Cat-Proofing Your Home
Preparing your home for the arrival of your cat is a two-part process. Part one is all about the accessories. After all, the right gear plays a big role in making kitty feel at home and making it easy for you to care for her properly. Part two is about keeping her safe. This is no-brainer for any safety conscious parent with kids in the house, but to be on the safe side, use our checklist to help you think like a cat and remove any potential threats.
Part One: Essential Items for Cat Owners
ID. Even if your cat is confined to the house, a collar with an identification tag that bears your name, telephone number, and address can get an escape artist home safely. Some go a step further, and have their vet insert a microchip for easy tracking.
Feeding. A simple kitchen saucer works fine as a serving bowl. What you put in the dish is much more important. "Cats are true omnivores with very specific nutritional needs," says Louise Murray, D.V.M., director of medicine at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Because of their origins as desert hunters, cats can be put at risk for diabetes and urinary tract disease on diet of high-carb dry food. "Non-dry is ideal," says Murray. "If your cat refuses it, look for dry food brands that are high in protein and low in carbohydrates." Check the dry food packaging label and look for at least 36 percent protein. "And make sure the first two or three ingredients are chicken, turkey, beef or fish, which are higher-quality proteins than soybeans, rice, or corn," adds Karen Halligan, D.V.M., a consultant for Animal Planet's Cats 101 and author of Doc Halligan's What Every Pet Owner Should Know (Collins, 2008).
Watering. Cats don't drink nearly as much as dogs do. A saucer dish or small bowl that's kept clean and refilled twice a day is one option. Some cats prefer systems with running water, called pet fountains, which range from $20 to $100 at pet care centers.
Litter gear. You'll need at least two boxes for litter, plus a scoop and a supply of litter. "Plastic under-the-bed storage boxes like those made by Sterilite are the right size and depth and are also inexpensive," says Tracie Hotchner, author of The Cat Bible: Everything Your Cat Expects You to Know (Gotham, 2007). (Discard the lid.) Steer clear of covered and self-cleaning litter boxes. As for litter, you can go green with an organic litter made or you can choose a clay-based variety, known for its ability to clump, or stick to waste and urine, forming easy-to-grab lumps. Clay litter is convenient and tend to cost less, but may be dusty. The final call may be made by your cat.
Clean up supplies. Be prepared for the time your cat mistakes the family room rug for the litter box. Household cleaners and ammonia won't work; you need a cleaner with enzymes (found at pet suppliers) to neutralize the odor. "Otherwise the smell draws the cat right back for a repeat performance," Hotchner warns.
Cat furniture. Unless you're okay with your cat nesting on the top of your bookshelf or taking over the back of the couch, provide a roost. Cat trees are an easy fix, and may include a built-in scratching post. DIY option: build a shelf on a window sill, ideally in sight of a bird feeder. "It's like cat TV. It fascinates them for hours," notes Miller. Thwart damage from claws by offering places where it's okay to scratch. A carpet remnant flipped upside down and tacked to a small piece of board and a couple of strips of cardboard scratchers (found at pet stores) should do the trick. If raking an heirloom chair or jumping on the kitchen counter becomes an issue, there's nothing like extra-tacky double-sided tape to say "Paws off!"
Claw clippers. Regularly trimming the curved tip of your cat's claws keeps them from hurting you and your belongings. "Human toe nail clippers do the job fine," says Hotchner.
Toys. Kids and cats alike love the fishing-pole style toys that dangle fake birds or mice for your cat to pounce on. [hotchner] Another likely hit: stuff a special ball with treats for the cat to work out. [miller] Simple things like an empty cardboard box or a closet door left ajar can also entertain your cat, notes Miller.
Carrier. Even a cardboard or soft-sided version is fine to safely transport Kitty to the vet and home.
Part Two: Safety Check
You know the saying about cats and curiosity. Keep kitty out of harm's way by checking for the following hazards routinely.
Strings and cords: Cats are attracted to stringy items like curtain pull-cords, the tail of a ball of yarn or spool of thread, and obtrusive lamp cords. But playing with them could pull a heavy item down on top of your cat, and kittens and cats may chew electrical cords. Keep power cords covered with shields, or at least hidden and unplugged when possible. Bundle curtain cords and cleat them down tightly. Keep floss, thread, yarn, and string safely in out of reach drawers.
Hiding places: Cats love to seek out the odd dark nook for a nap. Be sure to check the clothes dryer, reclining chair, and sofa bed before you operate them to make sure your cat's not inside.
Escape routes: Make sure window screens are sturdy and that everyone in the house is mindful of keeping the cat in when a door to the outside is opened. You might post a sign so visitors know not to open the door without caution, too.
Black holes: Keep toilet lids down to prevent drowning and make sure cats can't access trash containers, which often hold bones or other items that can harm a cat if eaten.
Hot stuff: Just like kids are drawn to a red hot burner, a cat may unwittingly walk on a hot cook top, or bump you while you're cooking, spilling hot stuff on you, a child, or the cat.
Toxins: Two surprisingly toxic substances for cats are lily flowers, and acetaminophen (in Tylenol, and other medications), warns Murray.
Plastic: Plastic bags in particular pose a suffocation threat to cats, just as they do with young children, so be sure to store them out of reach.