Think your indoor cats are safe from harm? Think again! While indoor cats will not get hit by a car or eaten by a hungry coyote, they can still find plenty of ways to get themselves into trouble!
In a multiple-cat household with lots of cats enjoying the comforts of your home, you need to be extra diligent when it comes to their safety. Living with a house full of cats, who are active, curious, into everything, and always underfoot, can be an invitation to trouble for both you and your cats.
Living with lots of indoor cats, there are some everyday activities that require more caution and attention. One of these activities is standing with the door open waving hello or good-bye to your company. Indoor cats tend to view open doors as an invitation to go through and explore what’s on the other side!
Most of our cats have no real desire to go outside beyond their own secured ‘Kitty Yard’ but there are a couple (Herbie and Murry) that view escaping out our front door as some kind of game. They hover, they slink, they even make cute little faces, all in an attempt to get past us to the front porch! And the few times either of them has gotten out, they strut around so proud of themselves! They come right to us when called and are easily returned to the house but the proud strutting continues for quite a while!
The kittens are a different matter. They see us going through the open door and just want to come with us. They don’t have any mission in mind except to follow us. No kitten has ever made it past the threshold!
We make every effort to teach our indoor cats that the front door is not for them. We never stand in the doorway for any reason. Before opening the door, we look around to see who is close by. Kittens are simply picked up and placed in the greenhouse window next to the door so they can see what’s happening yet remain safely indoors. Adult cats are scooted to the side so that when to door is opened, their view of the outside is blocked.
When returning through the door from the outside, the door is first cracked opened so we can see who might be close by. If any of our indoor cats are right there, waiting for their opportunity to ‘escape’, we block the doorway with a leg and use the verbal command ‘Back’. As we move sideways through the door we keep saying the command in a low and sharp tone. If carrying packages, we hold them low to block the exit.
None of our indoor cats get a friendly greeting from us until we are well inside the house and the door is shut. This helps to discourage them from congregating at the door for attention when we come home. Most of them learn very quickly that by waiting in the windows or on the nearby table, they get positive attention. Once we are in and the door closed, we make an effort to greet each cat, calling them by name and giving them a bit of petting. (Though some of them are more interested in the groceries we’ve brought home than us!)
No cat that runs out is ever punished! It will not prevent or discourage them from trying to run out the door. Punishment would only serve to break the bond of trust between us and our cats. And catching a cat that doesn’t trust you is next to impossible!
We also don’t chase them, turning their ‘escape’ into a game. We remain calm and simply call to them in a friendly tone until they are close enough to pick up. Then we carry them back into the house and set them down away from the entry door. Our behavior practices have kept escape attempts to a minimum and we have noticed that, as the cats mature, they are less interested in exploring the great outdoors!
Another common activity that requires more attention when you live with lots of indoor cats is walking! Especially walking with your arms full or walking in the dark! Cats can be severely injured from their owner stepping on them. And cat owners themselves have been injured by a fall while attempting to avoid stepping on their cat!
Given how our indoor cats normally behave, we swear that, at times, it seems as though they are actually trying to make us fall! (Cats do like to watch things fall!) For some reason, cats like to weave around legs or dart right in front of a raised foot when their people are walking.
Our cats also seem to enjoy sleeping in the middle of the stairs, in the center of a doorway, right in front of the toilet, and under our feet wherever we happen to be sitting! Because we can’t change the normal behavior of a cat, we have learned to modify our own behavior when walking.
To avoid painful injuries to both us and our indoor cats, everyone knows to pay close attention to the immediate vicinity when walking. If several cats are walking with us, we move a little slower and sometimes shuffle our feet to avoid stepping on or accidentally kicking one of them. When using the stairs, we always keep one hand on the rail just in case a sudden need arises to avoid a cat!
Walking at night, in the dark, can be incredibly risky. The cats are harder to see, even with moonlight, and Freddie, being all black, is impossible to make out in the dark. We have nite-lites in the bedrooms and bathrooms which illuminate the areas so we don’t step on a sleeping cat if we have to get up in the middle of the night.
We also have lights placed at intervals along the path to the kitchen. Everyone knows to turn on the lights as they go and turn them off while returning. We didn’t have outlets in the right places to use nite-lites so turning on lamps and flipping light switches works as an alternative. we decided that a higher electric bill to prevent injury was preferable to a huge vet or hospital bill after an injury!
Because of these basic safety practices, we are happy to report that no cat or human has been injured while performing the normal activity of walking around the house! There have been a few close calls, however!
