Clothes dryer

The myth that cats have nine lives didn’t start with a veterinarian. That's because we know better.

Like our counterparts in human medicine, we see every possible way a patient can get sick or be injured, and after a while we could perhaps be excused from sometimes thinking every animal has something wrong. That’s part of the reason why we so love to see our patients for wellness checks: It’s a thrill to see a happy, healthy pet, and we love being able to use our expertise to keep them that way.

Prevention Is Key

But veterinarians also see a lot of preventable problems in pets. In cats, many of these problems could be prevented by not letting a pet roam. Every time I write that, I get disagreement in the comments, but it’s absolutely true: Your cat is in danger of getting lost, hit by a car or even eaten by a coyote if allowed to go where he chooses.

But that doesn’t mean your cat is perfectly safe indoors, either. I don’t want to raise alarm, but I do want to raise awareness of some of the completely preventable ways that a pet owner can injure or even kill a cat.

Outdoor Dangers

Running over your own cat. Sometimes your cat may take shelter under your car, other times your cat may run to your car to greet you when you come home. Either way, check under your car before you get in, and be aware that your cat — or a neighbor's free-roaming cat — might suddenly turn up when you come home.

Starting your car with your cat inside the engine. When it’s cold, cats seek out warm spots. One of those could be a car engine after the vehicle has been parked. Prevention is easy: Whenever you go to start a car, thump on the hood. If a cat is in the engine, he’ll usually take off.

Indoor Hazards

Turning on the dryer with your cat inside. Cats love warm, soft clothes. Sleeping in the laundry basket or an open dresser drawer isn’t dangerous, except possibly to your hopes of going to work without cat hair on you. But many cats have been killed in clothes dryers. It typically happens when clothes are left in the dryer, more are thrown in and the dryer turned back on. Prevent this deadly hazard by keeping the dryer door closed, and always checking the inside before you turn it on.

Leaving strings and things out. While cats generally don’t have as much interest in chewing things as dogs do, there is an exception: Strings. Cats, especially young cats and kittens, will play with and sometimes eat strings, yarn, thread and other similar objects, which will then often need to be surgically removed. To prevent this, always put knitting, sewing and other craft supplies safely away when you’re done with them, and keep a lid on the garbage pail to keep that meat-juiced roast string out of your cat’s mouth.

The idea that cats have nine lives comes from their skills at getting themselves out of jams. They can fly over fences and up trees to get away from predators, and can sometimes survive falls that would kill most other animals. But your cat really only has one life, and it’s up to you to protect it.