Factual truth of scary urban legends of cats smothering babies?

The theory, striking fear into many parent’s hearts who have both cats and a newborn baby, is that cats, always looking for warm places to curl up, will jump into the crib/cradle, and sit on a babies face, thereby smothering him and silencing his cries, so the baby suffocates.

I have three cats, and now that my newborn, MaastrichtSon has been home from the hospital for three weeks, I find that scary scenario more and more unlikely. Cats are not stupid. They obviously know he’s alive, and they tend to give him a wide berth. Also, i doubt that MaastrichtSons cries if a act sat on him would go unnoticed.

I tend to believe such stories have entered the realm of urban legends because of parents afraid it might happen; but can anyone point me to real incidents where cats hurt babies? Considering how many people both have cats and babies, if it happens, it must happen quite often.

The problem would be proving such, I think. If the cat gets up, after the baby has expired, I’m not sure how forensics would be able to prove that it was the weight of the cat on the baby that kept the baby from being able to breathe. It’s not actually enough weight to damage the baby, nor cause any trauma that I can imagine.

Which is why it could be for some people a seductive explanation for SIDS, where nominally healthy babies seem to be found dead without any obvious causes. Alas, for the reasons you mentioned, I find it easier to believe that a baby might die for reasons that can’t currently be diagnosed than that cats really are smothering all that many babies.

Joking to one side, wouldn’t they find a tonne of cat hair on the baby, possibly in its mouth and nose? :confused:

The way I’d been imaging it, the cat woud be sitting on the baby’s chest - preventing the weak muscles there from expanding enough for proper exchange of air in the baby’s lungs.

While there’d be some hair from that on the baby’s mouth and nose, but unless the cat is shedding huge amounts, I just don’t think that there’d be enough hair there from normal shedding levels to be seen as indicative, compared to the pet hairs that would be in the apartment from the simple presence of the pet in the first place.

Slightly tangential, but relevant: What’s the origin of the myth that cats can suck the breath out of babies?

I’ve never heard of this actually happening, but if you’re really worried, you can get a crib tent like this one. We had one for our first 2 kids, but the actual intent was to keep the curious cats out of the crib to prevent them from shedding all over it. IIRC, once the babes were old enough to pull themselves up, we only used it when the crib was empty.

Neither have I, but I went nuts when one of my daughter’s mother’s cats used the cot as a short cut to hop from window ledge to doorway. I thought immediately it was going to bed down beside or on her and out by the scruff of the neck it went.

The Aristocrats! :smiley:

There’s a thought that SIDS is often caused by suffocation, prompting suggestions like no loose bedding, no face down sleeping, no puffy crib bumpers as ways to reduce the incidence of SIDS. I would consider a co-sleeping cat the equivalent of a loose blanket, it’s suggested I keep that stuff out of the crib, so the cats stay out of the crib.

Once we’re past the SIDS risk stage, the kid can sleep with the cats all he wants.

A friend of mine who is an unapologetic cat lover insisted that she had personally witnessed a family cat climbing into her own infant son’s crib and settling down across the sleeping infant’s face. Would it have killed the baby? She didn’t wait to find out. Mean kitty was banished from the nursery until Tony was almost a year old.

Perhaps the whole “cat smothering babies” bit *is *an old wives tales and a lot of superstitious rot. But as there continues to be debate on the subject, best to err on the side of caution.

This is neither a myth nor a legend nor an urban legend. Those terms all require narrative content, e.g. a story about a cat smothering a child. The bare substance is a belief (or superstition, if you prefer).

It has a long history, but it has much more to do with cultural ambivalence about cats and their role in the household than it does with actual cat behavior, not to mention our need to explain the inexplicable (SIDS etc.). Cats do have a tendency to seek warm places (baby’s bed) and perhaps lick things to taste them (mother’s milk, meat-flavored baby food), but it’s a long leap from that to smothering children or sucking their breath out, unintentionally or deliberately.

A suffocating baby is likely to struggle, making an uncomfortable pillow for a cat. Furthermore, even a weak baby can probably irritate a cat enough to dislodge it. Of course, there’s a lot to be said for not leaving infants, babies, or toddlers around ANY animal unsupervised. Animals are known for having poor judgement as to what hurts a human, even a beloved one, and they can’t be relied upon to have a child’s best interests at heart at all times.

Both the smothering and the sucking-out-of-baby’s-breath are folk beliefs of long standing, probably originating in the connection of two unrelated events (cats in baby’s beds and babies who die in bed). There’s enough truth in the constituent parts to keep the superstition alive by confirmation bias, and there’s no good reason to test it. The stakes are too high (who wants to risk a baby’s life?) and there’s frankly no benefit to having an animal in the crib now that we have things like central heating and goretex. So the belief, largely unchallenged, lives on, fueled by the psychological need to displace worry about factors beyond our control (what if baby dies?) onto controllables (I’ll remove the cat. That’ll save ’er).

Here’s Snopes’ take on the question. It is, frankly, more extensive and thorough than Cecil’s column.