Whether you live with 2 or 20 indoor cats, there are many common household items that can cause injury or illness. Some you may already be aware of and some may surprise you. The following addresses some of these items and what we do to minimize the risk.
Many cats seem to enjoy chewing on houseplants. And many houseplants can be dangerous to your indoor cats causing everything from mild irritation to severe illness or death. If you have live houseplants, check the list of toxic plants to be sure none of them will harm your cats. If you have plant-chewing cats, try spraying the plants with Grannick’s Bitter Apple Spray
It will not harm the plants or your cats and the bitter taste will discourage chewing. Or try putting them somewhere the cats can’t get to them. We gave up on live plants except for Cat Grass which our indoor cats are allowed to chew. We only have artificial silk plants which don’t seem to interest them very much. They do enjoy sleeping in them sometimes, though!
Unlike dogs, who tend to eat anything that doesn’t eat them first, indoor cats are usually poisoned by walking through or brushing up against a toxic substance, then ingesting it when they groom themselves. Common toxic household substances include the obvious such as pesticides, bait traps, bleach, paint, and many household cleaners. As a rule, if it is toxic to you it is deadly for your cats. Keep your cats out of the area when using these substances, clean up spills right away, wipe down the containers after use, and keep these things in an area inaccessible to your indoor cats such as a locked cabinet or cupboard.
Other common products that can be harmful to cats include bath oils, cosmetics, perfumes, mothballs, hair dye, laundry detergents, and even suntan lotion. Medication, both prescription and non-prescription, can be deadly. One Tylenol alone is enough to kill a cat! Keep these things away from your cat. We keep stuff like these in cupboards with magnetic latches that the cats can’t open. Pick up dropped items and clean up spills right away. You just can’t be too careful!
3. PEOPLE FOOD
Most of the time, cats will only have a sniff or tiny taste of whatever it is you are eating. Occasionally though, indoor cats turn into greedy little buggers and will try to steal your whole meal! Three of our cats once got together and stole a whole chicken. They had dragged it off the counter and halfway to another room before we caught them!
The most notable food theft incident was when Little Girl had removed the lid from a butter dish and eaten almost an entire stick of butter before we caught her! Fortunately, she suffered no ill effects from her gorging. We now have a heavy ceramic butter dish so it is harder for them to get the lid off!
While none of our cats have been harmed by their food thieving, there are some foods that can be particularly harmful to cats. These include onion, onion powder, garlic, garlic powder, chives, leeks, cocoa, chocolate, macadamia nuts, coffee, coffee beans, tea, and alcohol. Keep these food items and food containing these away from your indoor cats – no matter how much they beg!
As a side note here, we mentioned that we have used baby food as a way to encourage sickly cats to eat, change their diet, or give medication. (See Feeding Your Cat) The baby food we use has nothing but meat, water, and cornstarch. Some baby foods have onion or garlic powder added to them so be sure to check the label before buying baby food to give to your cats to make sure it doesn’t contain onion or garlic.
4. ELECTRICAL CORDS
While more common with dogs than cats, indoor cats, especially kittens, have been electrocuted from chewing on electrical cords. To cats, the cords are like a snake and considered fair game! The bigger problem we have with our indoor cats is that they like to play with the cords and can pull things down on themselves, risking injury or causing damage to the appliance. Ironing is an especially risky chore around here! They love the iron cord!
When using appliances such as the iron, we are very observant regarding where the cats are and what they are doing. We never leave the iron (or other appliance) unattended – not even for a minute!
Keep cords tucked away under baseboards or in cord containers which can be purchased at most home improvement stores. This is especially important around the TV, DVD center where there can be a hornet’s nest of electrical cords together. Cats can get tangled in them, pull things off onto themselves, or get electrocuted. Lamps and computer cords are also interesting playthings for your indoor cats.If you can’t keep the cords hidden away, spray them with Grannick’s Bitter Apple Spray to decrease the cat’s interest in them and prevent chewing. Once they discover how bad the cords taste, they tend to leave them alone!
Along this same vein, unused electrical outlets can also peak the interest of indoor cats, especially kittens. Use outlet covers to keep the cats from injuring themselves. Outlets covers can be purchased in baby departments and home improvement stores.
5. STRINGY THINGS
String, yarn, ribbon, thread, tinsel, rubber bands, and other string-like things can cause grave injury to an indoor cat. Cats have backward-facing barbs on their tongues which can make it impossible for them to get the stringy thing out of their mouth. (This is also what gives that sand-papery feel when they lick you!)
