Is Your Indoor Cat Completely Safe? Think Again…

Living as a house cat doesn’t rule out bad things happening

Published: August 01, 2016
3 cats indoor bench Oursler
Photo by Dr. Teri Ann Oursler
Many years ago, my husband and I were owned by three cats and left them in the care of a trusted, cat-friendly neighbor during a vacation. In our week-long absence, our neighbor would visit our home twice daily, put down fresh canned food, make sure there was adequate water and scoop the cat boxes to the felines’ satisfaction. I left a fairly detailed note identifying the cast of characters (remember, the number three here) and asked that particular attention be paid to our eldest feline, Sheba, a longhaired calico.

Seven days later that same neighbor did double duty and picked us up at the airport. On the ride home, I asked how the cats had fared. Imagine my horror when he replied, “Oh, they both did great!”

Uh, both? His response threw me into a panic and the rather short ride home seemed interminable. I ran into the house and began calling for Sheba, fearing the worst. Coming up the stairs, I heard a faint mewing coming from a locked closet. I opened the door and out she flew; neither Sheba nor the closet seemed to have suffered during her incarceration. Putting two and two together, it appeared that Sheba probably ventured into the closet three days previous to our arrival home, when our cleaning lady visited and kitty’s nemesis, the vacuum cleaner, was in use.

My story illustrates that while living indoors is generally thought to be safer for cats than being in the Great Outdoors, living as a house cat doesn’t completely rule out bad things happening. With a bit of due diligence, however, you can greatly reduce hazards. Here’s a list of potential dangers that lurk in the homes of even well-intentioned “cat slaves:”

(1.) String and yarn: Is there a cat that isn’t tempted to bat around these? However, once swallowed, a part of the string or yarn (or the occasional piece of dental floss) often wraps around the base of the kitty’s tongue while the rest of it travels down the intestines. With one piece anchored in the mouth, the string that travels “southward” begins to slice through the intestines with each contraction of the gut. This is life-threatening and the surgery (which often involves multiple incisions into the intestines, since the string needs to be removed in pieces) can be difficult. Cats with “string foreign bodies” often vomit; others are lethargic and stop eating. If you or someone in the home sews, knits, crochets, or even flosses, it’s best to keep these items in a room or cabinet that is off-limits to your cat.

(2.) Human and veterinary medications: As I tell clients, most dogs would readily eat cyanide if it was wrapped in cheese or a hot dog; cats usually have more discriminating palates. However, cats have been known to eat any number of human medications. Acetaminophen (Tylenol and similar products) is particularly deadly to cats and requires prompt action by a veterinarian to save the kitty’s life. Due to a cat’s small size and the peculiarity of how the feline liver detoxifies certain substances, ingesting even a small amount of this and other medications can be deadly. If in doubt, seek veterinary attention as soon as possible. During holidays and weekends and most evenings, that usually means a trip to the local emergency clinic. It’s helpful to bring the bottle of the medication with you, so that the veterinarian (who will probably contact the ASPCA Animal Poison Control) knows the drug and the dose.

(3.) Plants: Bringing a touch of the outdoors inside can make for a soothing home environment. However, some plants are notoriously toxic to cats (every part of the lily, for example, is deadly); other plants cause vomiting, diarrhea and other unpleasant but non-lethal consequences. It’s important that you know the types of plants you have in your home. This list identifies which plants to avoid bringing into a home with cats.

(4.) Anti-freeze. Cats have been known to lap up anti-freeze (ethylene glycol) and it doesn’t take much to cause acute kidney failure and death. Very early after ingestion, the kitty can appear drunk, with end-stage kidney failure occurring within 24-72 hours after ingestion. The best policy is to keep cats out of garages and sheds where anti-freeze is stored and used. Anti-freeze is frequently used in the toilets of summer cabins when their owners close them up for the winter. If there is even the slightest possibility that your kitty has ingested anti-freeze, get to a veterinarian, pronto.

(5.) Cat toys. Paper bags and boxes are among the safest cats toys around and cats notoriously love them. However, if you want to gift your cat with a toy, make sure that there are no small parts (plastic toy parts, like eyes, and leather “tails”) that can be chewed off and swallowed. Choose toys that are manufactured in (not just distributed in) the U.S. or Canada.

(6.) Closets, cabinets, garages and basements. Like my dear Sheba, it’s not unknown for cats to become trapped in these places, so make sure that your kitty hasn’t decided to make one of these a retreat for a siesta and get locked in for an extended period of time.

(7.) Raisins and grapes. These should be avoided as treats for cats as renal failure can result. At this time, it is unknown what compound or compounds in these foods are toxic and it appears that not every cat reacts to raisins and grapes similarly.

(8.) Garlic and onion. These foods cause a specific type of anemia in cats, Heinz body anemia, which results in methemoglobinemia and should be avoided in cats.

(9.) Liquid potpourris. These often have essential oils and cationic detergents in them and can cause skin, respiratory tract, eye and intestinal problems. Pulmonary edema, which can be fatal, has been reported in cats exposed to the detergents.

(10.) Lysol and similar products. Although this cleaner has been diluted from its previous formulation, cats who are exposed to it can develop mild stomach upset.

With a little due diligence in avoiding the above items, those who are loved and owned by cats can help to make sure that our homes are as safe as possible for our feline friends.

1 Comment


August 11, 2016

One other hazard is electric cords- from lamps to cellphone and laptop chargers and the like. Some cats love to bite them, not only causing terrible burns but also heart-stopping injury.


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