Keeping Your Cat Happy & Safe During The Holidays
If you’re like me, the festive season starts on December 1st. Decorating the tree, baking various treats, and listening to Christmas music (much to my partner’s horror) are some of my favourite pastimes. Unfortunately, this time of year can be quite stressful and potentially dangerous for our feline friends. Cats across the board thrive on routine and are likely to find changes in their home environment very stressful. As an inquisitive species, cats may try toxic foods or plants that aren’t usually around the home or ingest holiday-related foreign objects.
The following list isn’t exhaustive but a good place to start with which foods, plants, and other items to keep out of reach from your curious cat to keep them safe and sound this silly season. If you are concerned for your cat's well-being or you see them ingest something they should, seek veterinary attention.
Foods Chocolate: Compared to dogs, cats must ingest a bigger amount to become unwell. Signs of chocolate toxicity include vomiting, increased water intake, diarrhoea, trembling, seizures, and a wobbly gait. In very severe cases death is a possibility (although very rare). Cats lack taste receptors for sweet so although the risk of them ingesting a substantial amount is low, it is still important to keep it out of reach. Interestingly the same class of drugs that makes chocolate so dangerous (methylxanthines) are also found in caffeinated beverages, so it pays to keep those out of harm's way as well.
Grapes and Raisins: Often found on fruit platters and in the classic Christmas mince pie. Even a small amount can cause them to become unwell and within 24 hours of consumption rapid onset kidney failure can occur. Common symptoms of grape/raisin toxicity include vomiting, reduced appetite, abdominal discomfort, lethargy (hyperactivity is observed, diarrhoea, and decreased urine output. It pays to keep these ingredients contained and/or out of reach and ensure your cat isn’t left unattended around food. Bones, raw egg, meat, and dairy: If like me your meals never contain animal flesh or secretions, feel free to skip this one. Raw bones can become a choking hazard and damage teeth. When cooked they can also be a choking hazard and in addition, they can splinter and end up stuck in your cat’s digestive system. Like us, raw egg and meat can lead to E. coli or salmonella poisoning in cats. Symptoms include but aren’t limited to, lethargy, vomiting and diarrhoea. Raw eggs contain an enzyme that can cause skin and coat problems.
Alcohol: alcoholic beverages and foods that contain alcohol can be a danger to your cat. Ingestion can cause vomiting, tremors, diarrhoea, trouble breathing, disorientation and even death. It pays to keep fruitcake and other foods containing alcohol out of reach and any alcoholic drinks attended. I must mention raw dough (cookie dough be still my heart), while it might not contain alcohol when it is in the mixing bowl – When consumed it expands in the stomach and as it is digested it can create alcohol.
Christmas trees: Pine trees are toxic to cats and can cause irreversible liver damage. Notably, the sap that can leach into the water the tree trunk is immersed in, some cats will attempt to drink this. Artificial trees negate this risk, but some of the material used to create them can cause digestive upset or obstruction such as fake pine needles and snow. Both real and artificial trees pose a risk of injury from falling over and from the subsequently broken ornaments such as glass baubles. Poinsettia: Ingestion of the sap from the Poinsettia plant can be mildly toxic to cats. Symptoms include vomiting, excessive salivation, refusal of food and a quieter demeanour than usual. Usually, these symptoms resolve on their own. These plants are often given as season gifts, keep this in mind if your gift recipient has cats.
Mistletoe, Holly, and Ivy: While not overtly lethal, these three plants can cause abdominal discomfort and diarrhoea so should be kept away from curious cats.
Other Festive Items
Tinsel, ribbons and other string-like decors: These common festive decorations are reported to be some of the biggest festive hazards to cats. If chewed and/or ingested your cat is at risk of choking, damage to teeth, and foreign body obstruction. Unlike other ailments, a foreign body obstruction can have very subtle initial signs such as sleeping more and refusing food. If your cat is the investigating type, consider using less hazardous décor or installing a pen around the tree to restrict access. Lights and wiring: Curious cats and nosy kittens are known to chew lights and wires if allowed access. Moving furniture around to make room for a tree can make the area susceptible for a cat to pass urine in that area as an indicator of stress. If wires are exposed this poses an additional safety risk of electrical shock. Keeping these out of reach is the best way to keep your cat safe. Candles: Open flames are a safety risk to all cats and as someone who has nursed a cat with burns, it is not something you want your cat to go through ever. In addition to the risk of burning, heavily scented candles can be aversive to a cat’s sense of smell which is highly sensitive. If you are going to use candles, keep them contained in a lantern of some kind or at least where you can keep an eye on them.
How We Can Make Christmas Better For Our Cats
With changes to home décor and furniture, trees and lights put up, different music playing and a higher density of house guests, Christmas can be a very stressful time for many cats. Luckily there are a few things we can put in place to help them feel as safe and secure as possible during this time:
Prepare a safe space where your cat can go when they need to get away from the holiday antics. An easy DIY option is a cardboard box turned on its side or cat cave bed with a well-loved blanket inside, placed on top of the wardrobe, in the closet or under the bed.
Avoid shutting cats in a room with a noisy and intense atmosphere where they might feel unsafe e.g. dinner parties.
Install a Feliway plug-in diffuser in the rooms where your cat spends a lot of time, do this a few days before you start any holiday preparations or visitors come to stay. Keep it plugged in until the house is back to its usual set-up.
Inform any visitors before they enter the home to not approach the cat, instead only interact with a gentle stroke if the cat initiates contact. This might be hard for kids and cat lovers to resist but respecting a cat’s autonomy is in their best interest. If appropriate, guests can give the cat treats or initiate play to help form positive associations with strangers.
Sometimes visitors are young children, or they come with a dog in tow. If practical, restrict their access to certain areas of the home so the cat has somewhere safe to go.
If you need to move key resources for sleeping, eating and toileting, make sure they are moved to quieter areas in the home. It is best practice to do this before the festive season kicks off and is done gradually. If there is a higher density of people in the home a second litter tray is always a good idea.
If your cat is struggling this holiday season and you have tried just about everything to help them, a 1:1 consult with me will give you the tools you need to facilitate a calmer and happier cat.
Happy Holidays everyone!