Cats can usually swallow the stringy thing without difficulty. The problem arises when it tries to pass into the intestine. There, it can become tangled, causing obstruction or cutting off the blood supply and part of the intestine dies. This can be fatal to your cat!
Take the case of Bob, the cat (not one of ours). Bob loved eating his owner’s rubber band-like ponytail holders. While he usually vomited them back up, he had seen the vet on several occasions to get them removed. This last time, he had stopped eating and required surgery to remove the obstruction they had caused. As it turned out, poor Bob had a total of 18 ponytail holders in his stomach and intestine!
Fortunately, Bob recovered well and his owner no longer uses the rubber band type of ponytail holder! To prevent this from happening to our cats, we keep the stringy thing in containers with lids like Gladware, coffee cans, etc. We also make sure that used stringy things go directly into a trash can with a lid. Cat toys with string are kept in a latched foot locker and are only used under supervision.
6. SMALL THINGS
It can seem impossible to get a cat to swallow a pill but drop an earring, tack, staple, paper clip, pin, needle, coin, toothpick, button, or any other small thing and the cat seems to quickly and easily swallow it as soon as they realize you are trying to take it from them! Keep small, tiny things in containers or a latched cabinet and pick up dropped items right away. If you see your indoor cat happily playing with something you didn’t give him, investigate immediately and take it away if it is not safe for him to play with!
7. THE SPONGE
If you use a sponge for cleaning, we recommend getting rid of it or at least, keeping it locked away. Don’t leave it on the sink where your inquisitive indoor cat can get to it! Sponges often retain food smells that can be enticing to a cat. Cats can chew sponges into pieces and swallow them causing an obstruction. Also, if the sponge is used for cleaning, some of the cleaners remain in the sponge and can poison the sponge chewing cat!
We don’t use sponges at all. We use rags or dishwashing cloths, and paper towels for cleaning. Paper towels get thrown out and cloths are harder for a cat to chew up. The clothes are put in the wash if used with any household cleaner and the one used for dishwashing is rinsed thoroughly and changed daily.
The refrigerator, dishwasher, washer, dryer, oven, range top, wall heater, air vent, toilet, and even microwave are all exciting places for indoor cats to explore. Our Louie never fails to hop in the fridge anytime it is opened! He also enjoys curling up in the microwave!
Pay close attention to your cats when opening and especially closing any appliance. Cats are faster than you think! They can suffocate in the refrigerator and suffer severe burns by hopping on an open oven door or walking across a hot range top to investigate the tempting smells coming from them. Keep toilet lids down also. While cats can normally get themselves out when they fall in, kittens cannot and have drowned after falling in the toilet!
We also keep a squirt bottle handy when using the stovetop or oven. Cats don’t understand hot until it is too late! We would rather they suffer the indignity of getting squirted with water than the pain of a severe burn!
Be sure to check both the washer and dryer before putting in clothes. A cat may be in there having a nap and be unable to get out or you may not see them once the clothes go in. Dryers are more tempting than washers but indoor cats have suffered injuries from both appliances when their owners didn’t realize they were in them.
Office machines like the printer, fax, and answering machine are also fun appliances for indoor cats to play with. Buddy once broke a printer by sticking his paw into ‘catch’ the paper moving through! And, after having messages erased by kitties walking across the answering machine, we now have it mounted to a wall!
And every cat owner has probably experienced the ‘fun’ of having a catwalk across the keyboard of their computer so be sure to save your work frequently to avoid having it deleted – or worse, sent via email when you weren’t ready!
Cats love lounging in the laundry, clean or dirty! The laundry basket is big fun for indoor cats! Check to be sure that no little kitty is hiding in the basket of dirty clothes before dumping them in the washer. Use a hamper with a lid for the dirty clothes before wash day but still check. Some indoor cats can figure out how to get in the hamper and close the lid without you even knowing.
We use net bags hung on the wall to put dirty clothes in. While our cats can and have gotten into them, because they are made of netting material, a cat sleeping in dirty clothes bags can easily be seen. They also help speed the washing process by allowing us to pre-sort the laundry prior to washing. One for towels, one for lights, and one for darks. This way, we just grab a full bag, double-check for a sleeping kitty, then dump the clothes in the washer!
