The world can be a dangerous place for a cat. Most cat guardians know about the risks of letting cats roam outdoors, but the inside of your house can be surprisingly hazardous for a curious feline friend too.
Many years ago, my family had an adventurous all-black cat named Charlotte. I remember how she used to climb to the upper shelves of our bookcases, where she could keep an eye on everyone. She’d then startle us with a sudden leap from above and stalk away with a satisfied look on her face. My mom was particularly close to Charlotte, but we all loved her and admired her as the smartest and boldest cat we’d ever had.
One day, Charlotte decided to explore the heap of freshly washed clothes sitting in our dryer. Tragically, she was still inside the machine when my mom closed the door and switched it on. Mom heard a thumping noise from the laundry room, but she assumed that someone had put a pair of tennis shoes in the dryer. When she opened the machine and saw what had happened to our beautiful Charlotte, she was devastated. It was years before we stopped grieving for Charlotte’s loss, and to this very day, I have a reminder note taped to the outside of our dryer: “Any cats inside?”
My cat Shadow showed me another indoor cat hazard: doors. Shadow taught himself how to open the back door. We were mystified about how he was escaping into the yard until my husband caught him in the act of working the door handle. We solved that problem by attaching a pneumatic door closer, but I failed to consider that if Shadow could open a door, he could surely close one too. And he did, while we were away from home briefly. He managed to shut himself and our other cat away from their food, water, and litterbox. I was horrified when I got home and realized what had happened, but they were both thankfully OK—although it took me a few days to clean up the bed that had become their temporary litter box. Now, whenever I am away from the house overnight, I wedge the doors open.
Shadow also made me aware of some of the dangerous things that a cat can eat. He liked to chew on the houseplants. After many unsuccessful attempts to discourage him, we gave up and made the house a plant-free zone. The following week, my husband brought home a bouquet of assorted flowers. I set them out of the way on a high shelf, but when I returned to the room 20 minutes later, Shadow had found them and eaten four of them. Some detective work with the remaining flowers indicated that he might have eaten lilies, which are extremely toxic to cats. Fortunately, thanks to animal first-aid training, I was able to make Shadow vomit up the plants before he had absorbed them. That is not the thing to do in all cases, so had I not known exactly what to do, I would have called the round-the-clock poison control center emergency number for quick advice.
Many cats like to play with string, thread, tinsel, and even dental floss, which can be life-threatening if swallowed. If your cat has eaten a string, call the vet immediately. Don’t pull on the string—you can easily cut right through your cat’s intestines. Household chemicals like bleach and detergents can injure your cat as well. Fluffy may be smart enough not to eat them, but if you leave some spilled on the floor and she walks through it, she’ll try to clean up by licking her paws and fur. And, if you put a carrier bag on the floor, be certain the handles are cut through: Cats can strangle in a couple of minutes.
It’s a good idea to take an animal first-aid class. Contact your local animal shelter or Red Cross chapter to locate a class near you. Keep the Animal Poison Control Center number handy: 1-888-426-4435. This number is staffed 24 hours a day. There’s a fee for callers, but in a life-or-death situation, it’s worth every penny.
I still think of Charlotte often, and in her memory, I’m constantly on the lookout for potential dangers. I only hope that I can always stay one step ahead of my cats’ curiosity.