Keeping Kitties Safe This Holiday Season

November 23, 2021
cat health
feline behaviour

Whoever wrote “not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse…” probably didn’t live with a cat. Especially not a cat who has taken a particular interest in the Christmas tree, climbed up into it, and knocked it over at three in the morning! 

The holiday season is a time of joy, good cheer, and happiness. For cats, it’s also one of interesting (and sometimes dangerous) things to explore, climb, and chew on.  

A relaxing holiday season isn’t out of reach, though! (At least, as regards the cats.) With preparation, you can help everyone have an enjoyable and safe holiday. 

Choose a Tree With Kitty In Mind

If you have a cat, should you choose a real tree or an artificial tree?

Both real and artificial trees pose a risk for cats who like to chew. A cat munching on plastic or real needles risks stomach upset, vomiting, or even an obstruction. 

If your cat gets tree resin (the thick, clear, sticky substance produced by coniferous trees) on their fur, or ingests it while grooming, they could experience skin irritation or stomach upset.

If you choose a real tree, cover the water basin so your cats can’t get into it. Tree water is stagnant and may harbor bacteria, tree oils, tree resin, or fertilizers. This can lead to mouth irritation, excessive drooling, and vomiting. Cover the basin itself in tin foil, then arrange the tree skirt over the water. 

Start Early to Let the Novelty Wear Off

If you don’t mind having your tree up a couple of extra days, try putting it up a little early without decorations. Many cats will explore for a bit, discover it’s not particularly interesting, and leave it alone after that. If your cat is particularly curious, you can also redirect them away from the tree when they show interest. Make sure to offer lots of praise and a treat when kitty chooses their own cat tree over your holiday tree!

Anchor Tipsy Trees!

A tangle with the tree can result in injuries to your cat. When choosing a location for your tree, stand back and take a look at what’s nearby. A corner location with a nearby anchor point is ideal. Removable hooks, like those manufactured by 3M can be discreetly installed. Wrap fishing line around the trunk and securely tie it on a hook on each side of the tree. Make sure the fishing line doesn’t have any dangling bits to play with or chew on.

Wide, heavy tree stand bases will also help prevent a falling tree, a howling cat, and flying decorations. If your tree stand is not particularly sturdy, a weighted bean bag or two laid across the legs can help provide stability. 

Lastly, keep an eye out for “launch pad” situations. Nearby surfaces or platforms, like bookshelves, mantles, or large furniture, are a tempting place to jump from, and even a well-balanced or carefully anchored tree might struggle to stay upright when 10 pounds of flying furball land on its branches. 

Keep Holiday Decor Cat-Safe

When it’s time to decorate for the holidays, here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Skip the fragile ornaments. That heirloom glass bauble from your great-grandma’s collection is much safer tucked away out of reach of your cat. Soft or unbreakable plastic ornaments will help keep your cat safe from cuts or other injuries from broken glass.
  • Hang decorations higher in the tree, where they’re less likely to be in your cat’s line of sight.
  • Larger decorations are preferable because if your cat knocks one down, they can’t accidentally swallow it.
  • Ditch the wire hooks. If swallowed, the consequences can be very serious. Alternatives include biodegradable paper hooks or ornament anchors which clip directly onto the branch of the tree. 
  • If your cat likes to chew wires, skip electric light cords. Battery operated light strings may remove some of the temptation. 
  • Absolutely no tinsel, ever. Tinsel, ribbons, and string can cause life threatening and painful intestinal obstructions if swallowed. That means you should also skip adding ribbons to your gifts.

Lastly, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Consider shutting your cat out of the Christmas tree room when you’re not at home. Even a quiet, mild-mannered cat can be tempted!

Cat-Friendly Christmas Tree Alternatives 

If your cat just can’t resist the lure of the tree, consider these alternatives: 

A small tabletop tree

Tree-shaped vinyl wall decals

  • A blanket ladder or ladder shelf (securely anchored to the wall) decorated with cloth garlands

Other Hidden Holiday Dangers

Many little details make the holiday season magical, but they can also pose a risk of injury or illness to your cat.

  • Many snow globes contain ethylene glycol (antifreeze). It is highly toxic to pets. Ingesting ethylene glycol from a broken or leaking snow globe, (by licking it off of their paws or grooming it off of their fur), can cause a life-threatening crisis requiring immediate emergency care. If possible, check the contents of your snow globe, and keep it well out of reach of your cat.
  • Small toy pieces can look like cat toys to your cat and can be a genuine choking hazard. 
  • Goodies are everywhere. Who can resist a melt-in-your-mouth piece of shortbread? Probably not you, and probably not your cat either. Many holiday foods will cause unpleasant stomach upset, while others can be toxic (like those chocolates from your neighbour!). Keep food out of reach and discourage everyone from sharing bites of their holiday meal. 
  • Houseguests are a joy during the holiday, but visitors coming in and out of your home may cause fear and confusion for your cat. An open door and a frightened or curious cat can result in a lost cat tragedy. Shy, anxious cats might be happier in a quiet room with their litter box, food and water, away from all the commotion until everyone goes home.
  • Real candles should be placed out of your cat’s reach, and only used when you can supervise your cat. Cats can be injured by flames, or they can knock over candles and cause a fire.
  • Some Christmas plants and flowers can cause stomach upset or worse. Lilies of all kinds are never safe. This list from the ASPCA can help you ensure your florals and foliage don’t pose a risk for your feline. 

With a bit of planning and vigilance, you can ensure that everyone in your family, from felines to your favourite cousin, have a safe, enjoyable holiday season. 

This article was reviewed by a Cat Healthy feline specialist veterinarian.

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