We do everything in our power to care for, nurture, and protect our cats. We buy the best cat food available, we provide our cats and kittens with engaging cat toys and can often be found on the ground playing with them – having at least as much fun as they are. We know that playtime for cats isn’t just fun, it’s healthy and provides physical activity and mental stimulation that are very, very good for them. In fact, when it comes to cat health, playtime is vital.
But, as mindful and lovingly careful as we are, there are still areas we need to improve in. There are plenty of hazards in our home and yard that pose potential harm (often fatal) to our cats.
So, to promote better cat safety and care, we’ve rounded up what we believe to be a comprehensive list of tips, advice, and information for keeping our cats safe from harm and illness. Like children with skin, there’s only so much we can do to protect children with fur! However, since they mean the world to us, we will do everything and anything within our power.
Personally, I firmly believe that a home with cats (or dogs, for that matter) should be treated the same as a home with small children. When children are small, we can’t count on them to reason what might or might not be harmful, so we remove all perceived harm and danger. Animals aren’t capable of always recognizing harm either. They’re very childlike in many ways and one of the most obvious ways is that they live in the moment. They see something that looks like a good time, and off they go!
They’re also like children in this way: Almost everything goes to the mouth!
Alexa reminded me of this truth a few nights ago. I was fixing an Asian-inspired meal and apparently, somehow, a crispy Asian noodle hit the floor. I hear a little crunching from a few feet behind me and I turn to see her with the noodle half-in, half-out of her mouth! She’s nothing if not accident-prone, so I distracted her with her favorite cat treats and threw what was left of the noodle away. Alexa, being Alexa, would have probably choked on the noodle (or stuck it in her ear, or broke a couple of teeth, or poked herself in the eye…).
As I was giving her a couple of treats, I told her that she was “Just like a 2 year old baby.” And it hit me that, yes, in fact, cats are very much like 2 year olds – which is why we need to do periodic “child-proofing” inspections around our home, garage, and yard.
Keep Your Cat Safe Tips
- Ironing Boards. First of all, the iron is an obvious danger. Be certain that you never leave an iron plugged in if you aren’t right beside it. Also, when you unplug the iron and leave it to cool down, be certain that it’s completely out of your cat’s reach. Even the ironing board, itself can be a safety hazard. Although it’s actually the only time I’ve ever heard of the incident (again, it’s Alexa we’re talking about!), a few years ago, our beautiful little baby (shown above, looking for something to get into) broke one of her legs in two places when she ran to jump on an ironing board. She somehow managed to pull it down on herself. One of the metal legs fell on one of her tiny legs and broke it. Needless to say, she was in a great deal of pain.. which probably took a couple decades off of my life…. and had to have multiple veterinarian visits, surgery, a leg cast, and cage confinement for nearly two months. I will give my husband this, he found the biggest cage known to exist! It was agonizing and could have been completely prevented if the ironing board had not been left standing. Yes, it’s a one in a million type of scenario – but if you’d seen how much pain this beautiful little cat was in, you’d know that one in a million is well-worth preventing.
- Human Medications. Unfortunately, for several years now, human medications have been number one on the ASPCA’s list of common hazards. The ASPCA manages thousands upon thousands of calls each year involving prescription and over-the-counter drugs such as painkillers, cold medications, antidepressants and dietary supplements. Again, approach safety measures as you would if you had a small child in the home. They can and they will find a way to get into anything that peaks their curiosity. Be sure to lock up all medicine and never leave any pills, vitamins, herbs, or supplements lying around in the open.
- Certain People Food. Grapes, raisins, avocado and products containing xylitol, like gum, can seriously harm cats and dogs. Thousands of pets die each year from the type of poisoning you’d never expect: food. What many cat and dog parents think of as “treats” are anything but. Onions are another food that should not be given to pets. One of the worst offenders – chocolate – is particularly dangerous. Chocolate contains large amounts of methylxanthines, which can cause vomiting, diarrhea, panting, excessive thirst, urination, hyperactivity, and in severe cases, abnormal heart rhythm, tremors and seizures. Not only should we all keep these foods out of reach of our pets, we should make certain that anyone who is around our pets also knows that people food is off limits. You don’t have to be nasty about it, of course. Simply approach the conversation matter-of-factly… “Did you know that many human foods can actually poison cats? That’s why we make sure (Fluffy, Scratch, Mayor Tom…) only eats cat food.”
