When it comes to household products cats shouldn't be around, the list is overwhelmingly long. And within that list, there are several surprising products we never would have thought of. "You have to cat-proof your house just like you would baby-proof your house," Dr. Athema Etzioni, a veterinarian and veterinary clinical pathologist, tells Hunker.
"As we say in veterinary medicine, prevention is always cheaper than cure," adds veterinarian and behavioral consultant Dr. Myrna Milani. With that advice in mind, we reached out to veterinarians and cat experts to learn about all the unexpected items that are dangerous to cats.
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1. Salt Lamps
"Anything that has a high concentration of salt is not a good thing," Dr. Etzioni explains. When it comes to salt lamps specifically, they can cause salt poisoning if your cat takes one too many licks.
2. Open Toilets
"I always thought, 'Don't close the toilet because if something happens to us, the cats still have some sort of water somewhere.' Then I found that, number one, cats can fall in and drown, especially kittens," Jackson Galaxy — renowned cat behavior and wellness expert, host of Animal Planet's My Cat From Hell, and author of Catification: Designing a Happy and Stylish Home for Your Cat (and You!) — tells Hunker. "Number two, you should consider what comes back up in the toilet."
Even if you focus on keeping your toilet clean at all times, Galaxy explains that the chemicals you're using could be toxic to cats.
3. Anything Scented
"When [aromatherapy products] are being introduced, they should be introduced very, very slowly," says Dr. Milani. "I would recommend not introducing anything like this if your cat has medical problems. Run it by your veterinarian ... The same thing is true with all of those aromatic compounds and those very attractive little balls of potpourri that people have around."
This includes all different kinds of aromatic products: essential oils, household cleaners, candles, room diffusers, and even home fragrances that are labeled "natural." According to Milani, natural doesn't always mean safe when it comes to cats.
Dr. Etzioni adds that this also applies to scented products you might not immediately think of, like perfumed detergents, dryer sheets, bleaches, and fabric softeners. "I like to recommend All Free Clear Laundry Detergent — patients do very well with that," she says.
4. Certain Cat Toys
Yes, even cat toys can pose a danger. "One of the things that I think would surprise people is that crinkle toys — the ones made of Mylar — can be dangerous," says Galaxy. "Taking even a bite or even crunching on one of crinkle toys is like eating Happy Birthday balloons, so I steer clear of the Mylar ones. You can't just assume that because you bought the toy at a pet store, it's actually safe."
In addition, cat parents should be cautious about toys that have plastic parts or feathers, since they can cause issues when ingested. "I make a big point of saying that when you're done playing, pick it up," advises Galaxy, emphasizing that supervision is key.
You don't want your cat breathing in paint fumes and rubbing up against or licking paint that could be toxic. "There are environmentally safe paints out there. They are a little bit more expensive, but they're going to be better and safer than some of the old ones," Dr. Milani advises.
6. Ethylene Glycol (Antifreeze)
"This is something that we put in our car radiators, and it's also in pool cleaner products," states Dr. Etzioni. "I actually saw a cat several years ago who came in with a classic ethylene toxicity look to his case ... but he's an indoor cat who never goes outside ... They had a basement with the drainage system from the pool and that's how he got access to the ethylene glycol-containing products."
7. Seasonal Decor
"It's ridiculous how many things that we have in our house during the holidays that could potentially kill your cat," says Galaxy, specifically referencing ribbons and pine needles that could be ingested, toxic Christmas tree water that cats might drink, glass ornaments that could cause injuries, and even the Christmas tree itself, which could fall on your cat. "I've gotten a lot of blowback about this over the years when I say, 'Listen folks, if you really, really want a tree, please get a fake one.' It's one of those compromises you should make," he explains.
8. Specific Plants
"One of the big things for cats is lilies," explains Dr. Etzioni. "They are plants that are toxic to cats — they will shut their kidneys down before you even have time to blink your eyes ... Rhododendrons are also bad."
Galaxy adds, "If you take a look on the ASPCA website, because it's the most complete list [of plants that are bad for cats], it's like 10,000 species long … Cats have a very specific digestive system. They need to eat very specific things and nothing else. That's why so many things are poisonous to them, because of how efficient their metabolic system is."
9. Bath and Shower Products
Bath, body, and shower products can also cause complications — especially if you don't clean out your tub after a bath with scented oils. "A lot of cats would prefer to drink out of the tub or the shower than the water in their bowls because, a lot of times, the water in the shower or the tub is fresher," says Dr. Milani. If the cat ingests the products you're using on your body, this could make them sick.
10. Pesticides and Pest Traps
"There are pesticides that are toxic to cats and dogs. Some of them cause GI issues or neurologic problems. Rat poison can cause the pet to bleed out," Dr. Etzioni says. "Just make sure the product is pet-friendly, whether it's for indoors or outdoors ... With any pesticide, always make sure that the product is completely dry — I say at least two days — before your pets go out into the environment."
Dr. Milani states that when it comes to pest traps specifically, you should avoid placing them anywhere where your cat could gain access.
11. Carpet and Cleaning Products
It's important to remember that pets are closer to the ground that we are, Dr. Etzioni states. As a result, carpet and floor cleaning products can cause cats to have unwanted reactions, especially if they have allergies. "I'll usually say that if you have to vacuum, make sure that the cat, dog, or other animal is not in that room for at least two hours," she explains. "If you can avoid those products, then that would be even better for the pet ... If you have air filters, make sure to change the air filters on a regular basis."
12. Exposed Foods
Chocolates, candies, and nuts you leave out for snacking or guests are a no-go, according to Dr. Etzioni. Even the garlic and onions you might leave out in the kitchen can cause problems. "Garlic and onion in any form — whether it's powder, granulated, or the actual garlic clove or onion bulb — are toxic," she says. "The wild onions you find outside can be just as bad as what you'd get in the grocery store."
13. Heat and Electronic Sources
"You can't have candles burning when you have cats," says Galaxy. "If you're going to leave the room, you can't make the assumption that your cat's not going to walk over the stove, or that they're not going to somehow get into the washing machine or dryer."
The same goes for anything with electricity running through it. Dr. Etzioni says, "They like playing with wires and can become electrocuted. If we can, we should put the cords up, put things to block them from being accessed, or just put the electronics away." The same goes for unsecured appliances around the house and in the kitchen.
Ultimately, you should always check with your veterinarian if you are unsure of a certain product or have questions.