We had a small dog when I was very young, but growing up we never had pets to worry about at Christmas. When I first moved here and my boyfriend had cats, I thought they were adorable playing with the Christmas tree, pulling decorations off for us to step on and playing with all the new shiny goodies they could find. We never thought of making it a cat friendly Christmas tree or the potential dangers of our Christmas decorating.
Fast forward a few years and I was volunteering for an animal shelter and took some of the Christmas shifts since we do not have local family and were not doing a big Christmas. The vet was closing for a few days so we were picking up healthy cats on the 23rd to put into foster homes to await their 72 hour hold. We got there, dragging in all the cat carriers, trudging through the snow and found no one in reception. We know the vets well so I walked right through to the back and even the receptionist was helping with surgeries. Four cats had been brought in with what the vet calls “Christmas Kills” emergencies. I ended up helping hold open a cat’s stomach while the vet carefully cut away a strand of tinsel that had wrapped around its intestines (way worse than the time she made me watch a neuter surgery and asked if I wanted the testicles as a souvenir). I went home that night exhausted and took down every decoration we had in the house, I had never thought of the dangers of the tree, glass decorations, tinsel and strings and all the other stuff that comes with the holiday season. Since then, we have been very careful about our making it a cat friendly Christmas and for some years skipped decorating completely.
While these are worst case scenarios and we have never had an issue with our cats at Christmas other than some broken ornaments and finding the tree on its side, I hate to risk their precious lives just for the sake of some ornaments so here are some tips for a cat friendly Christmas:
Cat Friendly Christmas: Trees
Cats love climbing and trees are just irresistible, If you use a real tree, make sure you do not add any additives to the water and check if the tree is sprayed with anything poisonous. Just last week our local paper carried a story of a kitten who died after chewing the pine needles from a tree sprayed with a chemical to make it look snow tipped and keep the tree fresh longer. Many cats are not as light as they should be, my “chunky kitty” will take down a tree in one leap. Make sure the base is well secured and tie it off to the wall or ceiling to protect them (and you) from a falling tree.
Cats are also chewers and those beautiful Christmas lights come with cords they will likely chew, make sure you tuck them well into the tree and use cord protectors where plugged in to keep your tree cat friendly.
Those decorations? Your cat thinks they are new toys, little mice they must catch and kill. Think about keeping your more delicate ones over a fireplace/mantle or away from the tree and your cat’s reach. There are lots of shatterproof decorations you can buy for decorating. They have come a long way but are still not as beautiful as the ones handed down from your family. Skip the tinsel, Angel Hair and other items that could pose a choking or strangling hazard. As beautiful as it looks, your Christmas will be ruined by a sick pet and a huge vet bill. Place less decorations on the bottom third of the tree where your cat is more likely to notice them too. If you do want to use breakable ornaments, make them cat friendly by attaching them with a metal hook or twisting the wire around the hook and branch to secure them to the tree. Put some foil around the base of the tree so they don’t try climbing and use a citrus extract meant to deter cats from the tree.
Cat Friendly Christmas: Plants
Poinsettias, hollies, and mistletoe can cause severe stomach issues and illness and lilies can be deadly if eaten. Even so-called “nontoxic” plants can upset your cat’s tummy, and floral arrangements may be sprayed with preservatives. Keep them out of reach of your kitties!
Cat Friendly Christmas: Gifts
While some cats are well behaved and will usually stay away from the tree, don’t tempt them with shiny presents under the tree too early – especially if they include catnip gifts for the cat! We have had a lot of luck setting up a cat corner with a box with wrapping paper and a generous sprinkle of catnip and new toys to allow them to play but stay away from our decorations.
Many foods are also dangerous to them, watch for gifts with chocolate or scented soaps etc that they may be attracted to as well as lit candles they feel the need to stick their whiskers in – remember that most vets will be closed and the emergency vet is usually double the cost!
Cat Friendly Christmas: Dinner
I am completely guilty of allowing mine to have some turkey (and in Roo’s case, a potato, as he is a carb junky) but if you do not usually let them have human food, they may end up with very upset tummies. Make them a special dinner of cat friendly food (ours get their regular wet food with some treats in a cake shape on Christmas Eve) and make sure they do not eat any bones – cooked bones are brittle and can stick in their throat or stomach. Again, watch for anything that could be poisonous, my house always has a lot of chocolate and dairy products around Christmas.
Do your cats behave at Christmas or do you have a pet related Christmas nightmare story?