Before adopting a cat or kitten, it's always a good idea to go through your home and check for things that can harm your cat — such as dangerous areas, things that can be knocked over or eaten, poisons, and so on. "Cats are curious little creatures, so it’s important to ensure your home is a safe place for your cat to explore," Dr. Jennifer Freeman, DVM, PetSmart’s resident veterinarian and pet care expert, tells Bustle.
Dr. Freeman suggests locking away all household chemicals and medicines, making sure you don't have any toxic plants in your home, removing any cords and wires that your cat might chew or strangle themselves on — such as electrical cords or window blinds — and making sure table clothes and breakable items can't be pulled down or knocked over. Also, "make sure your cat can’t slip out and escape from any open windows," she says. "And don’t leave high windows wide open; despite what you may have heard, cats can get badly hurt if they fall."
From there, learn to recognize the signs your cat has eaten something toxic, such as a poisonous house plant. If they are drooling, vomiting, not eating, are suddenly super thirsty, or have pale gums — among other symptoms that seem abnormal — take them to the vet right away. "Plant poisoning is dangerous and medical attention should be sought immediately," Dr. Freeman says. "Try to identify the plant that has been ingested and have its scientific name available when you contact your veterinarian. This information will provide for a quicker diagnosis and treatment of your pet."
Here are a few items experts say you need to keep away from your cat, since they have the potential to be dangerous.
1. Lily Flowers
There are quite a few indoor and outdoor plants that are poisonous to cats, but one folks tend to overlook are "Easter lilies," which are often kept inside in the spring, or grown in yards. But even though these flowers are common, they're incredibly toxic to cats.
"Scientists do not know the exact toxin in these plants that can make the cat sick, [but] what we do know is that if a cat ingests any part of the plant (the flower or the leaves), this can cause fatal damage to their kidneys," Dr. Jennifer Shelly, VMD, a Delaware Valley University faculty member, tells Bustle. "If you ever suspect that your cat has ingested any part of these plants, please take them to your veterinarian right away for immediate treatment."
2. Acetaminophen Pain Killers
Any type of Tylenol, or acetaminophen pain killer, should be kept far away from cats. While they might not eat a pill willingly, "there have been instances in which cats will lick some delicious cherry flavored liquid droplets that have fallen on the counter," Dr. Shelly says. "Alternatively, some clients have given it to their cats thinking it could work well for them as pain relievers or fever reducers."
But this is not a good idea. "Unfortunately, cats cannot tolerate acetaminophen as their bodies convert the medicine to a toxin called methemoglobin," Dr. Shelly says. "This toxin essentially blocks their ability to carry oxygen in their body and so they essentially suffocate. One of the signs that a cat has been exposed to this toxin is that their gums turn a shade of blue." If you notice this symptom, or think your cat has licked up some medicine, take them to the vet right away.
It's important to keep antifreeze stored where a cat can't reach it. And if you see a puddle of it gathering in your driveway or garage, clean it up ASAP.
"This is a common toxin found in households that both cats and dogs like to drink because of its very sweet taste," Dr. Shelly says. "The problem with antifreeze is that this, just like the lilies, can fatally injure their kidneys."
4. Snow Globes
Souvenir snow globes can be a potential hazard too, since they often contain antifreeze. So don't keep them out on shelves, where they can be easily knocked over.
"If the globe gets broken and your pet licks the liquid that seeps out, it only takes a small amount to be fatal," Dr. Sarah Nold, DVM, a staff veterinarian at Trupanion, tells Bustle. "If this happens, immediately take your pet to the closest emergency veterinarian.”
5. Window Blinds
While cats love to play with window blinds — looking through them, climbing up them, playing with the cord, etc. — they can actually be quite dangerous.
"Kittens are known to be avid climbers and obsessed with string," Dr. Shelly says. "Therefore the strings that dangle off your blinds is a common ... way that cats can injure themselves, usually by getting themselves wrapped up in the string and strangling themselves. If you are going to have cats, consider getting cordless blinds."
6. Cat Collars
While you'll probably want to put a collar on your cat, "please consider a break-away collar," Dr. Shelly says. "These collars will open/break-away when there is pressure put on them." And it can save your cat's life.
"Since cats are notorious climbers, they can often get their collars caught on things and this can essentially strangle them," she says. "A break-away collar can prevent this common injury."
7. Rat/Mouse Poison
If you have a mouse in your kitchen, you might not think twice before laying out some poison to catch it. But keep in mind that poison is poison.
"This is a common household item and it makes sense that it would be toxic to cats," Dr. Shelly says. "The problem is that these poisons are made to be delectable and often have a meaty or peanut buttery flavor." Which is why cats can find the trap — even if you try to hide it.
"These poisons can kill one of two ways depending on the kind of poison it is: some will cause seizures and instant death, others will interfere with their clotting system and so you may not see signs until a few days later," Dr. Shelly says. "With this latter type of poison, the cats can bleed out (either internally or externally.)"
Consider using a poison-free trap if you have a mouse problem, just to be safe.
8. Many Human Foods
Even though it's kind of cute to feed a pet from the table, don't fall for their begging. Giving a cat human foods, such as raisins, garlic, grapes, and even desserts with artificial sweeteners, can be incredibly toxic, Dr. Freeman says. It's best to stick with a vet-recommended cat food instead.
9. Dryers & Washing Machines
It sounds scary, but cats are often drawn to "open washing machines or tumble dryers, [since the] warm clothes make a nice bed," Kac Young, author of the upcoming book The One Minute Cat Manager, tells Bustle. The last thing you'd want to do is turn it on and accidentally injure your cat. So always check them first.
10. Stove Tops
Since cats climb on everything, it's important to take precautions so they don't walk across a hot burner. "Keep kittens off worktops for safety as well as for hygiene," Young says. If you can train them early on to stay on the ground, this will be one less thing to worry about.
It may sound strange — especially since they love to be warm — but cats have been known to sneak inside refrigerators. "Swift kittens can get inside an open fridge door in no time flat," Young says. So keep them away from the door when you open it, to prevent them from getting stuck inside.
12. Needles & Thread
We all know cats — and especially kittens — positively live for string, so take precautions if you're ever sewing or doing craft projects. "Needles and thread left lying around [can be] very harmful if swallowed," Young says. It doesn't take much for your cat to run off with the string, and potentially hurt themselves with the needle.
13. Ironing Boards
Ironing your shirt before work? Make sure your cat is far, far away. Irons and ironing boards can easily "be knocked over by a jumping cat and burns and injury can result," Young says.
14. Wires & Cords
As mentioned above, a big part of cat-proofing a home means removing any and all wires that can be chewed on or played with. "Wires and wiring are irresistible play toys for cats," Young says. "Hide them well." By doing a sweep of your house, you'll be lowering a cat's risk of choking, strangling, or getting electrocuted.
15. Holiday Decorations
The holidays are a free-for-all for cats, who love to climb Christmas trees, play with holiday lights, and so on. If you have these out, make sure you "secure a kitten from temptation," Young says.
Keep holiday plants and certain decorations out of your home. Young says tinsel is a big attraction for cats but poses a choking hazard, and holiday plants like holly and mistletoe berries can be poisonous.
Basically, anything that looks fun to a cat will be played with, and potentially ingested. So, even though it's tricky, try to stay two steps ahead of them by removing hazards and poisons from your apartment. If you have any questions, or think your cat may have eaten something poisonous, talk to your vet right away.