Veterinarians see every imaginable problem a cat can get into. Although every animal lost is a tragedy, some of those are a little harder to take than others. Into this class falls those cats whose deaths were the results of something an owner could have done to protect them but didn’t know about.

We want you to know about them, so we’ve assembled in this list of the most common household dangers your cat may face. Forewarned is forearmed, we believe. So, do your best to protect your cat from these avoidable dangers.

Strings and similar things

What would you call a kitten with a ball of yarn? A perfect time to reach for your camera? How about an accident waiting to happen?

Kittens and cats love playing with yarn, as well as string, ribbon, and anything that twists and dances, as shown in the following figure. They like to stalk, to pounce, to flip their slender prey in the air, and to start stalking again. That’s all good, clean fun, but there’s always a chance that your cat won’t stop with play and will decide to eat his plaything. And that’s where the fun stops, because any sort of yarn, ribbon, Christmas tinsel, or string can cause havoc in your cat’s intestines, causing a problem that may need to be surgically treated.

If you knit or sew, put your supplies securely away after you’re done with them, and if you’re opening or wrapping packages, clean up after you’re done. Packing material such as foam peanuts can be a health hazard for your pet, too.

Even if your pet’s not really the playful type, she may find one kind of string irresistible: juice-soaked string from a roast or turkey. Dispose of these tempting dangers carefully, putting them in a container your cat can’t get into.

strings dangerous to cats Nick/Photo by Angie Hunckler

Cats love to play with strings and ribbons, but you shouldn’t let them do so unsupervised.

A shocking experience—electrical cords

Chewing on electrical cords is more of a risk for inquisitive kittens, but protecting your grown-up cat against them wouldn’t hurt either. Tuck cords out of the way, and if you notice any you can’t hide and that are attracting kitty teeth, coat them in something nasty, such as Bitter Apple (available at pet-supply stores) to convince your cat or kitten to chomp elsewhere.

A simple internet search will turn up all kinds of products for keeping electric supply cords neat and out of view. Not surprisingly, these products are great for people with pets, since cats tend to leave alone the things they can't see or reach.

The warm and deadly dryer

Cats love warm, dark hiding places, and a dryer full of freshly dried clothes is a favorite spot of many, as shown in the following figure. So, what’s the worry? Some cats have been killed after their owners have accidentally closed and turned on a dryer with a sleeping cat inside.

dryers are dangerous to cats Bitsy Bob/Photo by Johanna Bader

Keep the dryer door closed at all times, and always check for your cat before turning on the appliance.

Sounds implausible, you say? You’d be surprised how often cats are killed this way, and surprised, too, at how easily you can throw a few extra clothes in, close the door, and turn on the dryer without noticing your cat is inside. It seems every veterinarian knows a pet owner who lost a cat this way!

Prevention is simple, but must be practiced by your whole family to be effective. Keep the dryer door closed and make sure whoever’s doing the laundry knows to always check for your cat — just in case. Keep an eye out, too, in the washer, dishwasher, or oven. This situation is one case in which the saying “curiosity killed the cat” can prove to be tragically true.

If you find your cat in the dryer, oven, washing machine, or dishwasher, take a deep breath and do something that seems cruel but has your cat’s best interest at heart: Scare the fur off him. Close the door with him inside, and then pound on the appliance for a few seconds, making a racket that could wake the dead. Then open the door and let him make his escape. You can’t always be sure everyone in your house remembers to keep appliance doors closed or checks for a cat before hitting the “on” switch. Convincing your cat to avoid such sleeping places provides another kind of insurance against tragedy. We wouldn’t suggest such drastic measures if it weren’t such a horrible way to die.

Pain medicines that kill

Here’s an easy rule to remember: Never give your cat any medication without clearing it with your veterinarian first.

That’s a good rule to remember in general, but in particular, it applies to painkillers. Although you still find advice on giving coated aspirin to arthritic dogs (not really recommended because of far better options now), the different metabolism of cats makes aspirin a dangerous proposition for them. Acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, can kill your cat, as can some of the newer, longer-lasting painkillers available in nonprescription form for human use.

