plant-eating glutton of a cat wouldn’t jump over that gate for treats, she probably wouldn’t jump over it for any reason.

(Don’t worry though, we lavished Grendel with no-strings-attached treats just to be nice afterwards — tantalizing her with unreachable meaty morsels like that made us feel kind of like jerks.)

The footnote to this story is that after all these efforts we put in before Lillian was born, Grendel seemed pretty bewildered by the tiny wiggling thing we brought home from the hospital, to the point where she did a pretty good job keeping away from the baby all on her own. I had to bribe her with food just to get her to stay near Lillian long enough to snap this photo:

Grendel and Lillian, December 2011. (I call this shot "Hello, Kitty.")

Anyway, our theory on the whole gate thing is that cats like to have something solid to jump onto, and generally don’t like jumping straight up and over a barrier so narrow. (Because if they miscalculate even a little, they’ll up the laughingstock of the internet like this poor cat on YouTube.)

For any cat-owners who may be reading, would a child gate like this keep your cat(s) at bay? I feel like it probably depends a lot on each cat’s individual personality and athletic ability, but I’d be especially curious to hear from anyone who’s tried something similar, and whether it was successful or not.

15 Comments

  1. Well, believe it of not, I actually did have a cat back when Amy was born. She was pretty good around the baby. At first, she seemed a little frightened of her and stayed away from her. When Amy got older, the cat was still careful around her. I had to keep Amy from grabbing the cat, so I kept an eye on Amy more than the cat! Anyway, I’m glad Grendel is doing so well around Lillian. Pets become parts of the family, too, and it’s so hard to give them up if you have to. Love you all!

  2. We use baby gates to keep our (18lb lard butt) cat out of baby zones, too. even before he was so huge, baby gates worked well. Now though, hes just to fat to get any air, lol. :)

  3. I’ve had lots of cats. They could all jump over gates. I use the gates to keep the dogs and cats apart. Maybe having a dog chasing them gives them a good reason to make it over the gates. lol

  4. I think it depends on the cat. I’m really glad it worked out for you!
    Also, you got the good kind of gate that only has vertical bars. Cats usually will jump using a quick grab at a horizontal slat on a gate, so the lack of horizontal surfaces to help them make the summit :) may be a factor. Regardless, it’s awesome it worked! I don’t know if it would do the trick at my home.

  5. That’s a good point Jane, I can imagine a gate with horizontal bars functioning like a sort of cat ladder, so that’s definitely something to consider for anyone who might want to try this to see if it’ll work for their cat(s). :)

  6. Hi there! I just found your blog because I have the exact same problem – 3 cats and a new baby. I’ve been doing the door-closed thing, but I am not at all happy with it, so I am thinking of trying the screen door approach. But I have a question for you… how are you keeping your baby Lillian out of the litter boxes? (Since I’m guessing that by now she’s crawling all over the place…) :)

  7. Hi Tommie, thanks for stopping by! For the litter box problem, we actually keep the litter box in the back bedroom while Lillian does most of her crawling in the living room (and we relocated the child gate there to keep her out of the areas of the house that aren’t baby-safe yet, and away from the stairs, etc.) Hope this helps, and good luck with trying the screen door approach for your three cats and new baby! :)

  8. Grendel and baby are simply adorable! We have 2 cats and a baby due this July and are researching options for this same concern. My mother suggested an interior screen door, but I feel relieved seeing that the gate may be enough on its own.

    • Thanks, amy! It’s definitely worth a shot, and here’s hoping your two cats will be as uninterested in jumping over the gate as ours was. Best of luck and congrats on your impending new arrival! :)

  9. Hi, I’ve been dealing with a somewhat similar problem – keeping a rescue mom cat and her litter separated from my resident cats. I’ve ended up with an extra-tall baby gate which I customized by attaching a window screen to the bottom both for added height and to raise the bottom mounts of the gate above the wall molding; and by attaching netting in case mom cat, who’s very skinny, or the kittens try to slip through the bars. The whole rig is just over 4 feet high. So far none of the cats has made any attempt to jump over, even when Mom sees her kittens close to the screen with a resident cat on the other side.

    • Hi Camille! It sounds like you came up with a great and creative solution for keeping the cats separated, especially with adding the window screen and netting to the baby gate. (If Grendel wasn’t so pudgy we may have needed to try something like that to keep her from trying to squeeze through, haha.) Thanks for sharing about your customizations to the gate, and I hope it continues to be effective! :)

  10. A couple of years late to the game here…just found your blog by searching “gate to keep cats separated, and after a trip to Petco yesterday, I think I found the right choice: double baby gates! I’m trying to keep a kitten from tormenting an older cat, but I don’t want the older one spending the day behind closed doors. I’m glad to hear this occurred to you, too. The gates should arrive tomorrow, and I’m going to get in shape by ducking under the upper one to get in and out of the room! Your former baby (now toddler, right?) is adorable!

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