Sunday, March 18, 2012

50 Ways to Keep Kitty Safe from Poisons

In honor of the 50th anniversary of National Poison Prevention Week March 18-24, here are 50 ways to keep your cats safe from poisons around your home:

  1. Keep them indoors. Cats who roam freely can come into contact with any number of toxic chemicals, from lawn pesticides, weed killers, & fertilizers to antifreeze, rodent poisons, pool chemicals and cleaning solutions. While some cats are quite insistent about going outdoors, you can make sure that when they do they're either on a leash & harness or in a safe enclosure.
  2. Keep your garbage contained. This means keeping a lid on your outdoor garbage cans that locks down, and keeping your indoor garbage cans where cats can't get into them. We once had a cat who loved to jump into the yard trash can. We'd go look at him and he'd be sitting down in there, looking up at us with an expression of great satisfaction on his face. We'd no more sooner lift him out than he'd have jumped right back in. A lid on that can would've stopped that; at least it didn't contain any toxic material.
  3. Contain your kittens. If you have kittens in the house, keep them in a pen where they can't escape and get into mischief. At first, it doesn't need to have a top on it, but by the time they get to the teething stage, they'll want to chew everything in sight, some of which could be toxic, and they'll be pretty good climbers. It doesn't take but a moment for one to get into trouble, so a good-sized crate that gives them room to play, sleep, and potty without being in danger is a worthwhile investment.
  4. Keep your medications put away. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), the most common reason people call their poison prevention hotline is that their pets have ingested some "people medicine." Never give your cat any medication intended for people unless it's under the direction of your veterinarian. And even then, the dosage usually involves splitting the lowest-dose human size pills into quarters. Never give your cat any prescription drugs intended for humans or dogs. Ingestion of antidepressants by pets seems to be especially common. Inhalers are also dangerous, so keep those out of kitty's reach.
  5. Store your cat's medications separately from your own. This will help you keep from accidentally giving your pet the wrong medicine. 
  6. Take a few seconds to read medication labels carefully. This will help you avoid overdosing your cat or giving him the wrong medicine. Their little systems are a lot more sensitive than ours and the impact of a mistake is greatly amplified in them.
  7. Store supplements and OTC medications safely. Just because something doesn't require a prescription, that doesn't mean it's safe for cats to eat. OTC medicines like ibuprofen (Advil), naproxin (Aleve), acetaminophen (Tylenol), cold medicines, diet pills, and antihistamines can be severely toxic to your cats. Even human-dose vitamins can be dangerous if kitty eats them. And "natural" remedies don't always mean they're safe. For example, tea tree oil (melaleuca alternifolia), which is commonly used in natural topical treatments, can be a neurotoxin to cats.
  8. Dispose of empty medication containers carefully. A playful cat sees a round medicine bottle as a toy, and may get some of the medication on his paw, where he can lick it off and ingest enough of the medicine to cause problems. Don't leave empty pill bottles around for this to happen. 
  9. Safely dispose of expired or unused medications. Follow the same guidelines for disposing of medications as you would around small children: Fill the bottle with vinegar and seal it. For liquids, fill the bottle with clumping cat litter and seal it. Put either one in a trash can with a locking lid so cats can't dig them out of the trash. 
  10. Don't feed cats people food. Even though our cats often want to taste a little of whatever mom's eating, it's not always good for them. Foods we can consume that harm our kitties include onions, avocado, garlic, rhubarb, mushrooms. chocolate, alcohol, macadamia nuts, unbaked bread dough, and grapes (including raisins). If consumed in sufficient quantities, these can cause kidney, heart, or other major organ failure resulting in death within hours. And heavily spiced or fatty foods may lead to stomach upset in your cat and keep her from eating her own nutritious food, in addition to causing an inflamed pancreas.
  11. The same goes for coffee and tea. Caffeine is too much stimulation for a cat's heart. Not only is the brewed coffee or tea dangerous, but the coffee grounds or tea leaves. Make sure you dispose of them securely if your cat is drawn to them.
