Make your house cat-safe

Claire Dunling

If you’ve just brought home your first cat, or you are just thinking of getting a cat, now is the time to ‘cat-proof’ your home. Cats are naturally curious and love to explore their environment, but they have no real understanding of danger.

You can’t make any house and garden 100% cat proof, they’ll always do something you never anticipated, but here is a list of things you can do to cat-proof your home from the more common dangers.

Around The House

Here are 12 tips for cat proofing your home, but we’re sure your cat will find many more…

Keep plants and valuable ornaments out of the way!

Think in 3D: Cats don’t see the world the way we do. High ledges are fascinating and they have a very basic urge to get as high as possible and to get to those enticing spots they see routes of “there to there to there”, which we’d never consider.

So, putting something up on the side is not necessarily putting it out of reach from the cat. Only closed cabinets and cupboards are safe – and cats are pretty nifty with doors too.

Keep upper floor windows shut

Never leave any window on any upper floors open wide enough for the cat to squeeze out of and onto the ledge.

Similarly, don’t let cats out on balconies or upper porches. They can and will jump onto the balustrades but winds or wobbly fixings can unbalance them. Cats have legendary falling recovery skills, but don’t rely on it.

House plants can be poisonous

Many house plants like Dieffenbachia (also known as Dumb Cane or Leopard Lily), Elephant Ear and Spider plants are poisonous to cats if eaten. Lilies are particularly toxic to cats and if any part of the plant is ingested it results in acute kidney failure. Others to watch out for are – Umbrella plant, Rubber plant, and Christmas plants like Poinsettia, holly and mistletoe.

Check out your house plants before the cat arrives. Although, if you’re certain they won’t drop leaves or petals, then putting them in hanging baskets may be enough. If you’re not sure about the plant or where to put it, then remove it from the house entirely, as the cat’s well-being trumps the foliage.

Be careful of electrical cables

Teething kittens, and cats that are still kittens at heart, love to chew and cannot resist string. However, they can’t tell the difference between harmless wool and far more dangerous ‘electric string’ (power cables).

To be completely safe, unplug any appliances not being used, and hide as many permanently plugged in electrical cables as you feasibly can.

Cats will always find a way. Nothing is truly cat proof!

Plastic carrier bags

Bags of all kinds are irresistible to cats and all they will try and get inside them.  A paper sack or grocery bag is truly harmless fun, but a plastic carrier bag can kill, so never leave them out.

Even if you’ve left a paper sack on the floor, always peek inside to check for the cat before picking it up or pushing out of the way with your foot.

Be aware of fires or heaters

Don’t leave a cat alone for too long in a room where a fire is lit or a heater is turned on. The cat will sleep too close to it or on it.

Being cats they can also knock free-standing heaters over. It’s habitual for them to leap on, realise the top is hot, then skitter to jump off, so always turn these off if leaving the room for longer than a minute or two.

Chimneys are a great hiding place!

Chimneys in unlit open fires present great places for your cat to climb and hide. Give serious thought to how you can keep the cat from climbing up the chimney when the fire is not lit – install fire guards or if possible close the chimney.

We’ve all heard stories of the Fire Brigade rescuing chimney bound cats – try to avoid becoming the subject of such a tale.

Keep small objects out of reach

Try to spot small, sharp or easily swallowed objects lying in – what before the cat arrived – were harmless things. If it’s small, solid and has sharp edges, everything from pen tops to Lego bricks, can be a threat.

Hot ovens make a great spot for sleeping

Never leave the door of a hot oven open. Put yourself in the cats mind. It is somewhere new to climb (tick), and warm (big tick). The dangers are obvious, but it is easy to forget once you’ve served and eaten dinner.

Cat’s like to help with the ironing – but aren’t very good at it!

Ironing isn’t really fun for anyone, but cats are curious creatures and may find the waggling cord fun to play with – that’s until they pull the iron off the ironing board!

They may try and jump up on the ironing board in their quest to reach high places, but ironing boards can be unstable and tip over. So, to prevent harm coming to your cat, and your carpet (if a hot iron lands on it!), put it all away when you’re not in the room.

Cleaning products

That place where you keep the bleach and washing powders (under the sink or utility room) should be out of sight with the door firmly shut or locked. If the door is easily opened, fit a child lock. Strangely enough. some cats actually seem to like the smell of bleach…

Keep the bathroom cupboard doors closed. Medicines, shampoo, suntan lotions and most other personal care are harmful to cats, so again stored them behind firmly closed doors.

Washing machines and tumble dryers

Close washing machine and tumble dryer doors.  Like ovens, these tend to be warm and interesting places to climb into. If a cat does decide to climb in to your tumble dryer or washing machine you may inadvertently shut them in.

Always, always, always check before putting things in to these machines to make sure you’re not going to cover the cat with a duvet and then turn it on.

In The Garden

Many cats love the great outdoors and will spend hours in the garden – here are 5 tips to keep your cat happy and safe in your garden:

Poisonous plants

Like the house, some garden plants, such as ivy and oleander, can be poisonous to cats. Other plants to watch out for if eaten are chrysanthemums, sweet pea, poppy, peony, delphiniums, cornflower, marigold, ferns, holly, mistletoe, daffodil bulbs, lupin, foxglove, iris, snowdrop, wisteria – and remember, all parts of a lily are toxic. Talk to your vet or get a plant savvy friend to guide you through the potential hazards. If you’re not sure, err on the side of safety and remove the plant or use some covering to keep the cat away from contacting it.

Weed killers and lawn treatments

Think before you treat or spray the lawn or garden with pesticides or weed killers. Only buy pet friendly garden chemicals, always read the label and keep the cat clear of the treated area until any danger has passed.

Garden sheds and garages

Garden sheds and garages are full of all sorts of dangers for cats – from sharp tools that can fall on them to poisonous chemicals.

Always keep the door shut so that cats cannot sneak in as you work elsewhere in the garden and always do a final “has a cat snuck in” check before locking up for the night.

Anti-freeze is a real danger to cats. They seem to love its taste and once ingested it is often fatal. Keep bottles of this stuff firmly shut and in winter be on the constant look out for leaks,
John Campbell, Head Vet of Pet Drugs Online

Ponds and pools

Cover pools and ponds when preparing for a kitten. Older cats are less likely to climb in, but they can still fall or slip.

Drain or clean up any areas of standing water. This will have become stagnant and that slimy film can be toxic and is definitely revolting. So, do the garden a favour and tidy it up!

Cars offer warm hiding places

We’ve all seen cat foot prints on car bonnets, and that’s because the warmth of car engines is attractive to cats to curl up on and sleep.

It is not unknown for cats to climb up through the underside of the car and onto the engine or into wheel wells.

So, just to be safe, if you don’t know where you cat is, always have a quick visual check, think “have I seen the cat in the last few minutes” and slam the car door firmly to try and alert any napping cat.

It’s worthwhile putting the effort in to ensure you have a safe environment for you cat, but most of all remember it is their house now. You may have paid for it, but the cat will certainly think it owns the place!

This post is an opinion and should only be used as a guide. You should discuss any change to your pet’s care or lifestyle thoroughly with your vet before starting any program or treatment.

If in doubt contact your veterinary practice

And always keep your vet's phone number handy - just in case!