The start of fall is traditionally a time of celebration and mourning. With contemporary holidays like Thanksgiving here in the United States, we still observe some portions of those originary celebrations, which were held in honor of the harvest season. The mourning comes into play because we recognize that the warm joy of summer is giving way to cold insecurity of winter. We are likewise reminded by autumn’s arrival that rewards are usually accompanied by a unique set of risks.
The English poet John Keats encapsulated this tension in his poem, “To Autumn.” Composed on September 19, 1819, right on the cusp of what we now officially classify as the start of fall, Keats’s poem doesn’t specifically mention cats — though he did write a sonnet on that topic — “To Autumn” examines both the joys and attendant risks of the seasonal shift. What risks and hazards do our cats and kitten friends face when fall foliage begins to drop from the trees?
Outdoor hazards: “They think warm days will never cease”
The majority of cat owners, recognizing the general hazards of the great outdoors, tend to keep their kittens and cats as indoor-only pets. For those of us who allow our cats, regardless of the weather, to enjoy stretching their legs on an autumn Caturday, be aware that the start of fall brings fresh dangers. The most significant of these for cats are molds that develop with decaying foliage and poisonous snakes in search of winter retreats.
Changing leaf colors are a joy to many, but if they’re falling around your home, they present a risk to your cat’s health and safety. Whether you’re gathering them for the compost heap or leaving them strewn around the yard, each has a danger that cats should avoid. The scent of food scraps among the leaves can offer irresistible temptations to curious cats. Make sure your compost container is securely fastened when your cats are nearby. Left on the ground, decaying leaf piles trap moisture and spur the growth of molds and fungi that can poison cats.
Your cat may be familiar with the bounds of your territory, but even staying close to the house or apartment can expose them to passing snakes. At the start of fall, snakes and other poisonous reptiles greet the year’s close by seeking secure places to spend the winter. A chance encounter with any such creature carries the risk of a poisoned bite. If your cats depend on a little outdoor time even as the seasons change, keep a close eye on them.
Indoor hazards: “Drows’d with the fume of poppies”
The risks and hazards to cat safety are much more apparent for cats who spend all their time inside at the start of fall. Fall cleaning and storage products and pest-control substances are but a couple of the domestic hazards to cats and kittens. In the first case, if you are cleaning the house or putting summer clothing into storage, products like cleaning solutions and mothballs contain chemicals that are poisonous to cats. Their strong scents may affect a cat by proximity, to say nothing of the effects they can have upon contact with a cat’s skin or tongue.
Household cleaners and pest deterrents that are commonly deployed with changing seasons present their own hazards to cat and kitten safety. Snakes are not the only creatures seeking shelter as the weather cools. The start of fall also sees rats, mice, and other rodents in quest of hospitable living conditions. If you’re setting out rodent traps or poisons around the home, keep in mind that your cats and kittens might find them as well.
Autumn is also a time of new and appealing fragrances. Items like loose potpourri and scented candles bring the scent of fall into our homes. A cat’s senses, which are more finely tuned and sensitive, will be under constant assault by these powerful and inescapable new odors. If you find your cat sneezes more frequently and with greater ferocity during the fall, consider what new elements you may be introducing into your home.
Holiday hazards: “Thou hast thy music too”
Autumn’s major holidays, including Halloween and Thanksgiving, present their own potential challenges and hazards to cats. The start of fall often brings with it new home decorations and the temptations of holiday foods. Cats and kittens are much less likely to chew on elaborate decorations than their canine counterparts. That said, we all know that no matter how many cat toys are available, they’ll always end up playing with whatever catches their eye.
Seasonal home decorations, from garlands and wreaths to banners and strings of colored lights, are all things that an entertainment-hungry cat will notice and approach with curiosity and mischief almost immediately. Keep attractive decor well out of the reach of cat paws. This goes for strings of lights or other decorative items that involve electrical cords. These are all things that cats are known to chew on.
When holiday cooking commences, supplies for meals — baking powders, seasonings and spices, and the remains of uncooked meats — are often strewn higgledy-piggledy around the kitchen or dining room. From the time you begin to lay out your cooking preparations to the moment you close the dishwasher, bar your cat’s access to your work space.
Enjoy fall with your cats and kittens!
The biggest problem our cats and kittens face at the start of fall is our own carelessness as cat owners. We all long for change and for the excitement of novel situations; cats are no different. Whether you’re putting away your summer garb, cleaning the house, or decorating for the holidays, it’s likely you have a cat sitting nearby, taking it all in. The more carefully we make use of things like cleaning products, rodent deterrents, and cooking supplies, the fewer hazards we place in the way of cats and kittens.
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