Do Cats Ever Really Smother Babies?

Updated December 19, 2023

I saw another one last week: a cat I knew with an owner I didn’t. “My daughter is pregnant and she’s afraid the cat might smother her baby.”

I didn’t argue; as a father I know how strong the urge to protect our children is. But it got me thinking: does it ever happen? And what about other dangers like toxoplasmosis?

The Risk Of Smothering

I did a search of the medical literature plus news archives and found four suspected cases since 1980. For three of these the only evidence was that the cat was in the same room. I’m highly skeptical of these.

Given the rates of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) at the time, the chance the cats did it is almost zero. Additionally, if the cat really did do it, why wasn’t he or she still sleeping on the baby?

The fourth case sounds plausible though. This was a baby under blankets in a pram left unattended. A cat hopped in for the warmth (this is northern Sweden) probably unaware there was a baby underneath.

Do Cats Really Smother Babies?

In a cot, I think the answer is no. Here’s why:

  1. Babies freak most cats out: anyone who’s brought a baby home knows this. Your bigger problem is getting your cat to relax.
  2. Cats aren’t malicious: yes, cats are their own masters, but they are never jealous or spiteful, despite what people say. A cat just doesn’t rate the baby as a threat.
  3. Even if the cat is friendly (like the picture), sitting on the baby would be crazy when there’s plenty of space. It’s still a good idea to supervise cats around babies though.

Keeping Cats Out Of Cots & Cribs

A modern spacious cot without pillows and toys is usually of little interest to a cat. If instead it seems attractive, try covering the bedding with bubble wrap, double-sided sticky tape or aluminium foil (without the baby of course!) With luck your cat will never try it again.

Cat favourite bed

If they are still interested, I would ask myself why my cat preferred this unlikely spot. It’s probably because they don’t have a bed they like (yet!). Here’s Grendel for example in ‘Castle Smug’ with friend.

Alternatively you may just need to keep the door closed. That will also fix the greatest problem most new parents have with cats: interrupting carefully planned sleeps.

As for cat nets, I tried these. If you want to make a comfy cat hammock above your baby, they work perfectly. In other words, mine actually attracted the cat!

Why Cats Get Blamed

Reports of cats suffocating babies go right back to the 17th century. It’s probably no coincidence that this is around the time of the witch trials. 

I am certain that every single smothering was really a case of SIDS. Anyone of my age can remember how common, frightening and unexplained it was. We all knew someone who had lost a baby.

In the research effort that went into solving the riddle, every possible risk factor was explored. Never were cats implicated. Thanks to finding the real reasons, SIDS has become very rare (click here for current recommendations).

Other Cat-Baby Dangers

Here are other possible health risks from cats.


Toxoplasmosis is a parasite passed in the faeces of cats that can damage unborn babies. Although that sounds scary, here are the facts:

  • ‘Toxo’ is mostly caught from undercooked meat or contaminated soil
  • Cats almost never transmit the parasite directly
  • Faeces cleaned up within 24 hours of passing are not yet infective

Prevention is straightforward, and fully explained in our page on toxoplasmosis in cats.


Ringworm is a fungal skin infection. It is especially common in very young kittens, and can cause severe infections in children.

Prevention is by getting kittens from good vet-checked sources like the RSPCA and Animal Welfare League. Otherwise, come in for a free kitten check as soon as you can and we’ll run the UV light over them.

Scratches and Bites

The major health problem from cats is the obvious one, but it needs saying. If your cat is cornered or scared, they can lash out.

The chances of a cat attacking a baby unprovoked are extremely low, and I’ll bet these cats have previous ‘form’. The main risk comes when kids start crawling and the cat feels cornered. 

All I can say here is to know your cat’s reactions, supervise if necessary and make sure there are escape routes available. Read what to do if your cat scratches or bites here.

Cats & Babies

In conclusion, I promise that I’ve presented the truth as I see it, not some ‘keep your cat at all costs’ spiel. Cats are compatible, low-risk, and even beneficial to babies.

