Your cat's ears perk up as she hears you open the door to the garage. Finally! A place she doesn't get a chance to explore. Your cat slips past you as you close the door, and then she is alone on the other side, free to explore the entire garage.

If this scenario sounds even remotely possible, it may be time to cat-proof your garage. As we all know, cats are curious. So, when a cat enters an area she doesn't have a chance to patrol frequently, the very first action she takes is to investigate. You've probably seen your cat perform her ritual of smelling, followed by rubbing an object with the side of her face or body. This is a scent marker that shouts, "I was here!" to any other cats. But this marking act can have dangerous after-effects when the cat cleans her fur.

Eliminating Dangers

You can eliminate many of the dangers to your cat by taking a stroll around the garage and looking for hazards at cat level. Anything you don't want to rub off on your cat should be placed up high or covered with plastic. On your walking tour, also take note of these sources of danger:

  • Antifreeze
  • Motor oil
  • Gasoline
  • Battery acid
  • Carbon monoxide from running cars
  • Turpentine
  • Paint
  • Garbage
  • Car engines

Antifreeze is a major danger to a cat exploring a garage. It's an odorless fluid with a sweet taste many cats like. Young male cats in particular seem to have an affinity for antifreeze - and no one knows why. Poisoning is swift, less than a teaspoon full is deadly to an average sized cat, and the mortality rate is about 88 percent. The cat's liver actually turns against itself. The liver breaks down the antifreeze and changes it into oxalic acid. A cat cannot metabolize this substance, leading to health problems, and often death.

Poisoning usually occurs when the cat laps up some spilled antifreeze. Always mop up spills as soon as they happen. Sprinkling the area with an absorbent material, such as sand, cat litter, wood shavings or sawdust, will prevent the cat from licking the spot where the spill occurred.  

Fortunately, many brands of antifreeze contain propylene glycol instead of ethylene glycol. Although propylene glycol is still a toxic substance, it does not cause the liver to produce oxalic acid, a life-threatening substance. Check the labels of antifreeze containers or ask your vet which brands contain propylene glycol.

Dispose of antifreeze in a sealed container, and keep containers out of reach. Symptoms of antifreeze poisoning are:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Diarrhea
  • Panting
  • Vomiting
  • Convulsions
  • Decreased appetite
  • Increased urination
This is a life-threatening situation, and requires urgent treatment. If your pet displays these symptoms and you are certain your cat ingested antifreeze, induce vomiting. If your pet is conscious and you have any 100 proof alcohol, give your cat a tablespoon before rushing your pet to the vet. This is the same method of treatment your vet will probably employ, as the alcohol causes your cat's liver to stop producing the deadly oxalic acid and starts working on breaking down the alcohol.

Other Dangerous Fluids

Antifreeze is only one of the dangers your cat can encounter in your garage. Motor oil, gasoline and windshield washer fluid can drip on a cat while she is exploring beneath a car. Motor oil is the least serious poisoning scenario. Symptoms of motor oil ingestion are:

  • Depression
  • Lethargy
  • Paralysis of hind legs
  • Staggering
  • Vomiting
  • Coma (in very severe cases)
If your cat has ingested oil, do not induce vomiting. Wrap your cat in a towel and take her to the vet. The situation is urgent, but not critical. If your cat is merely covered in oil, wash her well with lukewarm water and mild soap, then wrap in a towel. Watch your pet for symptoms of ingestion, if she exhibits symptoms take your cat to the vet.

Gasoline and fluids containing ethylene glycol are life threatening, with symptoms ranging from vomiting, abdominal pain and convulsions to death. If you do not know what your cat has ingested, DO NOT ENCOURAGE VOMITING. Many substances are caustic, and causing your cat to bring them back up will only bring more harm to your pet's throat passage. If you see your pet exhibiting any of the following signs after sneaking into your garage, rush your pet to the vet immediately:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Tremors
  • Convulsions
To prevent spills, use a funnel while pouring fluids into the engine. If a spill occurs, treat it like an antifreeze spill - mop it up and use an absorbent material to take up the residue. As for gasoline, place containers high and out of reach of a cat, or inside a cat-proof area.

Carbon monoxide poisoning is another danger for your pet. If you start your car, unaware that your pet is in the cramped space of the garage, your cat will have no choice but to inhale the fumes. Cats are far more sensitive to carbon monoxide poisoning than humans. Many cases of 'car sickness' in cats are actually minor spells of carbon monoxide poisoning. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are very prominent:

  • Gums and mucous membranes around the eyes will turn cherry red
  • Twitching muscles
  • Weakness
  • Fever
  • Wobbly legs
If a cat inhales carbon monoxide fumes or gas fumes, carry her out into fresh air. If she is unconscious, perform artificial resuscitation immediately. After this, rush your pet to the veterinarian. Just because she is breathing doesn't mean she is out of danger.

Turpentine and other cans or jars of toxic substances should also be kept high. Remember, your cat is a good jumper, so to be safe, wipe spills and drips from the sides of containers, and make sure they are sealed properly. Make sure your garbage cans have tight, secure lids.

Finally, remember a car engine offers a nice, warm place for a cat to climb into and engage in one of his favorite activities: sleep. Some cats learn too late that the engine isn't a good nesting spot. There are countless horrible possibilities for a cat inside the hood of a running car. Train your cat to run whenever any humans get inside a car. Yell, spray her with water, or throw soft objects at her when you see her under the car. Better yet, if you really want to ensure your cat's safety, check under the hood each time that you use your car.