- Safety for Outdoor Cats in Extreme Weather. For those of us who have outside cats AND inside cats, we know that some simply can’t come in – our babies are destined to live just outside of the walls. When it’s extremely hot or extremely cold, we have to do everything in our power to keep them safe and as comfortable as possible. Please read Keeping Your Cat Safe in Hot Weather for tips on dealing with summer. As for winter safety, you might want to consider the KatKabin! It’s a beautiful and cozy cat house that stays warm and dry inside. Click the link to read my review. Bullet is actually cuddled up inside the KatKabin now. I have it up off the ground, on a sturdy wide shelf under the carport. He doesn’t seem to mind one little bit that it’s hot pink either! I went out earlier (it’s the dead of winter now and we have several inches of snow on the ground) and stuck my hand inside the KatKabin. It felt as warm as it does in our house! Always be sure to keep your cat’s water bowl filled and unfrozen. Jelly Bean drinks more than any cat I’ve ever seen, so (in addition to the fact that there are four of them out there) I actually have to refill their water bowl many times during the day. During winter I go out even more often, to replace the frozen water with fresh water. Jelly Bean’s always the first one in line!
- House Plants. Azalea, rhododendron, sago palm, lilies, kalanchoe and schefflera can be harmful to pets. Lilies are especially toxic to cats, and can cause life-threatening kidney failure even in small amounts. I don’t allow lilies in the house OR in the yard. Poinsettias are also known to be toxic. When it comes to house plants, I actually allow very few in. Not only do I not want to take any chances with little Miss If There’s A Way to Cause Drama, I’ll Do It – I know she’ll just make a spectacular mess! As for flowers I add to my flower beds and pots outdoors, I always research them online to make sure they’re safe.
- Pet Medications and Tick and Flea Products. Many well-intending pet parents mismanage and misuse pet medications and products. Please ere on the side of extreme caution. In 2009, the ASPCA managed 7,680 cases involving animal-related preparations such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, heartworm preventatives, de-wormers, antibiotics, vaccines and nutritional supplements. Also, if you have an elderly cat or dog – I honestly wouldn’t apply or use anything without my veterinarian’s advice. The last summer Prissy was alive, she and Alexa had a little bit of a flea problem. I got some “over the counter” flea medication to use. It was the type that you place a few drops between their shoulder blades. I used it on Alexa, without incident. However, given the fact that Prissy was 20 years old – and not in the greatest shape – I didn’t use it on her at all. Somehow, it just didn’t seem safe. I simply combed over her little body and removed fleas monkey-style. Not long ago, I read that applying medicine like this to older pets can be very dangerous and cause them to have seizures and suffer greatly. It was a clear case of allowing intuition to guide the way. Always, always, always treat older pets with extreme caution, love, and tenderness.
- Garden Products, Chemical Hazards, and Automobile Products. Each of these can pose great harm, often fatal, to pets. Again, ere on the side of caution and keep all of these products UP off of the ground in your garage, home, or carport. Keep lids screwed on VERY tightly and immediately wash up any spills or leaks. My husband not only keeps all of these products up, off the ground, most of them are even in buckets or other containers.
- Plastic bags and other plastic products. Cats can suffocate in plastic bags, so be sure they’re always completely out of reach. Again, treat it as you would if there were children in your home. Also, keep dry cleaning bags out of the way. Throw them away as soon as you bring the garment in the house. (There are few things I hate more than dry cleaning bags!)
- Ribbon, thread, and even dental floss. All of these look like nothing but a good time to a cat but they can easily get choked on them. The long, “curly” ribbon so popular at Christmastime is a potential nightmare to cats. Many cat parents use it as a toy, but a cat’s claws can shred it to tiny fibers that they can then ingest – either intentionally or unintentionally. They’re also a choking hazard.