10. STORAGE AREAS
Drawers, cupboards, cabinets, and closets are all very exciting places for indoor cats to hide for a nap. They love small, dark places and these definitely fit the bill. However, a cat can be injured or become trapped very easily.
Many of our cats, most notably Buddy, Louie, and Herbie, have learned how to open any drawer or cabinet door on their own! Especially if there is something in there that they want! To keep them out of storage areas that contain things we don’t want them having access too like household cleaners, we put latches or magnetic closures on the drawer or door.
Our Herbie likes to open the drawer where we keep the dishtowels and crawl in behind the drawer for a nap. We can’t see him but we know he is in there because the drawer is open and the towels are scattered on the floor. When you find an open drawer, close it slowly and carefully. Cats have been injured when squished by someone closing an open drawer! And Buddy can open anything he thinks is hiding one of his toys!
All of us have experienced a mild heart attack after opening a cabinet only to discover Louie staring back at us! And, after accidentally trapping Sophie in a closet for many hours, we removed all of the closet doors except one – which we check carefully before closing!
We have tried the baby latches for cabinets and drawers but discovered that they allowed the doors to open just enough for a small cat to squeeze in. If a cat can fit their head through, the rest of them will fit also. We use our closed fist as a rough measurement. If our fist fits, we change the latch!
Several of our indoor cats enjoy sleeping in the shower and after inadvertently giving them an unexpected soaking, we now check the shower stall before turning on the water!
Though more common with dogs and outdoor cats, indoor cats are often intrigued by the interesting smells coming from the household garbage cans. Cats getting into the garbage not only makes a mess but can also be deadly for them. Cooked chicken bones are especially dangerous in that they can splinter and perforate the intestine.
All of our household trash cans have lids and we use one can specifically for food waste, broken glass, etc. – basically anything potentially dangerous. This can is taken out every night. (The outside cans also have lids and can’t be tipped over so night critters can’t get into it!)
12. BOX SPRING MATTRESS
Indoor cats are notorious for clawing holes in the bottom and crawling up inside box spring mattresses. We have platform beds to avoid this issue but if you have one, try putting a fitted sheet on the underside of the mattress to keep the cats out. Cats sleeping inside box spring mattresses have been severely injured by getting pinched by the springs when someone has sat on the bed.
13. OTHER POTENTIAL PROBLEM AREAS
Make sure window screens are secure and screen in outdoor balconies or make them off-limits to cats. While cats are known for always landing on their feet that doesn’t mean they won’t be injured in a fall. Broken legs, ribs, and facial bones are the most common type of fall injury for cats. If the height of the fall is too low, they may not have time to right themselves. And don’t think a cat is just going to sit there and calmly watch the world go by. All it takes is a bird, a bug, or even another cat to distract them and make them fall.
The screening material we use for our screens is slightly thicker than usual to help prevent the cats from clawing holes in it. It can be purchased at most home improvement stores. Because a few of our cats enjoy climbing screens, we always keep the screen doors latched and locked. Our Herbie as figured out how to climb up and press his foot on the latch of one of our screen doors. If it is not kept locked, he can open it and take himself for a walk!
Indoor cats can easily get tangled in drapery cords so be sure to secure the cords to prevent this. Playing with knives that smell like food can also injure a curious cat.
Plastic is another high-risk item. Our cat Lily loves to chew on plastic, any kind of plastic! While plastic is usually thrown back up, it can cause choking or intestinal obstruction. We make a point to ensure that any and all plastic is securely stored or thrown away in a secured trash can.
Rocking chairs and especially recliners can cause severe injury to indoor cats. Be sure to check for cats before rocking in a rocking chair. The mechanism of a recliner can easily injure or kill a cat. And you have to actually get out of the chair and look underneath to see if a cat is there before putting the foot rest down. Because of this, we don’t have any recliners – the risk is just too great. We use regular footstools instead!
There is no way to list everything that has the potential to cause harm to indoor cats but we hope we have given you some idea of what to be on the look out for. Cats need you to protect them from their own innate curiosity.
Lock up things that can hurt them and keep certain areas off-limits if necessary. Pay attention to where they are and what they are playing with. Engage in your own normal activities with a bit of caution and be sure there isn’t a cat right there trying to ‘help’ you. Put up with small inconveniences (like a cat nesting in your sock drawer) and prevent those things which can create a big inconvenience – like a trip to the emergency vet!
A little bit of common sense and attention to detail will go a long way toward helping you and all of your indoor cats live long, healthy and hopefully injury free lives!