Christmas is an exciting time for the family, but it always pays to take some extra precautions with our pets. There are many dangers around, below are some suggestions on how to ensure your cat stays safe during the Christmas period.
The only foolproof way to keep your cat away from your Christmas tree is to put the tree in a room the cat can't access. Unfortunately, this is often not practical. So the next best solution is to make the tree as safe as possible. Real Christmas trees are more dangerous to cats than fake plastic ones. Pine needles can puncture internal organs if eaten, they are also toxic to cats. If you do have a real tree, make sure the drink stand has plenty of water to prevent the tree drying out and losing needles. It is important that your cat isn't able to get to this water and drink it as it could result in poisoning. Ensure the tree has a good solid base so it won't easily be knocked over by your cat. Try not to have the tree near furniture and or shelves which the cats could use to jump onto the tree.
Be careful with tinsel, if you must have it on your tree, place it at the top of the tree where the cat is less likely to be able to get at it. Tinsel can be caught around the base or move down to the intestines and stomach and cause a blockage, which will result in emergency (and costly) surgery to remove it. A safer alternative is the strands of beads. Ornaments should be securely attached to the tree to prevent them being knocked off. Also, place delicate ornaments up high where they're less likely to be knocked off and broken. When there is nobody around, unplug Christmas lights, you may want to try applying a cat repellent such as bitter apple to the lights to deter your cat from chewing the wires, obviously if this was to happen it could cause a fatal electric shock.
Artificial snow is toxic to cats, so is best avoided.
Candles are especially popular over the Christmas holiday period, be careful to make sure your cat can't get close to lit candles.
Please note, your cat isn't a novelty item and it's dangerous to try and decorate your cat with ribbons etc.
Holly, mistletoe, poinsettias are all popular plants to have in the home at Christmas, especially in the northern hemisphere. These plants are toxic to cats so should be placed where your cat can't get to them. Please see our page on common household toxins for an extensive list of toxic and nontoxic plants.
Many cat owners enjoy giving their cat the occasional treat of "human" food and generally this doesn't harm the cat. However, it is important to remember that some foods which are fine for humans to eat can be toxic to cats. The odd sliver of chicken or turkey (off the bone) is fine, however, it really isn't a good idea to give them large quantities of such food as this can lead to gastrointestinal problems. Never give your cat cooked chicken or turkey bones, these bones can splinter and can become lodged in your cat's throat or puncture the intestines and stomach. Chocolate is toxic to cats, the darker the chocolate, the more toxic. Chocolate contains both caffeine and theobromine, which are both toxic. If you suspect your cat has eaten chocolate watch for signs of restlessness and vomiting, if in doubt, see your vet.
Cats will often scavenge for food in the garbage so be aware that if you've covered your turkey with foil and thrown it in the bin, your cat may drag it out and chew on it which could make the cat sick. Cooked turkey bones will also attract your cat. Be aware of this and if possible, take your food scraps etc., to your outside bin.
Ribbons etc., pose the same problem as tinsel, if eaten, it may lead to gastrointestinal blockages or telescoping of the intestines. It is important to ensure all ribbons/wrap etc., are safely disposed of.
Some cats love the attention of visitors, others find strangers in their house stressful. Christmas is often a busy time with visitors coming and going. Be mindful of your cat's feelings and give the cat the option of somewhere quiet to escape to should the need arise, this is particularly important if your friends and relatives have young children.
Also, visitors may not be as diligent with keeping doors closed as cat owners, if you have people over who will be coming in and out of the house, consider putting the cats in a quiet part of the house so that they can't escape. Food, water and a litter should be left in the room with the cat.
If you are going away on holiday, you have several options for your cat. You may choose to put your cat in a boarding cattery while you are gone. It is best to check out the premises prior to taking your cat there so you can ensure the cattery meets your standards. Any reputable boarding cattery will insist your cat is up to date on its vaccinations, this is important for the well-being of your cat and all other cats they have boarding there. Many vets also do boarding for cats but in my opinion, this isn't ideal for more than a few days as their cages tend to be much smaller than those you'd expect to find in a boarding cattery.
There are a growing number of pet sitters available these days. They will come over once or twice a day to feed and play with your cat and to clean the litter tray. I find this most suitable when going away for a few days.
If you are going away for an extended period of time you may want to consider asking a friend or relative to house sit.
Whichever option you take, make sure you leave a phone number where you can be contacted and your vet's telephone number in case of an emergency.
Make sure your cat's microchip details are up to date.
When buying toys for your cat, make sure you thoroughly check them first. Similar precautions should be taken with your cat's toys as you'd take buying a toy for a young child. Make sure there is nothing glued on that the cat can pull off and swallow. As the toy will quite likely be chewed on, ensure that it's made from a non-toxic substance. There are many wand like toys on the market which most cats love, these should be put away safely when not in use because the cat could become tangled on the string. Any toy that is small enough for your cat to swallow is dangerous and should be avoided.
Kittens as gifts
Buying a kitten as a gift is fine as long as the person receiving the kitten has asked for a pet and knows that owning a cat is quite likely to be a 15-20 year responsibility. Never buy a pet as a surprise gift for somebody. Also, because Christmas is usually such a chaotic time, it is best to try and arrange to collect your kitten after Christmas to avoid undue stress on the animal. Please, if you are considering buying a pet as a gift, really think it through before you do so. Pet ownership is a big responsibility and shouldn't be entered into lightly. Any shelter worker will tell you that their most busy time of the year is just after Christmas people bring them unwanted pets. Don't add to the problem by buying a pet for somebody on a whim.
Spring and summer are when paralysis ticks are most prevalent, be diligent and check your cat daily for ticks. Even indoor cats can be bitten by a tick. A local shelter had to rush one of their cats to the veterinarian recently because one of the cats in her care had been bitten by a paralysis tick. This was a strictly indoor only cat, she suspects the tick was blown onto the wire screen near the window where the cat would like to sit and somehow crawled inside. Our local veterinary clinic (small town) sees approximately 1 case a day.
Snake bite poisoning is a very serious danger to cats, especially in the warmer months. Be aware that the summer months see an increase in snakes and be on the lookout. If you see your cat with a snake, assume he has been bitten and take him to a veterinarian immediately.
Another medical emergency is heat stroke (also known as hyperthermia). If you suspect your cat has heat stroke, seek veterinary attention immediately. Make sure your cat has plenty of shady spots to get out of the sun and use fans or air conditioning on hot days. Cats are not as effective at cooling down as people as they don't sweat a great deal (only through their paws). Always provide your cat with clean, fresh drinking water and check it regularly. I find my cats and dogs get through a lot more water in summer. On really hot days, add some ice cubes to their water bowl.
Updated 13th December 2016.