Many kittens and adult cats love to perch up high, squeeze into small places, run, pounce, and play with all sorts of things. All these actions are based on instincts that help your cat's wild relatives survive. In a human environment, though, normal feline behavior can get a cat into trouble.
Cats aren't born knowing what's allowed and what's off limits in the human world. We have to teach them and protect them. Prevention is the best protection, and you can accomplish it in two ways: by kitty-proofing your home and by confining your kitty when you can't supervise him until you know he's reliable.
Kitty-proofing is a lot like child-proofing, except that kitties are smaller, faster, and better climbers than toddlers and young children and they have much sharper teeth and claws. How long you'll have to kitty-proof your home depends on the individual cat and the specific precautions. Some temptations are too much to resist, even for an adult cat.
Move breakables out of reach. If you have tablecloths or runners just begging to be climbed or pulled, remove them until you're confident your cat will leave them alone. Move houseplants out of reach, too—some kitties will chew leaves and dig in the dirt. Remove other potential hazards from reach as well. Pins, razor blades, cigarette butts, nylon stockings, chocolate, medicines, yarn—none of these are good for a curious cat.
Your house (and garden, if you let your cat outside) contains many potentially lethal hazards for your cat. Many common plants are toxic, as are oils in potpourri, lawn treatments, pest-control poisons, and antifreeze. Nicotine and filters from tobacco products or nicotine gum or patches can kill a cat. Keep kitties away from open containers of hazardous products (curious kittens have been known to fall into containers of motor oil), and dispose of empty containers for hazardous products where your kitty can't get to them.
Take a look at your home from a feline perspective. Get down on your hands and knees and check under and behind furniture and in small spaces that might attract an inquisitive cat. Shield electrical and telephone wires in protective sheaths (available in hardware and home stores) or with PVC pipe cut to the appropriate length. Teach your kitty what's allowed and what isn't (see Using Positive Reinforcement to Train Your Cat)..
Some foods that we take for granted and may leave within easy reach are also dangerous for cats. Chocolate, coffee, and tea can cause reactions ranging from diarrhea to seizures to death. Raisins and grapes can cause permanent—and fatal—kidney damage. Foil, plastic wrap, and strings used to bind meat can cause intestinal blockage if swallowed, and raw or leftover meats might contain dangerous bacteria or parasites.
Part of the kitty-proofing process is simply a matter of common sense. If you think something might be dangerous for your cat, it probably is. Many hazards are obvious—toxic plants, medications, cleaning supplies, etc. Others might not be. Observing these hints should help you make your home cat-safe:
- Keep toilet lids closed—a curious kitten could fall in and drown, and toilet bowl cleaners leave toxic residue in the bowl.
- Keep small objects (rubber bands, coins, pins and needles, thread, yarn, string, dental floss, and so on) where your kitty can't get them.
- Store fish hooks and fishing line out of feline reach.
- Remove loops from blind or drapery cords to prevent strangulation.
- Be sure window screens are secure to keep your kitty from falling or escaping.
- Cats love warm places—keep your cat away from open flames (candles, fireplaces, open wood stoves).
- Keep washers and dryers closed, and check inside before using.
- Keep enclosed places such as cupboards, closets, refrigerators, and freezers closed, and seal or remove doors on those that are not in use.
- Know where your cat is before using reclining chairs, sofa beds, and similar furnishings.
- Holidays bring special hazards—protect your kitty from tinsel, breakable decorations, electrical cords, and toxic foods.