If your cat is in pain, call your veterinarian immediately. Cats are very stoic, and if you’re noticing your pet’s discomfort, he’s really suffering and needs immediate care. As for chronic pain, your veterinarian can prescribe something that’s effective and cat-safe, while getting to the root of the problem in hopes that any pain medications prescribed for your cat can be short-term in nature.

Toxic plants

Cats love to nosh greenery. Some experts suggest that cats crave the half-digested plant matter that they’d find in the bellies of their vegetarian prey, but just as good an explanation is that cats eat plants simply because they want to.

Indulge your cat with plants he can nibble on but make sure he isn’t munching on anything that can make him sick. You can discourage cats from chewing on houseplants, but you can’t guarantee they’ll leave them alone. Your best bet is to make sure that anything your cat can get into isn’t going to hurt him. And don’t forget: Even “good” plants can cause problems if they’ve been sprayed with insecticide.

The ASPCA/National Animal Poison Control Center, a resource for veterinarians, says the following list contains some of the bad seeds. Most “just” make your pet sick, but a few of them can kill. If your pet has tangled with any of the following, call your veterinarian:

Aloe Vera (Medicine Plant) Amaryllis, Andromeda Japonica, Apple (seeds), Apricot (pit), Asparagus Fern, Autumn Crocus, Avocado (fruit and pit), Azalea

Baby Doll Ti, Baby’s Breath, Bird of Paradise, Bittersweet, Branching Ivy, Buckeye, Buddhist Pine

Caladium, Calla Lily, Castor Bean, Ceriman, Cherry (wilting leaves and seeds), China Doll, Chinese Evergreen, Christmas Cactus, Christmas Rose, Chrysanthemum, Cineraria, Clematis, Cordatum, Corn Plant (all Dracaena species), Crown Vetch, Cyclamen

Daffodil, Daisy, Day Lily, Devil’s Ivy, Dieffenbachia (all varieties; commonly called Dumb Cane), Dracaena Palm, Dragon Tree

Elephant Ears, Emerald Feather, English Ivy

Fiddle-Leaf Fig, Flamingo Plant, Foxglove, Fruit Salad Plant

Geranium, German Ivy, Glacier Ivy, Gladiola, Glory Lily

Hawaiian Ti, Heavenly Bamboo, Hibiscus, Holly, Hurricane Plant, Hyacinth, Hydrangea,

Impatiens, Indian Laurel, Indian Rubber Plant, Iris

Japanese Yew, Jerusalem Cherry

Kalanchoe Lilium species (includes Easter Lily, Japanese Show Lily, Oriental Lily, Tiger Lily, and so on)

Lily of the Valley

Marble Queen, Marijuana, Mexican Breadfruit, Miniature Croton (and other varieties), Mistletoe, Morning Glory, Mother-in-Law’s Tongue

Narcissus, Needlepoint Ivy, Nephthytis, Nightshade (Solanum species), Norfolk Pine

Oleander, Onion

Peace Lily, Peach (wilting leaves and pit), Pencil Cactus, Philodendron (all varieties), Plum (wilting leaves and pit), Plumosa Fern, Pothos (all varieties), Precatory Bean, Primula, Privet

Rhododendron, Ribbon Plant

Sago Palm (Cycas), Schefflera, String of Pearls/Beads, Sweet Pea

Taro Vine, Tomato Plant (green fruit, stem, and leaves), Tulip

Weeping Fig, Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow Plant, Yucca

The poinsettia has long been considered a poisonous plant, but that’s no longer thought to be the case. No less an authority than the National Animal Poison Control Center says that the holiday plant is no longer considered deadly, although ingesting a considerable amount of it may still give your cat a tummy ache.

Garage dangers

Most people just aren’t very neat in their garages. In addition to ignoring the drips and puddles coming from their cars — which can include deadly antifreeze, of course — folks can be careless about storing insecticides, paints, cleaning supplies, and fertilizers, all of which can be toxic.

Although cats are considerably more discriminating in what they eat than dogs are, making sure you safely store household chemicals and clean up all spills promptly is still a good idea.

Another garage danger: the door. A garage door in the open position makes a nifty high hiding place for a cat, but that secure perch can injure your pet if you set the door in motion while he’s there.

And while you’re at it, don’t forget to check out other places cats get into — and sometimes shut up in — such as basements and closets.

