Common Christmas Cat-astrophes! - Tips for keeping your cat safe this Christmas
14th December 2017
With your Christmas tree up and adorned with beautiful, shiny tinsel and ornaments, an arrangement of gifts beneath it, and a fridge and pantry stocked to the brim with a range of Christmas fare, it is very easy to get carried away with planning and to forget your feline family.
For the cats who love their new ‘inside-tree’ and its decorations, or for the ones who are driven by the savoury waftings emanating from your busy kitchen, Christmas brings with it a number of dangers – Cat-astrophes waiting to happen if you aren’t aware or prepared.
Young cats seem to be the most tempted by the tree, tinsel and ornaments, while overweight cats and those driven by food are more likely to try and sneak, steal or beg a potentially toxic Christmas food item. However, any cat is at risk of illness or toxicity if they come into contact with the wrong Christmas-related item at the wrong time. Below is a list of potential issues and toxicities that could affect your cat, and tips on what you can do to avoid any problems this holiday season. The most common issues over Christmas are related to food, decorations, plants and gifts:
Human food, treats and left-overs are a very common cause of issues and toxicities in cats during the holiday season. Be aware of all of these items, but also recipes and other foods that each of these might feature in. Also ensure that family members and friends visiting, don’t try to ‘treat’ your cat under the dinner table, or pass their plate down for them to lick.
These are an inevitable part of Christmas dinner and can easily cause an obstruction in your cat’s stomach or intestines, since cooked bones splinter and break easily. Take care not to feed your cat any meat on the bone, and to keep left-overs well out of their reach.
All chocolate including milk, dark and baking chocolate is highly toxic to cats. It can only take a few grams to cause symptoms of toxicity, so ensure you keep all treats and dishes containing chocolate, well away from your cat.
While grapes aren’t often appealing to cats, raisins and certainly mince pies and Christmas cake often are. Be aware that all foods containing these (and even sultanas and currents) are particularly toxic to cats, so ensure they are well out of reach.
Most nuts are non-toxic to cats, however Macadamias are certainly the exception and can potentially cause a range of nasty symptoms in cats.
With Christmas treats like rum-balls, sherry soaked trifles and Christmas cake, it is easy to see how a cat may ingest alcohol accidentally. It only takes a teaspoon or two to cause severe internal organ damage, so be sure to keep your cat well away from alcohol, alcohol containing foods and left-overs.
Many Christmas dinners will have dishes that contain onions, garlic or other similar vegetables (chives and spring onion for example). All of these can potentially lead to vomiting and even anaemia, so be sure to keep these items well away from your cat, and don’t be tempted to feed stuffing or other left-overs.
With more and more artificial sweeteners appearing in treats and cakes, it is important to be aware that Xylitol (a common sweetener used in chewing gum and other treats) is particularly toxic to cats and can lead to death even if only a small amount is ingested.
As well as the potential for any of the above to appear either in left-overs or in the trash, there is also the risk of mouldy food. Moulds can cause a very nasty toxicity in cats that could lead to tremors and even death, so keep the trash well covered up and hidden from your feline family.
While most decorations appear completely harmless, they can look very appealing to cats. From the glistening tinsel, the appeal of electrical cords and candles, it’s important to be aware of all of these potential dangers in your home:
Electrical cords & cables
While it doesn’t make any sense, cats (and especially kittens) seem to have a fascination with electrical cords which are usually in ample supply via fairy lights and other decorations. If they manage to bite through these, the symptoms could range from burns to death. Try to keep cords well out of reach.
Tinsel & ribbons
These look like fantastic play-things for your cat, but if they manage to ingest some or part of these decorations, then there is a high risk that they will become stuck in their stomach or intestines, and potentially cause a telescoping of the gut. Try to keep tinsel high on the tree, and ribbons also well out of reach.
Baubles are great fun for your cat to chase, but if they break and any parts are ingested, then the sharp edges can cause havoc in their intestinal tract or cause a blockage. As such, discourage play with these, and keep them high on the tree.
Candles, Fireplaces & BBQs
It is very common for candles to be lit around the home, or for a fire to be roaring if you’re in the northern hemisphere. Cats are curious creatures and as such keep candles out of their reach, as it isn’t uncommon for them to push items off a table or bench. Likewise use a fireguard to prevent your cat getting too close to the fire. In sunnier climes, make sure your cat can’t access or jump on to the BBQ while it is on or still hot.
Christmas is a time of beautiful smells, with the Christmas tree as well as flowers and plants gifted by friends being key contributors. Unfortunately, many of the common Christmas related plants are quite toxic to cats:
The Christmas Tree
The pine needles from Christmas trees can cause oral ulcers, irritate the stomach and intestines and even cause a perforation. Try to vacuum up any pine needles that fall from the tree daily. Also cover the bucket/water (if you have used that instead of a stand) that your tree is in with aluminium foil, as this water is also toxic to your cat.
For cats, these are the most toxic of all plants and can cause convulsions and renal failure even only small amounts are ingested (including the pollen). It is best to keep all lilies out your home for this reason – so consider something more feline friendly such as roses.
Poinsettias, Mistletoe & Holly
While these could only cause a mild toxicity in your cat (vomiting and diarrhoea), it is still worth keeping them well out of their reach.
The big unknown! There are many gifts under your tree, but what are they? There are many potential dangers lurking beneath the tree that are worth considering:
Most children’s toys won’t cause an issue as they are big, but smaller toys, or Lego blocks could potentially be ingested. Be sure to keep these well out of your cat’s reach when these are opened on the big day.
Because gifts can often contain delicious treats – make sure you’re aware of the food risk factors above, particularly sweeteners, chocolate & macadamia nuts.
With many gifts these days, batteries are supplied with them or in them. If ingested by a cat, they can cause chemical burns and toxicity, so encourage friends and family to take care when they unwrap and use their new presents.
Plastic bags & wrapping paper
There will be no shortage of either on Christmas day, and while most cats will love to play in both bags and paper, it is safest to avoid this as these could potentially cause suffocation or an intestinal blockage.
Thinking of gifting a kitten this Christmas?
While gifting a kitten during the holiday season might seem like a beautiful idea for a friend or family member, it has become a big issue with many families unprepared or unwilling to take that pet on. We must remember that a cat or dog is for life, not just for Christmas. Often the timing just isn’t right if you are thinking of gifting a kitten to a friend or family member you don’t live with. Consider gifting a cat collar and offer to accompany them to your local shelter after Christmas! This way, if they simply aren’t ready for a pet, or the addition of another pet, they can let you know.
Being aware of all of these potential dangers will put you in good stead to helping create a safe environment for your feline family this Christmas. It is also important to consider that the Christmas break may be a particularly stressful time for your cat, and for this please read our other article on dealing with feline stress over Christmas here.
Finally, if you think your cat has managed to get in to any of the items above at any stage over the holiday period, be sure to follow up with your local veterinarian as soon as you can.