The festive season should be filled with joy and indulgence, and we all want our pets to enjoy this merry time as well. Cats are part of the family, and they certainly like to get involved with whatever is happening! Making sure that Christmas is safe as well as fun means that everyone can enjoy this special time of year.
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Decking out your home with festive cheer is a huge part of the fun. But do make sure your decorations of choice are safe as well as pretty.
- Tinsel – shiny, long and swishes around just like a cat toy! If eaten, it can cause choking, or even a major obstruction if your cat manages to swallow some. Always keep tinsel out of reach and well-secured.
- Lights – cats are often fascinated by Christmas lights, especially those that flash. They will often want to investigate – which may involve climbing the tree! A common consequence is that your cat may become entangled with lights and tree and injure themselves – especially if they panic. Less commonly, but very importantly, electric lights can be very dangerous. Chewing through cables can result in electrocution, and playing with the lit bulbs can lead to burns. Tape cables away from prying paws, and always unplug the lights when you’re not around.
- Festive candles – these are pretty and smell divine. But investigation of a lit candle with little paws and noses can cause burns – or even start fires. Never leave a lit candle unsupervised, and consider only placing them high up out of reach.
- Baubles – these decorations hanging on the tree can be irresistible to playful cats, and batting them off the tree is often a favourite pastime. Glass baubles can shatter into sharp fragments, which can cause injuries to paws, or internally if eaten. Plastic or fabric baubles are safer options, but can cause obstructions if eaten.
- Wrapping paper – this is unlikely to be toxic, but if eaten can cause an obstruction in the stomach.
- Ribbons – cats love to play with ribbons! But if eaten then can cause serious obstruction in the intestines requiring major surgery to resolve.
Covering the house in greenery is popular at Christmastime, but beware of hazardous plants to our feline friends.
- Christmas trees – always a staple of a festive home, they can be regarded as a fun toy for cats, especially kittens. Cats love to climb, and the branches of fir trees make Christmas trees an easy target. Injuries can be obtained through falling from the tree, or pulling the tree down onto themselves. Real trees also drop sharp pine needles which can irritate paws and faces. Whereas artificial trees can shed small pieces of plastic which can cause obstruction if eaten. Some trees are sprayed with preservatives or fake snow, which can be toxic if eaten. Always make sure your tree is secured well with a heavy, stable base. If the tree is just too tempting to your cats, furniture or a stair gate may be required to block access
- Lilies – red lilies are popular plants at Christmas, but all lily plants are particularly toxic to cats. If any part of the plant is ingested, even just pollen licked off the fur, it can cause serious illness. These flowers are best avoided by cat-owners, or placed somewhere that is definitely nowhere within reach of even the most curious cat.
- Holly, mistletoe and poinsettia – can all cause irritation to the mouth and upset stomachs if eaten.
We all like to indulge a little at Christmas, but overeating can cause problems for our pets as well as our waistlines. Be careful not to give too many treats, and keep any foods that are problematic well out of reach.
- Onions – members of the Allium family, including onions, but also garlic and shallots, can be found in Christmas foods such as stuffing. They are toxic to cats, causing damage to the red blood cells and anaemia. Symptoms may not show for several days after eating, but can have severe consequences.
- Raw meat, eggs and bones – raw meat and eggs can carry bacteria such as Salmonella and E. coli and cause gastrointestinal illness such as vomiting and diarrhoea. Bones can also be problematic either raw or cooked. They can be a choke hazard, damage teeth and splinter in the digestive system causing damage or obstruction.
- Chocolate – well known to be poisonous to dogs, chocolate can cause problems for cats too. Compounds in both chocolate and caffeine can cause vomiting and diarrhoea, muscle tremors, heart palpitations and seizures.
- Grapes – mince pies, Christmas cake, Christmas pudding and chocolate raisins are all popular at this time of year; but should be kept well away from pets as they are potentially harmful. Although the exact mechanism is unclear, and some cats seem to be able to tolerate them, there have been significant numbers develop acute and severe kidney injury following ingestion of grapes and their dried counterparts (raisins, sultanas and currants).
We all like a little treat, and there are plenty of safe foods for your cat to have at Christmas – some turkey, for example. However, remember that cats only weigh a few kilograms, and therefore what seems a reasonable portion to us is huge to them! Less is definitely more in this case, and a small slice of turkey will be all you need to make your cat’s day.
What to do in an emergency
Now that we can see just how many potential hazards there are at Christmastime, please do make sure you know what your options are for veterinary treatment over the holidays. Your usual vet may well be open throughout the holiday season, but many will run reduced hours or close completely on bank holidays. All UK veterinary practices are required to provide emergency cover, so you will always be able to seek help, but you may be directed to travel to a different practice. You can always call your own vets at any time, as if they are closed you will be directed or, most often, automatically diverted to the appropriate service.
Here are some scenarios in which you are always best to seek veterinary attention for your cat:
- Exposure to lilies
- Persistent vomiting where your cat cannot keep anything down and is unwell in themselves
- Known ingestion of onions/garlic or other poisonous foodstuffs
- Ingestion of ribbons, tinsel or batteries
If you are unsure if you need an emergency appointment, you can always call for some advice. At all times over the festive season there will be a vet available to see you and your cat if needed.