If you’re a shade-tree mechanic, be extra careful when changing your car’s coolant. That’s because most antifreeze poses a severe risk to animals — and to children, as well. Every year, nearly 120,000 pets in the United States are poisoned by antifreeze, and more than 90,000 of them die.

It doesn’t take much of this deadly substance to kill a cat. Less than a teaspoon is all it takes. Antifreeze has a sweet taste that may appeal to your cat, or your pet may ingest a lethal dose merely by licking her paws clean after walking through a spill.

Clean up carefully with a rag after changing coolant, and always be alert for puddles on your garage floor. If you think your cat got any antifreeze into her system, get her to a veterinarian right away. Doing so may be her only chance at survival.

Less toxic kinds of antifreeze are now available. They’re made from propylene glycol instead of the ethylene glycol of conventional coolants. These new products are available at most auto-supplies outlets. Make the change for the safety of pets and wildlife!

Four-wheeled menace

Probably the biggest danger cars present to cats is when the vehicles are in motion. The meeting of a two-ton car with a ten-pound kitty never comes out in favor of the feline. But even a stationary vehicle can become a deadly temptation for a cat.

Cats are heat seekers, and many of them discover that engines are warm for a long time after they’re turned off. These cats slip into the engine compartment from underneath, snuggle against the warm metal, and settle in for a catnap. On a cold night, such a protected place must seem a godsend to an outdoor cat.

A running engine is no place for a kitty to be, however, and the cat that’s still inside after the car’s started can get badly injured or killed.

Even if your own cat’s an indoor one who never has access to the engine compartment of your car, you can save another cat’s life by getting into one simple habit: Before you get into your car — especially on a cold morning — pound on the hood for a couple seconds. If a cat’s in your engine compartment, she’s sure to wake up and take off at the sound.

Towering danger

New York City’s Animal Medical Center is one of the largest hospital in the world for companion animals. Not surprisingly, they see a lot of cats who’ve been gravely injured from falling out the window of a high-rise apartment. Those cats are the lucky ones, because others die in such falls.

Did they fall or did they jump? No one knows for sure, although most speculate these falls are accidental. And although cats are very good at landing on their feet, the impact from several stories up can be deadly.

Prevention is the key to avoiding such accidents: Keep screens on your windows, and never let your cat out on an open terrace or balcony

Some cats survive falls from pretty far up, as high as 15 stories or more. And, in fact, studies of “high-rise syndrome” in cats reveals that the cats most likely to survive a tumble are the ones who started at the intermediate floors. From the lower floors, a cat hasn’t time to prepare himself for impact by righting himself. From the highest, the fall’s too great to survive. In between, however, is a margin of survivability — although few cats who survive a fall walk away unscathed.

Parasite products for dogs

You may think a flea product designed to be safe for dogs and puppies is likewise safe for your cat. As solid as that reasoning may seem, however, it’s wrong — dead wrong.

Never use a pest-control product designed for dogs on your cat, whether it’s prescribed by your veterinarian for a canine companion or sold at the pet-supply store. Many people tend to take these products lightly, but insecticides are designed to walk a very fine line: enough toxins to kill the parasites but not enough to endanger the pet. A product engineered to meet these challenges for dogs may not do so for cats. Check the label. Ask your veterinarian. Call the manufacturer before using any product. Your cat’s life is at stake.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Gina Spadafori is the bestselling author of Dogs For Dummies, which received the President's Award from the Dog Writers Association of America. Dr. Lauren Demos is a board certified feline specialist who in 2017 was elected the youngest president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners. Dr. Paul D. Pion is a board certified veterinary cardiologist as well as cofounder, president, and CEO of the Veterinary Information Network, Inc.

Gina Spadafori is an award-winning veterinary medical writer. She is the coauthor of Cats For Dummies and Birds For Dummies.

Gina Spadafori is the bestselling author of Dogs For Dummies, which received the President's Award from the Dog Writers Association of America. Dr. Lauren Demos is a board certified feline specialist who in 2017 was elected the youngest president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners. Dr. Paul D. Pion is a board certified veterinary cardiologist as well as cofounder, president, and CEO of the Veterinary Information Network, Inc.

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