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Cat Safety

Just as there are things to do to make a house safe for children, there are steps to take to protect your cat.

Cat Toys

Be sure to keep string and yarn inaccessible. Believe it or not, string can kill a cat. Once a cat starts swallowing string, he can’t stop until he chews through it. Cats have been known to swallow very long pieces of string, yarn, or ribbon, causing intestinal blockage and eventually, death.

To ensure your cat’s safety, be sure to remove any glued-on or removable parts from toys that you give to him. For instance, plastic eyes and noses should be pulled out of fake mice.

Houseplants Look Enticing But . . .

Cats don’t understand that houseplants are not safe to eat. Poinsettias, azaleas, and philodendrons are just a few poisonous and potentially deadly plants. Discourage your cat from playing with any houseplants by saying “No” when he is investigating them. Cover the soil with decorative rocks so that your cat won’t be tempted to dig. Hang plants from the ceiling, beyond his reach, or find a new home for plants that are just too tempting.

Cats Don’t Always Land on Their Feet

Open windows, balconies, and rooftops are serious hazards for cats. If possible, keep these areas off-limits. If you have lamps on timers, make sure the lamp is secure so that the cat can’t knock the lamp over. Otherwise, the lamp is a potential fire hazard.

Don’t Wet Him . . . Or Dry Him

Many people use spray bottles as a deterrent for bad behavior, but they can be dangerous. Cats are susceptible to upper respiratory infections, especially if water is forced into the mouth or nose.

Keep the door of the clothes dryer closed when unattended. Every time you close your dryer door, first look to see that no one’s in there.

Be Careful of Chemicals and Cleaners

Mothballs and moth crystals can destroy a cat’s liver within a few hours of inhaling the fumes. Use cedar in closets and chests.

Keep your cat away from household cleaners. Anything dangerous for human consumption is often fatal for cats. Use baking soda, vinegar, or environmentally safe natural cleaners instead of commercial cleaning products. Cats are very sensitive to chemicals, so rinse surfaces well after using any kind of cleaner.

After applying fertilizer or weed killer to the lawn, keep your cat inside for the period recommended by the chemical manufacturer and until after the lawn has been watered. Inside the house, use roach and mouse traps instead of chemicals or poison.

The Litter Box

Avoid the use of clumping litters that contain sodium bentonite. The substance has been suspected of killing kittens. Do not keep a litter box in the garage or near a gas-fueled hot water heater, where carbon monoxide might accumulate.

If you are pregnant, do not handle cat litter. There is a risk of toxoplasmosis, a disease that can cause birth defects. Note that toxoplasmosis also can be caused by eating meat that is undercooked or was improperly handled. Ask your doctor and your veterinarian for advice on handling cats when you’re pregnant.

Speaking of the Garage. . .

Antifreeze has been known to kill pets. Garage doors and garage door openers have killed many cats. Warm car engines are attractive on cold nights, and cats often are killed when they are caught unawares beneath a car hood. Before starting your engine, be sure to check for cats.

The Sewing Room, Office, Kitchen, Bathroom

Sewing machine needles and glimmering scissors can seriously injure cats who let curiosity get the better of them. Keep your cat away while you’re using the machine.

Cats can swallow rubber bands and other small office supplies. Be sure to keep such items in closed boxes or drawers.

Toothpicks, tinfoil balls, corks, and cellophane can choke cats. Plastic bags can trap or suffocate them. Store these and similar items in closed drawers or cupboards.

Make sure the bathroom is safe for your cat, too. Keep the toilet lid down—a thirsty cat might drink out of the bowl and could be injured by chemicals in the toilet bowl water. He also could be hurt if the seat falls on him. Medicines meant for humans are not meant for cats, so keep them in their containers and out of reach. Aspirin and Tylenol are deadly.

Seasonal Dangers

Cats will chew on or swallow tinsel, Christmas tree water, angel hair, and Easter egg nests, all of which are toxic, so keep a close eye on your cat when you have seasonal decorations in the house. Keep your cat inside during any holidays when firecrackers are used. When the weather is hot, or even just warm, don’t leave her in the car. It only takes a few minutes in a hot car to kill your pet.

Collars, Harnesses, and Leashes

Any cat that is let outside needs a collar with a phone number. Even if your cat is tattooed, he should wear a collar outdoors. Tattooed cats may be okay collarless while indoors, but not outside. Use a bell on his collar when he’s outside, but not inside the house; it will drive everyone crazy, especially the cat.

Cat collars should fit loosely. Unlike dogs, cats have fragile necks. Cats need to be able to shed the collar to avoid injury should the collar get caught in a fence. Use a breakaway collar made especially for cats. Buy a brightly colored collar so you can spot him easily. Write your name on the collar with a permanent marker or include a tag.

Cats can get out of just about any harness. Use a harness or leash only while you are around to watch. Never leave your cat unattended, even if he’s wearing a harness.

Cat Carriers

Use an airline-approved cat carrier, because it will be durable, easily transportable, storable, and washable. Always use a cat carrier when you travel, even in an automobile. It is dangerous to drive with the distraction of a cat loose in a car. Some cats have caused car accidents by crawling underneath the brake pedal.

Special Considerations for Declawed Cats

Declawed cats are clumsier and less able to respond to danger than clawed cats. Place padding in areas where your cat may fall. Supervise a declawed cat when you take her outdoors; she won’t be able to climb trees to escape dogs and predators, and may have to fight rather than flee.

Don’t Lose Him

One way to permanently register ownership of your cat is to have him tattooed and then register the number with a national pet registry. It is a federal offense for any laboratory to accept a tattooed animal. And unlike a collar, a tattoo can’t slip off (see Tattooing Your Cat).

You should also use the new microchip implant identification method. Not just any microchip reader can decipher the chip information, but most of them can at least detect that a chip is present. Shelters often have a universal chip reader, but laboratories do not. The chip is not visible and does not offer the same federal protection that tattooing does, but it can provide additional protection. For more information about getting your cat microchipped, call your local animal shelter or your veterinarian. Ask your veterinarian about any health risks associated with microchips.

For added safety, don’t let your cat go outdoors without a collar that has your phone number on it, even if he’s tattooed and/or microchipped.

Other Dangers

Pet stores carry decals that let firefighters know how many animals are in the house. Firefighters don’t have time to rescue your cat, but if they see the decal, they will leave a door open for the cat to escape.

Keep a file of information about each cat in case one of them gets lost. The file should include:

  • A few pictures
  • Medical records
  • The tattoo number, registry address, and phone number
  • A written description of the cat

See Lost and Found Cats, for more information about this subject.

Make Sure She’s Not Forgotten

It’s a good idea to make provisions for your pet in the event of your death. If a friend or relative doesn’t speak up on your cat’s behalf, your beloved pet could be sent to a shelter or even sold to a laboratory. Entrust her care to someone you know and trust.

Because animals are possessions under the law, you should include provisions for your cat’s care in your will. If you don’t have a will, write a letter stating how you want your cat to be cared for. If you have a medical power of attorney, insert a line about what to do with your pet if you become incapacitated. Give the instructions to your best friend or your lawyer.

Shopping List for this Section

  • cat carrier
  • curtain cleat or binder clip
  • tattoo, see
  • brightly colored, breakaway cat collar, and a bell to use outdoors

More for information, see Cat Resources.

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