Cat allergy and asthma in humans have been shown to be significantly lower if exposure occurs as a baby. Babies also love watching cats- our favourite way to stop crying was “where’s the puss?”. 

Cats, being willing to leave if they don’t like it, also teach responsible animal handling in a way dogs never can. That makes cats way safer than dogs too.

Related: Children and Dogs | What You Can Catch From Pets

Have something to add? Comments (if open) will appear within 24 hours.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. Meet his team here.

Image at top by Rumpleteaser [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr

23 Replies to “Do Cats Ever Really Smother Babies?”

  1. Hi –

    I need to say this because it keeps happening and no one has had this happen that I have seen
    Searching. My cat has peed three times on just the baby while he is sleeping. He pees right on the diaper area. He has also peed on the diaper pale. My cat is a male, fixed, and he does his business outside until now…….. im gonna go with jealous and territorial.

  2. There seems to be a lot of “caught it just in time” stories on here. But not one story about a cat actually killing a baby…. Except for the story by Cats are Mean about 17 babies being killed by the cat.

  3. To whoever made this saying they suffocate them on purpose, please put down the pipe next time before you right an article. You’re delusional and crazy.

    1. Hi Nick – have you read the article? The only people saying cats smother babies are some of the commenters trying to tell me I’m wrong.

  4. Andrew, how can you say cats are never jealous or spiteful? Having 3 cats myself, I don’t see how some behaviors of cats would not be labeled as jealous or spiteful. Could you please elaborate to support your statement? I’m honestly curious to know where you’re coming from and would be open to seeing what I think are jealous or spiteful cat behaviors in a different light. Thanks.

    1. On that we will simply have to disagree! Animals aren’t nearly as complex as humans and I feel that we project a lot of our negative emotions onto what are in essence quite straightforward motivations. If you have any examples of jealousy or spite I will be very interested to hear them, as I’m sure there are other equally or possibly more valid explanations for them. All the cats I know walk through life knowing they are completely fabulous so why would they have any reason to be jealous!?!?

  5. When I brought my baby home my cats instantly became very affectionate. He is now 6 weeks old and 3 times, while baby was laying next to me, one of them laid on top of him to snuggle and he started having a hard time breathing until I pulled the cat off.

      1. Ok ahole, then explain cases of Sids with no cats in the house the fact that Doctors can’t even explain what causes it. You’re a vet

      2. Hi Sheryl. Modern cases of SIDS are now mostly understood to be due to a combination of preventable risk factors that don’t include cats and therefore the incidence has plummeted as we reduce these. Cats are common in houses and would occur in many where unexplained deaths occur, but this would mostly be a case of correlation, not causation.

    1. When I was in the Army my girlfriends cats would lay over my mouth and nose. I can easily see a cat smothering a baby this way

  6. the power just went out and i know cats can’t see in the complete darkness. my cat is extremely cuddly and loves my baby. reading this did calm me down about bringing her in as she’s scared right now, but it’s 11pm and i would be sleeping so if anything happened i wouldn’t be awake, i don’t know what to do

  7. I took my daughter’s very affectionate cat after her newborn arrived and I’m glad she asked me to. It wasn’t 2 days with the cat in my house that I woke up because I could hardly breathe. The cat decided to lay on my head while I slept. Other nights, the cat laid on my chest and put his head on my face. I know he’s not trying to kill me, he’s just very affectionate but if that happened to my daughter’s baby, he would not be able to breathe.

  8. I also must say I went to check my daughter’s bassinet one day while she was sleeping and found my cat laying on her chest and covering her face. I had to put the cat outside after that incident. Maybe the warmth or the smell of milk is why this happens but I assure people it can and does.

  9. I don’t know everything about cats, but I do know (from experience), that a cat will definitely sleep on a babies face. I found our cat curled up nice and cozy right on top of my babies little face, covering mouth and a bit of nose. I caught her just in time, but I still shiver to think what would have happened if I haven’t found it in time.

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