  12. Use cat-safe cleaning products. I once worked with a lady who was heartbroken after one of her older cats died from walking through her bathtub after she'd cleaned it with Comet, then licked it off his paws. Chlorine bleach can cause not only chemical burns, but respiratory damage if the fumes are inhaled by cats. Phenols are also quite harmful to cats. These days, there are fortunately plenty of options available that are much safer for your cats. Read labels carefully and only buy products that are safe for use around your cats. The new steam cleaners are great because they kill germs without any chemicals at all, just plain water.
  13. Store glues safely. I have a friend whose dog ate Gorilla Glue once and had to have it surgically removed from her digestive tract. It expands greatly once ingested and can be fatal. You never know what a cat is going to be attracted to. Their playful nature makes them view everything as a toy. Make sure that the toys they choose are actually toys and not something that will hurt them.
  14. Choose your houseplants carefully. Many cats will chew on plants. Avoid philodendron, dieffenbachia, corn plant, schefflera, and lilies of any kind. Peace lilies are particularly common funeral gifts, so if you get any, make sure they're out of the cats' don't want to be having a second funeral. Plant some cat grass or catnip instead in a floor-level container where your cats can enjoy it. Aloe vera is another plant cats can safely chew on, and many like the bitter juice from it, which can actually have a therapeutic effect.
  15. Choose your landscape plants carefully. They may be beautiful, but lily of the valley, oleander, yew, foxglove, and kalanchoe can cause heart problems if your cats eat them. Intestinal upset, weakness, depression, heart problems, coma and death can result from cats eating azaleas, rhododendrons, or the bulbs of tulips or narcissus. Severe intestinal distress can result from cats eating castor bean, cyclamen, amaryllis, chrysanthemums, pothos, English ivy, hibiscus, or hydrangea. Yesterday-today-and-tomorrow, autumn crocus, and glory lily may also cause a toxic reaction. Most cats are usually aware of this and avoid these plants. You can likely keep them in your yard without your cats ever bothering any of them...just be aware of the risk.
  16. Watch your cut flowers, too. Especially avoid lilies in your cut flowers, as eating just a couple of petals can be fatal to your cat via severe kidney failure. With Easter just around the corner, this is a good time to be aware of the danger of lilies around cats.
  17. Keep home fragrances out of reach. Potpourri and liquid air fresheners contain substances that can cause chemical burns to your cat's digestive tract if eaten or drunk, or irritation to the nose and eyes if spilled on them. Cats suffering from feline asthma or allergies may also have a reaction to any type of air freshener.
  18. Keep your toilet lids down. Many cats will drink from the toilet, just like dogs, if given the chance. But toilet cleaning products are often toxic to cats. This is especially true if you use any continuously cleaning products (such as those that are stored in the toilet tank, or that turn the toilet water blue). Keeping the lids down removes this possibility.
  19. Nix the nicotine. Put all tobacco products away. You really shouldn't be smoking around your cats anyway, but if you do, or if you use any smokeless tobacco, keep it where your cats can't get to it and eat it. Nicotine will give them a quick heart attack if they eat even a relatively small amount. Keep ashtrays emptied, as well. Watch out for nicotine in other products, too. If you're trying to quit and using products such as nicotine gum, lozenges, or patches, keep these where your cats can't get to them, too. It's more of a risk with dogs, but you never know which cats may also be tempted.
  20. Real sugar only, please! Artificial sweeteners such as xylitol can quickly poison your cats. Keep any sugar-free gum or other treats out of their reach and don't be tempted to share with them. Sweets in general aren't good for cats, but if you must feed them something sweet, make sure it's sweetened with real sugar.
  21. Choose appropriate toys. While a kitten playing with a ball of yarn is a cute image, in reality cats playing with yarn can swallow its fibers from chewing on it, leading to an intestinal blockage that can be fatal or require surgical removal. Glow sticks or necklaces like the kids use at Halloween contain chemicals that aren't healthy for cats to ingest. Try to buy cat-safe toys for your kitties to play with.
  22. Watch out for inserts in products. The silica gel packets that come in shoe boxes or bottles of vitamins are toxic, so keep them away from your kitties. They're easy to drop on the floor, so pay attention to what kitty's playing with. Safety pins and those little plastic things that attach the price tags to clothing can also get easily swallowed and cause intestinal blockage or damage.
