When you come home with a new cat, it goes without saying that you want to make your home and garden as safe as possible. But where do you start?
Many common household objects are highly toxic to cats even in low quantities:
- Cleaning and hygiene products, such as bleach, and products containing phenols (e.g. disinfectants that turn water cloudy) - keep in a secured cupboard
- Human medicines (paracetamol for example is highly toxic to cats)
- Car-related products - even a small amount of anti-freeze is highly toxic to cats
- Beauty or decorating products such as hair dyes, white spirit, nail polish remover
- Rat/mouse poisons - if these must be used they should be positioned far away from areas accessible to cats, but are preferably not used as cats can be exposed by eating poisoned prey
- Slug pellets can be sweet-tasting so use animal-friendly products
- Mothballs (naphthalene or paradichlorobezine)
- Potpourri oils, fabric softener sheets, automatic dish detergents (cationic detergents which cause corrosive lesions)
- Batteries (acids or alkali which cause corrosive lesions)
- Home-made play dough (high level of salt)
- Hand or foot warmers (high levels of iron)
- Cigarettes, leftover coffee grounds, alcohol
- Chocolate (contains theobromine. This is more of an issue for dogs, but also toxic to cats)
- All forms of Lilies (the leaves, flowers etc) found in bouquets or as houseplants (see later for other plants)
- Dog-flea products can contain permethrin and be highly toxic to cats so make sure they are kept out of reach and treated dogs are separated from cats
Kitten-proofing your home
Like other intelligent and playful babies, kittens investigate objects by touching, chewing and tasting them. Growing kittens love to explore but need protection from many potentially hazardous household items that are dangerous if swallowed. Kittens are like toddlers, curious about everything and not aware of what is dangerous, so you need to prepare your home to minimise the risks.
- All windows and doors should be shut (even if you plan to eventually let your kitten out, they should be kept indoors to start with to adjust to their new surroundings and until they are neutered/vaccinated).
- Get covered rubbish bins for your kitchen and bathroom.
- Breakable ornaments should be put away as a curious kitten will knock them off.
- Doors to the oven, fridge, microwave, dishwasher, tumble-dryer and washing machine should always be kept closed. Put notes on the doors to remind people to check inside before using them as small kittens can find a warm dryer an irresistible sleeping place.
- Keep kitchen countertops clear to make them less tempting.
- Store household chemicals, any medications and poisons in a locked cabinet.
- Keep toilet lids down, so your kitten can't fall in.
- Hide all trailing electrical cables behind furniture. A thick cable protector (available from hardware stores) can also be placed over the cables, to make them chew-proof.
- Don't leave plastic shopping bags lying around. These are a real hazard.
- Lit candles, burning incense or oil burners are asking for trouble - extinguish all naked flames and put a guard around any fires.
- Close toilet lids so your kitten won't fall in or learn to drink from the bowl! This is often forgotten so leave a note to remind people.
- Fit child locks on floor-level kitchen cupboards, especially if there are cleaning materials inside, as kittens can become very adept at opening doors.
- Shorten dangling blind and curtain cords and secure them out of reach.
- Food scraps must always be cleared away promptly. Chicken bones can be very dangerous, as they splinter when chewed; the string found on joints is also irresistible and potentially deadly. Make sure the kitten has no access to bins/bin bags as these are easily raided; although usually more of a problem with puppies, some kittens can’t resist leftovers!
Keep your kitten away from hazardous plants
Although we think of cats as meat-eaters, many are fond of chewing vegetables and other plant material. Many will sample grass outdoors, or the leaves of a potted houseplant inside. This can be dangerous when the leaves or other parts are toxic.
Ask your vet for a complete list of plants that could be harmful to your cat, and see www.fabcats.org/owners/poisons/plants.html, but the more common include:
Dieffenbachia (Dumb Cane), Lilies (often in flower arrangements and all parts of the plant are highly toxic), Philodendron, Mistletoe, Poinsettia
Lilies, Azalea, Daffodil, Tomato, Foxglove, Yew, Hydrangea
Most cats have instincts to establish territory, climb trees, hunt for prey and catnap in the sun. However, being outdoors also exposes your cat to diseases and parasites, getting lost or stolen, and injured or killed on the road. Being kept indoors all the time may not suit all cats, and requires a great deal more input from you to make the environment exciting. Therefore consider your decision carefully regarding indoor vs outdoor life and discuss it with your breeder or vet. If you decide to allow your cat outdoors, make sure you've made it as safe as possible.
- Confine your cat indoors until after the neuter or spay surgery and after completion of vaccination courses.
- Always keep your cat indoors after a house move so they are familiar with the new home environment before they are let out.
- Keep all vaccinations current. Talk to your vet about new vaccines that protect against contagious feline diseases.
- Keep all flea and worming treatment current.
- All cats allowed outside should be microchipped.
- If you have a garden and live in a quiet area, instal a cat flap and allow your cat access during the day.
- Keep your cat in at night. The old adage ‘putting the cat out’ is not sensible as most road traffic accidents occur at night, as well as fights with other cats or even other predators (badgers/foxes etc). Invest in a lockable flap or use a modern cat flap with night sensors that automatically allows cats in, but not out, in darkness.
- If you feel your location is not safe enough for free access (i.e. near a busy road) then options to allow your cat fresh air and exercise include:
- Building a large cat run in your garden, linked by a cat flap. This should have a warm, weatherproof section and be positioned half in sun, half in shade. Add a tree trunk or climbing frame, ropes and perches, some grass, a catnip plant, a litter tray and water bowl.
- Cat-fencing your garden to prevent escaping.
- ‘Walking’ your cat with a harness and lead - best introduced to young cats, they can adjust to this method.
- Always make sure you check for any cats lying in your drive before you reverse your car.
- Make sure your cat wears a 'quick release' or 'break-away' collar with an identification tag listing your address and your vet's phone number (the vet's surgery will be open during the day if you are out at work). A reflector strip on the collar will help motorists spot your cat at night.
- All cats should be microchipped to ensure they return safely and quickly to their owners. Ask your vet if your cat is not already microchipped and make sure you keep your details up to date on the microchip company records.
- Always use an enclosed cat carrier to transport your cat outdoors or by car.
- Neuter your cat to minimise roaming or fighting with other cats, as well as the transmission of diseases (and, of course, to eliminate the risk of pregnancy).
- Use chemical herbicides carefully. Restrict access to your garden after applying any chemical, keeping your cat away from your lawn or garden when treating it with fertilisers, herbicides or insecticides, until the area dries completely.
- Check that nobody in the area is using poison to kill mice and rats. It can be fatal if a cat eats the poison directly or a poisoned rodent.