The saying "Curiosity killed the cat" has its basis in sad fact: Cats are curious creatures, and in an unsafe environment this trait can lead them into danger. It's your responsibility to protect your pet by making your home a safe place for it to live and explore.
Before you bring home your cat or kitten, you'll need to cat-proof your house, just as you would baby-proof it for a new human arrival.
Here are some dangers to look for and address throughout the house:
Electrical cords: Make sure your cat can't use these to pull down lamps and other appliances, and that he will not be able to chew on the cords, which can lead to fires. To keep them out of your cat's sight and reach, keep cords as short as possible, and mount extension cords to baseboards.
Draw cords and pulls on window blinds and shades: Shorten these to a safe length by tying them.
Open windows and loose screens: Ensure that all screens are securely fastened, and keep non-screened windows closed. Don't allow your cat onto outdoor balconies.
Plants: Grow only nontoxic plants in your home (and garden, if your cat will be allowed outdoors). Many common plants are poisonous to cats, including dieffenbachia, ivy, mistletoe, philodendron, and poinsettia. (For a more complete list, visit the Web site below.)
Large appliances: Get in the habit of keeping the doors closed on the refrigerator, freezer, washer, dryer, oven, and even the microwave -- cats are quick and stealthy, and some (especially kittens) are small, so it's better to err on the side of caution. (This will also prevent your pet from accidentally ingesting any detergent or residue in the washer or dishwasher.)
After opening any of these appliance doors, double-check to make sure the cat isn't inside before closing them again.
Room by Room
Here's how to take a safety inventory:
- Walk from room to room, keeping your eyes open for danger.
- In each room, get down on all fours and look around to see what hazards lurk at your cat's eye level.
- Then stand up and scan what lies above your head. Cats are remarkably agile, with the ability to leap to great heights, and dexterous, sometimes capable of opening doors and cupboards. Much that would be off-limits to a dog is fair game to a cat.
As you make the rounds on your cat-proofing tour, take special note of these room-specific hazards:
- Store knives, forks, and other sharp utensils and kitchen tools out of your pet's reach. A cat could injure its paws if it jumped onto a table or counter where a sharp object had been left out, or if it licked food off a recently-used knife.
- Never let your cat walk on kitchen surfaces, especially the stovetop.
- Keep detergents, disinfectants, drain cleaners, and oven cleaners in tightly-closed containers, and store them in securely-closed or locked cabinets out of your cat's reach.
- Keep the toilet lid down when not in use, especially if your cat is still a kitten.
- Keep bathroom-cleaning products in tightly-closed containers, and store them in securely-closed or locked cabinets out of your cat's reach.
- Store both prescription and nonprescription medicines in childproof containers and keep them in a locked cabinet.
- Keep weed killer, pesticides, and other gardening chemicals out of your cat's reach. Clean up spills immediately.
- Follow the same rules for automotive-maintenance products, such as motor oil and windshield fluid. Take special precautions with antifreeze, as its sweet taste makes this highly-toxic substance attractive to animals: Make sure no pets are in the vicinity when you drain antifreeze, dispose of used antifreeze promptly and safely, store it properly, and clean up any spills immediately and thoroughly.
Kittens and Kids
If you're bringing a cat or kitten into a household that includes children, an important safety step is teaching the kids how to handle the new family member gently and safely. Demonstrating the basics to your child will help safeguard both him and your pet from injury.
Toddlers and preschoolers may be too young to safely pick up and support a pet, but you can get them used to interacting safely by letting them pet and talk to the cat while you hold it in your arms or on your lap.
School-age kids can learn to:
- Follow the cat's cues. Explain to your child that cats aren't always in the mood to play. It's best to let them initiate contact. When the cat rubs up against you, purring, or brings you a favorite toy, it means your pet is in the mood to be petted and played with. But if the cat is swishing its tail, staring with large pupils, or showing other signs of agitation, it is probably nervous or overexcited, and is best left alone until it calms down. Remind your child never to disturb the cat while it is sleeping, eating, or using the litter box.
- Pick up the cat properly. Teach your child never to pick up the cat by the scruff of its neck -- that's OK for a mother cat to do with her kittens, but not for people to do with their pets. Show your child exactly how to pick up the cat without hurting it: Place one hand under its stomach, just behind the front legs, and the other hand under its hind legs. Lift the cat up and hold it against your chest, keeping one hand under its hind legs for support.
- Hold the cat gently but securely. Demonstrate for your child how to hold your pet in a way that makes it feel safe: Keep one hand under the cat's hind legs while bending your arm at the elbow; the cat's lower body can rest against your forearm. Place your other hand around the cat's upper chest, near the neck, to support its upper body.
Practice these moves several times with your child before letting her try them on her own.