Cats love to play hide and seek, whether they’re scared, curious, or just in search of a cozy, quiet refuge to snuggle.
But what seems like the perfect hidey-hole isn’t always the safest.
When Allison Waters lived in an old carriage house, she didn’t realize that one of the cabinets in her pantry had an area underneath that was open to the inside of the wall – and the entire length of the back of the house – until she heard feline screaming sounds.
The Atlanta veterinary technician and dog trainer was about to take a chainsaw to the cabinets when her cat Goblin emerged. It was the perfect hiding place for a cat afraid of loud noises. After several attempts, Waters finally found a way to effectively board up the space.
“I had no idea what was in the wall,” Waters says. “As a kitten, he liked to chew on wires and being a veterinary technician, I know the worst of what can happen.”
WebMD asked cat experts about the most dangerous spots where cats can get stuck or injured, and how to keep your cat away from them.
1. Clothes Washer/Dryer
Danger: Cats can suffer serious injury if the appliance is turned on, including broken bones, burns, heat stroke, damaged internal organs, and death.
“The worst I ever saw was a cat that came into my hospital that had gotten into the dryer. The owner didn’t notice, closed the dryer, turned it on high, and left the room,” says Ilona Rodan, DVM, a feline behavior specialist and past president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners. “When she came back, she found her cat stiff and hot. The cat was unfortunately already dead when she raced him into the clinic.”
What to Do: Keep the door tightly shut and always check inside before using. (The same goes for the dishwasher, oven, and refrigerator.) You should also make sure your cat isn’t hiding in your dirty clothes hamper, because you could accidentally dump your pet in with the wash.
Danger: Cats may have access to hazardous chemicals, such as anti-freeze, which tastes sweet to them. Shivering felines have also been known to climb under the hoods of cars and hide out in the warm engine compartment, says Meghan E. Herron, DVM, clinical assistant professor of behavioral medicine at The Ohio State University Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences.
What to do: Block off access to the garage. If you suspect a cat could get under the car, honk the horn or bang loudly on the hood before starting the engine. This should wake up the animal and give it a chance to escape or let you know he’s there, in which case you can pop the hood and let it out.
3. Cabinets, Cupboards, and Drawers
Danger: They’re fun hiding spots, but a cat can become trapped or injured.
What to Do: Keep drawers shut as much as possible. If you find an open drawer, “make a loud noise to startle them, since they would be able to jump out of the drawer,” says Tami Groberg, DVM, a veterinarian at Bay Hill Cat Hospital in Orlando, Fla. Use childproof latches on any cabinets containing hazardous chemicals.
4. Open Windows and Balconies
Danger: Warm weather often finds cats snoozing in open windows. But despite their reputations for balance and resilience, cats can fall and suffer severe injuries, even from just a story or two above the ground.
What to Do: Make sure your windows have secure screens that a cat can’t push out and escape through, Rodan says. Block off or screen in balconies and only allow access under supervision.
Danger: Cats love to climb to high places, where they have a clear view of the action or a private spot to snooze without the threat of anyone sneaking up on them. But like with windows, they can fall and hurt themselves.
What to Do: Close off rafters and “try to limit access by not having things they can jump on to get to these high places,” Groberg says. Provide alternative perches for cats to climb and cuddle in, such as climbing towers, “kitty condos”, or scratching posts that have high platforms to lie on. Put a favorite treat or toy there to encourage the cat to use them.
In general, experts say the best way to keep cats out of dangerous hiding spots is to provide safe options, such as the above-mentioned perches and cardboard boxes lined with blankets or towels. Cats who aren’t able to hide can become very stressed, Herron says.
“An experiment with laboratory cats showed that cats that had the ability to conceal themselves in a box had lower stress levels than those who did not have the ability to hide behind this box, even though they had identical environments,” Herron says. “Stress levels can be greatly reduced by providing cats hiding places.”