Cat-Proofing Your Home -- Because Resistance is Futile

Cats don't actually give a hoot about our expectations

Published: August 13, 2018
Lily At Work
Lily says no more work, it's time for petting. Photo by Laura Schwartz

I have a friend who takes a somewhat reactionary (and useless, really) approach to undesired occurrences in her home and life. For example, when her son left his expensive bicycle lying on the front sidewalk, I suggested making him put it away or locking it up might be a better idea. “Someone could just ride off with it,” I warned.

“They better not!” was her answer.

In her dining room, she had a collection of bells, some of them very delicate glass and ceramic, that she’d been collecting for years. When she decided to take in a stray cat, I warned her the cat might jump up there and break some of her treasures.

“She better not!” was her defiant solution to that potential calamity.

Call me crazy, but I really believe in that old saying my granny was fond of repeating, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that in reality there are several different categories of pet owners. My friend was actually a very attentive dog owner. The dogs saw their veterinarian regularly, went for nail trims and grooming every few weeks, had plush, comfy beds, a safely fenced yard, and special food.

But, being relatively new to cat ownership, she definitely took a more casual approach with Pebbles. There was no litter box in the house -- Pebbles was expected to use the doggy door and do her business exclusively outside, rain or shine. She was also expected to ‘know better’ than to climb on the aforementioned knick-knack shelves, eat houseplants, or chew electrical cords. When I expressed concern about the possibility she would walk across the hot wood stove I was informed that Pebbles would certainly ‘figure it out eventually.’

I guess that’s one way to do it. But most experienced cat owners know that cats don’t actually give a hoot about our expectations, and they don’t respond well to yelling and throwing things. Even the age-old tactic of squirting them with water is not terribly effective, especially if they happen to be chewing an electrical cord at the time. It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that you should never, ever hit or spank your cat with your hand or any other item. The only thing they learn is to be afraid of you and whatever item you’re threatening them with.

A better approach, for you and for your cat, is to “cat proof” your home as much as possible, much like you would do if you brought home a new baby -- if said baby came equipped with springs for legs, a toddler's love of throwing things on the floor, and a teenager's feeling of invincibility.  Sometimes, this requires making some sacrifices, such as moving your delicate knick-knack collection to a room where the cat is not allowed to go or displaying them in a cabinet with glass doors instead of on open shelves.

Keeping your cat safe from the many perils lurking in your living room (and keeping your home safe from your lurking kitty) can be inconvenient but these easy tips may help you avoid broken bric-a-brac and frequent trips to the veterinary ER.

Learn what houseplants can harm your cat

Lilies, mistletoe, and Sago palm are among the most dangerous plants to have around pets. Depending on how much of the plant your cat ingests, the result can be organ failure or even death. While some plants only cause mild illness if ingested, that illness typically takes the form of a damp mess on the carpet. If you’re fond of having greenery in your house and equally fond of not having your cat die from eating said greenery, take a look at the ASPCA’s list of toxic houseplants. If you’re not sure if a plant could be harmful to your cat, keep it safely out of reach.

Lock up chemicals and medicines

We usually think of dogs as the pets most likely to eat even the most inedible things such as household cleansers, soaps and lotions, brillo pads and sponges, and the occasional hairbrush, but cats -- not so much. That doesn’t mean they can’t get into trouble when they’re snooping around under the kitchen sink or in the medicine cabinet you forgot to close. If you have a nosy cat, you may want to consider installing child-proof locks on those places your cat can reach, and even on the ones you don’t think they can (because trust me -- they can).

Check for stowaways. Twice.

Cats are curious by nature, and they are sneaky and stealthy. They like to get inside things, and under them, and way, way up on top of them. I’ve had many cats who were annoyingly adept at opening kitchen cabinets, empty drawers, and sliding screen doors. A new kitten once crawled into my son’s dresser drawer and fell asleep among the t-shirts. My son closed the drawer without noticing the kitten. We had already turned the rest of the house upside down and put up half a dozen ‘Lost Kitten’ signs around our block before his hideaway was discovered. Remember to always double check the dishwasher, clothes washer, dryer, closets, cabinets, and even luggage (both packing and unpacking) before you start a wash/dry cycle or close it up.

Keep the toilet closed

Many years ago, I worked as a receptionist at a veterinary clinic. One of the veterinarians I worked with told me a story about how she had come home from work to find her kitten drowned in the toilet. Even though that’s the only time I’ve heard of that happening and I’ve never had a cat that showed any interest in the toilet, I’ve kept the lid down ever since, and insist everyone else in my house do the same. Aside from the drowning risk, there’s also the potential for illness (both for the pet and anyone who unwittingly kisses and snuggles it afterward) from contact with bacteria and cleaning chemicals.

Unplug office equipment

I tend to pile papers and other things on top of the printer that sits on my desk, and then frantically remove them after I’ve hit the print button and the poor thing is struggling to take in the paper to comply with my demand. Once I left my earbuds lying on the paper in the tray and before you know it they were jammed in the rollers. There was no way to get them out that didn’t involve either dismantling the printer or shredding the earbud wires. We’ve all chuckled at the videos on Facebook and YouTube of kitties startled by the printer starting up or trying to catch the papers as the machine spits them out, but it would be no laughing matter if kitty got her paw or tail caught in those rollers. Remember what happened to my earbuds? Kitty won’t likely sit patiently while you dismantle the printer to free her.  If you’re not able to keep kitty out of your home office, it’s a good idea to unplug the printer and paper shredder when not in use. Turning them off might work as well as long as the button isn’t located where it can be pushed by an errant paw.

Zip up your bags

I don’t know what the attraction is but every time my mother-in-law comes over, my cat Lily heads straight for her purse and parks her fluffy fanny right on top of it. Some purses and backpacks hold a plethora of interesting trouble your cat can be hurt by -- medications, eye drops, gum or candy with xylitol, tobacco products, etc. It’s best to keep purses, tote bags, and backpacks out of reach or zipped closed. Empty grocery bags also pose a threat, as a nosy kitty can get her head caught in the handle and could suffocate or be injured in the resulting panic-driven dash through the house.

Teach your children well

Children and pets go together like peas and carrots. Or is it oil and water? The Internet is rife with pictures of children lovingly snuggling up with Fluffy for a nap or helpfully sharing their dinner with Fido. There are also a disturbing number of images of children who clearly do not understand the body language or subtle clues that indicate when the pet is not comfortable with the present situation. It turns my stomach to see pictures of toddlers picking up cats with a death grip around their throat, or leaning in to kiss a dog that is leaning away with its ears back and eyes averted, and all the while the adults nearby are smiling and laughing at the cuteness of it all. Unfortunately, not all children instinctively know how to be gentle with animals and respect their space, and if they’re not taught these things early on, injuries to both parties are inevitable.

Of course, there are just as many ways for your cat to get into, or cause, trouble as there are cats in the world and these are just some of the things you and your family can do to avert inconveniences and disasters around the house. The Humane Society also has some great tips on how to “cat-proof” your home.

Cat-proofing (or attempting to cat-proof) your home is certainly worth the effort and inconvenience -- although if your cat is determined to wreak havoc, she may still find a way!

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