  23. Put your jewelry away. Cats will be drawn to things that contain your scent, and this includes your jewelry. It's fun for them to play with, but they can easily swallow it and necessitate a trip to the vet to have it surgically removed.
  24. Choose your holiday decorations wisely. When I was a little girl, we had a Dachshund who would eat the tinsel off the Christmas tree...which at that time contained lead! We could always tell because his vomit was all sparkly. Ribbon used on packages is an item that can cause problems for kitty. It's so dangly and tempting, but can shred and cause the same kinds of intestinal blockages as yarn. Some ornaments may also be tempting for cats: fun to bat off the tree, but not when they shatter on the floor and cut a paw! And you don't want them drinking the Christmas tree water, to which you've probably added chemicals to help preserve the tree. Watch the holiday plants, as well. Holly and mistletoe are both toxic to cats. Poinsettias can cause stomach upset if eaten.
  25. Keep electrical cords out of temptation's way. We all remember the scene from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, but cats chewing on electrical cords is a year-round risk. If yours is prone to this, find a way to keep those cords out of kitty's reach.
  26. Lock up the cats during parties. Not only will this keep one from scooting out the door when guests are arriving or leaving, but it'll keep them from getting into the fancy treats you've put out for your guests...and remove the temptation for those guests to feed them little snacks that could be bad for them.
  27. Keep kitty out of the garbage. Rotting and molding food found in there can cause stomach upset or food poisoning in your cat if he eats it. And there may also be toxic chemicals such as cleaning products, antifreeze, or home fragrances in the say nothing of broken glass or other products with jagged edges that can cause cuts.
  28. Watch those bug sprays and rodenticides. The rat poison sort of goes without saying; if your cat's going to eat mice, you don't want them to be full of a poison that will cause your cat to bleed to death internally. But did you know that many bug sprays can also be toxic to cats? A lot of cats love to catch and eat bugs. And you should never spray them around your cat's food and water bowls. Remove those to treat that area, then replace them afterwards.
  29. Use care with bug bombs. If you use a fogger type product to kill fleas, make sure your cats are out of the home while it's going off. Completely remove their food and water bowls. Before bringing them back in, make sure all traces of the bomb are dried, surfaces are wiped down, and you've opened the windows to air out the place a bit first.
  30. Place ant, roach and rat bait traps carefully. To a cat, these look like toys! And if they reach in to grab a bug they see inside, a paw can get stuck in even the "safe" glue traps. So place them all in locations where your cats can't get to them. And keep the cats away when you're pouring out ant bait. We once had a cat who thought Amdro was a tasty snack we were pouring out just for him!
  31. Use care with snail and grub baits. These also contain chemicals that are toxic to your cats. Try using natural alternatives instead.
  32. Don't use dog flea/tick killers on cats. While we're on the subject of insecticides, be aware that even the dog flea products intended for use on smaller dogs are too strong for use on cats and can cause seizures or death.
  33. Don't use any flea killers on cats in weakened conditions. This includes very young kittens and pregnant, severely ill, recuperating, or elderly cats. Cats' systems are so sensitive anyway that when they're already compromised by illness, age, or pregnancy, the effects of toxins are greatly multiplied. While a healthy cat can handle exposure to flea products, a weakened cat can't.
  34. Only kitty toothpaste, please! It's certainly a good idea to brush your cat's teeth for optimal dental health, but you should never use human toothpaste to do so. Fluoride and several other substances in toothpaste are toxic to cats. Always use a toothpaste specifically designed (and flavored) for cats.
  35. Avoid using mothballs. Not only do they stink, the naphthalene in them irritates a cat's digestive tract and damages the liver, kidneys, blood cells, brain and lungs. Obviously, ingestion of them can be fatal. Instead, seal your moth-prone clothing in a vacuum bag in warmer months, or use some natural alternatives like cedar or lavender to repel moths.
  36. Put your change away. Pennies minted after 1982 are mostly zinc, which is toxic to cats. Put them where kitty can't play with them or swallow any.
  37. Keep batteries and battery-containing items out of reach. Yes, some cat toys contain batteries, but these are made so that they aren't easily removed by the cats playing with them. The same doesn't necessarily hold true for remote controls, cell phones, or your wireless computer mouse. These all contain strong concentrations of your scent, so are very attractive to your cats.