- Wobbly tables and plant stands. Double-check the tables and, in particular, plant stands in your home. Some tend to be wobbly, especially on carpet. It’s the ideal situation for a cat to either run past (and topple over) or take a running dive at and come crashing down with it. The latter was Alexa’s ironing board maneuver. So graceful.
- Mini Blinds. If your cat is anything like Alexa (Heaven help you both), she’s fascinated with mini blinds. When they’re closed, she loves to shove her head between the rungs and look out. When they’re open, she loves to attack the cord. I have to keep a constant eye on this little girl! I’ve learned that I have to keep the cords folded up out of the way and, during the day, we raise the blinds at the windows she frequents. Cats can hang themselves in mini blinds, so take great precautions.
- Household Cleaners. Treat all household cleaners as you do garden products: Keep them entirely out of the way of your pets. Also, keep the toilet lids down at all times, so the pet doesn’t try to help themselves to a cool drink – not only is this gross (really, really gross), if you use toilet bowl disinfectants or cleansers, it’s potentially poisonous.
- Speaking of Toilet Bowls… Keep the lids down at all times. If a cat were to try to jump on top of the toilet, and the lid isn’t down – catastrophe.
- Candles. Never leave candles burning in a room you aren’t in. Not only is it hazardous for your cat, it’s hazardous for you!
- Hot Scented Oil Devices. Hate these! There are just far too many possibilities for harm. They can be spilled, knocked over, touched… Even if you have one set up high, in a place you’re sure your cat would never go – they could conceivably grab the cord and pour hot oil on top of them. Can you imagine the pain?!?!
- Stove Safety. As with Children, keep all pot handles aimed toward the back of the stove. It’s too easy to knock against one and send a hot pot crashing to the floor.
- Cat Toys. Always double-check your cat’s toys and inspect them for frays, cracks, and so forth. Many chocking incidents can be prevented if you make sure everything is in place when it comes to cat toys – make sure nothing’s spilling out and that there aren’t any splintered pieces that could pose a problem. Also, make sure standing scratching posts are secured in place – be sure they don’t topple over.
- Heavy Metals. No, not music (although if played loud enough, I’m sure a cat wouldn’t appreciate it much!). According to ASPCA, heavy metals such as lead, zinc and mercury, accounted for 3,304 cases of pet poisonings in 2009, alone. Lead is especially dangerous, and pets are exposed to it through many sources, including consumer products, paint chips, linoleum, and lead dust produced when surfaces in older homes are scraped or sanded.
- Pet Food Recalls. Always stay on top of recent cat and dog food recalls. Sadly, this has become a regular part of pet parenting. Would these pet food manufacturers please get their acts together?!?! Make it a point to check cat websites such as this one regularly for pet food recalls. Also, here’s a little tip. Go to Google and set up a Google News Alert (click the link to go directly to the page you need). Enter the term, “Cat Food” (add another for dog food if your cat has a canine brother or sister!) in the field marked Search Terms, then choose the other specifics and enter your e-mail address. Whenever there is “news” involving cat food, you’ll get an alert about it in your e-mail.
- Cat Collars. I, personally, would never put a cat collar on an outside cat. Not only would my own outside cats think I’d completely lost my mind, it’s simply far too dangerous. If a cat is, say, in a tree, the collar could easily catch on a branch. Many well-meaning bird-loving cat parents will even put bells on their cat’s collar to warn the birds. I love birds as much as anyone (we even have 4 bird feeding stations in our yard!), but if a cat is attempting to hide from or get away from a predator, the bell could toll for them in the worst way.
It bears mentioning again, so bear with me while I mention it again: Treat cats in the house or yard just as you would treat children in the house and yard. Treat them like babies because they are babies.
I know there are other tips and safety hazards out there. If you know of any first-hand, please share them with us in the comments. In the meantime, pass the link to this post around to all cat parents you know. What may seem like common advice to one person can cause another to say, “Wow! I never thought of that!” Every time that’s said… another precious cat can be spared a great deal of pain and suffering.
You might even save her life.