With Christmas and the general holiday period that surrounds the day approaching, it is a good time to review potential dangers to cats and look at how we can keep them safe.
Cat Christmas dangers at a glance
Christmas decorations and ribbons
Angel hair or lametta tinsel (the long spaghetti-like strands) and decorative ribbons pose a threat to cats if ingested. These long strands (defined as linear foreign bodies) can cause a telescoping of the intestines, a serious and life-threatening condition where one end becomes stuck, particularly in the mouth and tongue. The remainder trails into the gastrointestinal tract. As the intestines attempt to move the tinsel along, they telescope back on themselves. This can lead to perforation, gastrointestinal obstruction and death to parts of the gastrointestinal tract.
Tinsel can cause a gastrointestinal obstruction if enough is ingested.
Fake snow which is made of sodium polyacrylate is mildly toxic to cats, producing gastrointestinal signs, use sparingly if your cat shows an interest.
Avoid snow globes many of which contain antifreeze (see below, under winter).
Christmas flowers and plants
This time of year, I see so many people heading out to visit friends and relatives with flowers or plants. Many plants are listed as toxic, but levels of toxicity can range from life-threatening to mild gastrointestinal upset.
Common Christmas plants include:
- Mistletoe – Toxic
- Holly – Toxic
- Poinsettia – Mild toxicity
- Fir or pine – Non toxic *
- Lily – Toxic
- Amaryllis – Toxic
While not especially tied to Christmas, lilies are a common flower in floral arrangements which are deadly to cats, causing acute kidney failure. If there is a cat in the house you are visiting (or if you have a cat yourself), keep lilies out of the house.
Live Christmas trees are generally non-toxic, but do not let cats chew the needles which can potentially damage the gastrointestinal tract.
Unplug Christmas lights from the socket when not supervised and apply bitter apple if your cat is prone to chewing on cords which can cause an electric shock and burns to the mouth.
Make sure that live trees receive enough water (daily) to reduce the amount of needles the tree drops. Do not leave water sitting in a tray the cat can access and avoid the use of plant food or preservatives while the tree is inside as chemicals can cause toxicity.
Keep breakable decorations away from the bottom of the tree so the cat can’t knock them down. We use plastic baubles now to avoid the risk of glass injuries from broken decorations.
Don’t hang Christmas treats such as chocolate or candy canes on trees, or if you must, hang them up high.
Make sure the tree has a solid base to prevent it being knocked over and try not to have the tree near furniture and or shelves which the cats can use to jump onto the tree.
How to cat-proof a Christmas tree
Who doesn’t love Christmas food? Ham, chocolate and turkey are in plentiful supply, but when it comes to our cats, sharing is not caring.
Ham contains high levels of sodium which is not good for cats, and the high fat content can cause pancreatitis, a painful inflammation of the pancreas, due to activation of digestive enzymes which begin to break it down.
Turkey meat without the skin is okay to give as a small treat, but don’t give cooked turkey bones as they can splinter and cause damage to the gastrointestinal tract.
Do not give any turkey stuffing as it contains onions which are toxic to cats.
Chocolate is another no-no, as it contains theobromine and caffeine which are both toxic as well as high levels of fat which can cause pancreatitis. The darker the chocolate, the greater the toxicity.
Grapes and raisins are a known toxin to dogs, causing acute renal failure, they may be toxic to cats also with one reported case of toxicity. Cats are less likely to eat grapes or raisins than dogs, it is better to be safe than sorry and keep mince pies, Christmas cake and pudding as well as fresh grapes away from your cat.
Cats who live in the Northern Hemisphere are mid-winter over Christmas. Common dangers include:
- Antifreeze – Antifreeze (ethylene glycol) is highly toxic to cats. Keep cats out of areas where antifreeze is stored, and immediately clean up any spills.
- Car engines – Cats who go outside will often curl up under the warm engine bonnet, which can be hazardous due to degloving injuries and severe burns. Tap the bonnet of the car before you start it.
For cats living in the Southern Hemisphere, Christmas is in the middle of summer, which comes with its own risks.
- Heatstroke – Heat stroke is a condition caused by the body overheating and is most often associated with exposure to extreme temperatures. It has many catastrophic effects on the body.
- Snakes – Snakes are active in the warmer months and cats will attack if given the opportunity. Be diligent if you live in an area prone to snakes and ensure your garden and surrounds are free of debris and places snakes like to hide.
- Ticks – My cat’s veterinary practice keep a tally of cases of tick poisoning in their waiting room and it is alarming to see they treat over 30 cases a month (and this is a small town). If your cat goes outside, even in an enclosure, ensure you use a tick preventative and check your cat daily for ticks.
Pet toys and clothing
It may be cute to dress your cat up as Santa or an elf but take care and only ever dress a cat for a short period and under constant supervision.
Buy cat toys from reputable pet shops and suppliers and make sure there are no small parts that can easily be chewed and swallowed.
Image credit, Gerhard H Wrodnigg
Button batteries can come in a range of sizes. Most cats would not intentionally eat a battery, but it is possible for accidental ingestion to occur if a cat finds, and plays with a battery lying around. Ingestion can be fatal.
Guests and open doors
Guests themselves aren’t a danger, but non cat-lovers aren’t always cat-savvy when it comes to closing external doors, leaving the potential for indoor cats to escape. This happened to me on the weekend when a friend left our door ajar and two cats escaped.
Most cats don’t like large crowds and lots of noise, provide a safe place for your cat to retreat to if you are having visitors over and remind children that when the cat is in their designated safe place, to leave the cat alone.
Make sure the cat is microchipped and that the microchip details are up to date. If he does escape and end up at a local shelter or veterinary practice, he can be quickly reunited with you.
Fireworks on New Year’s Eve can be stressful for pets. Loud bangs, and sudden flashes of light can cause cats enormous stress and anxiety.
Block out fireworks noises by turning on the TV or radio for some background sound.
Close curtains and blinds when firework displays are on.
Keep your cat indoors on nights firework displays are on (such as New Years Eve, Guy Fawkes Night, Australia Day). Block off cat flaps and close windows.
Provide your cat a place to hide, such as a cat carrier (we advise they be left out at all times), inside a wardrobe or quiet room.
- Try to stick with your cat’s regular diet during Christmas and the New Year period. A small amount of turkey or chicken won’t hurt, but avoid other Christmas foods.
- Cats like routine and not all cats cope with a lot of visitors. Make a safe place where the cat can retreat (a bedroom that is out of bounds to guests for example).
- Keep your veterinarian’s number as well as an emergency/out of hours veterinarian in an easy to locate area such as the fridge.
- Select cat toys carefully, not all cat toys are safe for cats.
- Be careful when buying flowers or plants, or receiving flowers and plants as many are toxic to cats.
Please add your comments below if you have any tips you would like to add.