It’s almost Christmas! And for many families, this means food, visitors and celebration – all the things that we enjoy.
As cat guardians, we must also consider our little furry family members and the impact this time of year will have on them.
The holiday season presents many dangers for cats. To give your cat the best chance of having a stress-free period, and avoid a trip to the emergency vet, let’s go through some considerations.
Food and chocolate!
Most pet owners know that chocolate isn’t good for their cats. The main reason is that chocolate contains both caffeine and a chemical known as theobromine. Both of these are very toxic to cats. And they are higher in dark chocolate, making it much more toxic.
Christmas is a huge ‘chocolate holiday’ for many people, including young children. For this reason, it’s vitally important to keep chocolate away from your cat. Don’t leave it out absentmindedly and please keep an eye on young children who may leave some on the floor.
Chocolate isn’t the only danger. There are lots of other human foods that are just as toxic to cats. Some foods you wouldn’t even consider to be harmful. These include sultanas and raisins, grapes, garlic and onion, potatoes and alcohol.
As a cat guardian, it will be best if you can try not to leave food out uncovered, and definitely don’t give your cat leftovers unless you know that the food is cat-safe.
This is a big one. There are so many plants and flowers that are toxic to cats. Topping the list are Lilies (e.g. Easter lilies, Tiger lilies).
Lilies are so toxic, that even a cat brushing past the flowers and getting pollen on their fur (and subsequently being groomed off) can cause kidney failure quickly, becoming fatal in as little as three days. If you suspect your cat has eaten any part of a lily, he needs to go to the emergency vet immediately.
There are quite a few indoor plants that are toxic to cats, including Pothos, Aloe Vera, Chrysanthemum, English Ivy and many others. They can also be common gifts so please do your research before bringing plants or flowers inside.
In all of my consultations I have an eagle eye out for toxic indoor plants – you’d be surprised how many people have them in their home!
Guests and Celebrations
Celebratory times of the year bring, not only lots of guests, but often changes in routine and schedules.
Whilst it may be fun for us, territorial and routine changes can be highly stressful for a cat. Even though we may think they are handling it fine, lots of visitors, noise and activity can often be quite detrimental if we don’t manage it with care.
Firstly, you should provide a safe space for your cat to retreat to if things become too much. Some cats are more sociable and will be quite happy to be around people for longer than others, but many will feel overwhelmed, and providing a quiet, dark room with all they need will be highly regarded.
Try to make it a comfortable room that visitors won’t frequent, like a main bedroom or spare room. Make sure it has a litterbox, water, food, cat tower, scratching post and some toys. You could also draw the curtains a bit to darken it, making it a calm space for your cat.
Having a “sanctuary room” like this will give your cat the choice whether he wants to be social, or retreat, mitigating a lot of potential stress caused by the visitors and activity.
Another thing to lower stress is to really try and maintain routine where possible, especially around feeding times. Cats are highly routine-driven, and changes can cause stress. This doesn’t mean you need to stay home all day and not have visitors, but do try and maintain the feeding and play schedule at least. This will give your cat something to depend on in times of uncertainty.
Christmas Trees, Gifts & Decorations
Lastly, please be careful of any small toys, gifts or other decorations left out. Small items are easily swallowed, and bits of string can cause havoc (even fatally) in a cat’s intestines. Cats will be naturally drawn to these types of items, especially if they are left out or dropped on the floor, so be vigilant.
The Christmas tree is a major source of these types of potentially dangerous objects. Because the tree is a ‘new addition’ to a cat’s territory, they will naturally be curious and want to explore it! A good idea is to try and put the smaller or more fragile decorations higher on the tree so they are out of reach, leaving the bottom leaves for larger and less attention-grabbing decorations. Also consider whether you actually need tinsel, electric lights (especially for cats who like to chew cords) and even certain sprays made to look like snow or frost (they can be highly toxic for cats).
That wraps up the main holiday season hazards for cats and other pets. Please enjoy a safe Christmas and New Year – have fun but please consider your smaller, furry family members!