  38. Store automotive chemicals safely. If your cats have access to the garage, make sure that the antifreeze, gasoline, windshield cleaner, ice-melting products, and other automotive products are stored where they can't leak out and tempt your cats to lick at them. Antifreeze is especially dangerous, as it tastes sweet to cats and dogs. But licking up just a small amount can cause severe kidney failure and death within hours.
  39. Choose propylene glycol-based antifreeze. While it's still not completely safe for cats to drink, this is less toxic than the ethylene glycol-based products. If you spill any antifreeze, wipe it up immediately, and make sure your cars aren't leaking any for your cats to find.
  40. Store yard chemicals safely. Just as with automotive chemicals, products like weed killers, fertilizers, and insecticides can be toxic to cats. Yes, you should keep kitty off your grass after using them, but you should also make sure they're stored where your cats won't get to them in your garage. Follow the manufacturers' instructions on how long you need to keep the cat away from them after spraying or spreading them on your lawn. Use care with natural gardening products, too. Just because they're natural doesn't mean they're safe for your cats to eat. For example, cocoa mulch contains a lot of the same toxins as chocolate. And natural products like bone and blood meals may smell delicious to them. So keep them where your cats can't get to them.
  41. Be careful with pool chemicals. Chlorine and other pool water balancing chemicals can cause irritation at best, and could be fatal to your cats if they get onto their coats, where they'll be ingested during grooming.
  42. Watch out for that compost pile! While dogs are more likely to root through a fragrant pile of compost, a cat may also be drawn to it. Make sure it's not easily accessible and don't put meat waste into your compost pile.
  43. Store paints and solvents safely. Yet another type of products typically stored in garages, and another that can be toxic to your cats. If you don't have cabinets for all these that can't be accessed by your cats, you need to get some.
  44. Keep cats out of construction areas. If you live in an older home and are remodeling, be aware that the paint on your walls likely contains lead. The dust from paint removal can land on your cat's coat, where she'll groom it off and ingest the lead, resulting in heavy metal toxicity. This can result in neurological damage. If you suspect that your cat has been exposed to heavy metals, have your vet run a may also need to be treated!
  45. Store hardware safely. Dropped nails and screws are fun for cats to bat around, but can easily get swallowed in the heat of play and spear something in the digestive tract on their way through. Keep them in appropriate containers so cats can't get to them, and pick up any dropped ones quickly.
  46. Artists, be careful how you store your brushes and paints. Latex house paints can upset a cat's stomach, but typically aren't fatal. However, the paints used by artists contain different chemicals that can be harmful. And if you've used them on your brushes, enough of the paints or the solvents used to remove them may be left in the bristles to be harmful to kitty. So keep them put away where they're not accessible.
  47. Button, button, who's got the button? Make sure it's not your cat. A button can easily be swallowed and cause an intestinal blockage.
  48. Use care with cardboard. While many perfectly safe cat scratchers are made from corrugated cardboard, regular cardboard boxes may contain dyes or have held products that have left behind a residue of something that could be toxic to your cat. Playing inside them may not cause a problem, but if you have a cat who likes to chew on cardboard, make sure the source is a safe scratcher specifically made for cats.
  49. If your cats can open cabinets, invest in some child locks. I once had a cat who'd just reach up with his paw, open a cabinet, and walk right on in. Somebody who he lived with must've kept the cat food or treats in a bottom cabinet, or maybe he was just doing his catly duty and patrolling for vermin. Yes, child locks are a pain to have to open, but if they'll keep your cats safe, it's worth it. And you don't need them on all the cabinets, just those storing products that could be harmful to kitty.
  50. Keep your vet's emergency number on hand for any accidental poisonings. You know those cats; there's no telling what they'll get into next. If you suspect that your cat has gotten into something toxic, the more quickly treatment begins the less likely that exposure will be fatal. The ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center charges a fairly hefty $65 consultation fee, but if you don't mind paying it, the number is 888-426-4435. A new Pet Poison Helpline iPhone app is now available; it's free to download, but you'll still incur the $65-per-call consultation fee.

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