Protecting Curious Cats from Household Hazards

By Julie Rach

Cats are naturally inquisitive creatures, a fact that has been noted in the familiar saying, "Curiosity killed the cat." While your home may not seem all that dangerous, products, appliances, and furnishings found in the home can harm a cat. Although you cannot prevent all accidents, common sense and a careful check of your home can help you avoid some of them. Just as you would childproof a home for a toddler, so should you cat-proof a home for your pet.

Keep Kitty Out of the Kitchen

Kitchens can be dangerous for pet cats, so watch your pet closely whenever it's in the kitchen with you. Keep your pet from hopping up onto a counter near the stove because the cat might burn itself on a hot stove element or flip a pan full of food onto itself. Keep appliance doors closed because your cat might be tempted to hide in the oven.

Make sure your pet doesn't go investigating in kitchen cupboards because many products stored there, such as cleaning products, can be poisonous to cats. Clean up any spills promptly so your cat isn't tempted to lick them up. If you suspect your cat has ingested something harmful, contact your veterinarian's office immediately. If you cannot reach your veterinarian's office, call the National Animal Poison Control Center (NAPCC) at the University of Illinois, Champaign/Urbana. a Veterinarians whose specialty is animal poisoning staff the phones around the clock and answer each call. You need a credit-card number to use this service, but it could mean the difference between life and death for your pet. The NAPCC's numbers are 800/548-2423 (billed as a flat fee) or 900/680-0000 (billed on a per-minute basis).

Unhealthy treats, such as fish and poultry bones and milk, should be off limits to cats. Fish and poultry bones are prone to splintering, which may mean a trip to the veterinarian's office to have them removed. Although many people associate milk with cats, a cat's digestive system actually does not digest milk products easily, and they can cause diarrhea.

Look Before You Launder

The laundry room has some hidden dangers for cats, such as liquid detergents or stain removers that a cat may lick up if they are spilled. However, the greatest potential danger in the laundry room may be the clothes dryer. A cat may be tempted to nap on warm, fresh clothes in the dryer if you leave the dryer door open. Even if no clothes are in the dryer, the cat still may try to curl up in the warm dryer drum for a nap. This can result in injuries if you turn on the dryer with the cat inside. To protect your cat's health and well-being, don't leave the dryer door open.

Beware of the Bathroom

The bathroom presents several hazards to cats. A bathtub full of water or even a toilet bowl with the lid left up can lead to drowning if a cat falls in and isn't rescued promptly. Both over-the-counter and prescription medications can poison cats if they are left out where cats can consume them. Aspirin, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen are particularly toxic to cats.

A Powerful Danger

Electrical cords can be particularly tempting to a cat. The animal can injure itself by pulling an appliance onto itself, or by chewing on the cord. Tape electrical cords to the baseboards in your home, or hide them in PVC piping to prevent your pet from being tempted.

Preventing Great Escapes

Cover holes in your walls or baseboards to ensure that your cat won't climb through them. Cats can become trapped in the space between the walls, and rescuing them is a difficult challenge. If you have balconies on the upper stories of your home, consider completely screening in the balcony for your cat's safety. If that isn't possible, monitor your cat's activities on the balcony because cats can fall from a balcony and be seriously injured.

Another step you should take in pet-proofing your home is to ensure that all screens on your windows and doors are secure. A cat can easily knock a loose screen off a window and crawl out of your home. Remind children and guests to make sure they close screen doors securely to prevent your pet from escaping through an open door.

Providing Safe Toys

Some cat toys that seem very harmless can pose a hazard to cats. Toys with small parts, such as jingle bells, glued-on eyes or ears, beads, string, or yarn, can be chewed and swallowed easily, leading to a blockage in your pet’s intestines. While many cats love playing in large paper bags, plastic bags from the market are an unsafe substitute. Although they may be more environmentally friendly, they can suffocate a cat that's allowed to play with them, or a cat could become entangled in the carry handle and injure itself. Safe toy choices for cats include empty wooden spools, empty tissue boxes with a ball inside them, or a few sheets of newspaper spread on the floor that the cat can hide under.

Going to the Garage

If your cat enjoys sleeping on or under your car in the garage, make sure the cat is clear of the car before you start the engine. Knock loudly on the hood and check under the car to make sure your pet is out of harm's way before starting up. Also clean up gasoline and motor oil spills promptly because cats can be tempted to lick these substances up off the garage floor.

The hazards of antifreeze deserve special mention because it can be deadly to cats. In the past few years, antifreeze manufacturers have taken steps to make their products safer for pets, but the danger still exists. Cat owners need to be diligent in cleaning up antifreeze spills to protect their pets from being poisoned.

While curiosity is one of your cat's most endearing attributes, that curious nature can also get your pet in trouble. By pet-proofing your home and by supervising your pet carefully in your home, you and your pet can enjoy a safer, healthier life together.

Julie Rach is a freelance writer based in Oceanside, California.

Ampersand Communications

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