Now that the clocks have gone back, our thoughts are turning towards Christmas and it’s a good idea to start thinking about how the festive period affects our beloved cats. Although cat lovers often send each other Christmas cards depicting kittens playing with tinsel or trying to climb Christmas trees, this time of year can actually be quite a hazardous time for cats, even for the older, more established ones.
We’re all familiar with the dog campaign that tells us that ‘A dog is for life, not just for Christmas’ and the same applies to cats, of course. It’s never a good idea to give a pet as a surprise present to someone, as responsible pet ownership can be quite costly and time consuming, and a potential owner needs time to consider the implications for their own lifestyle. It’s a good idea not to introduce a new cat or kitten to your own home over the Christmas period anyway (even as an experienced cat owner) as you will probably be very busy, and won’t have so much time to devote to the newcomer as usual. There may also be additional hazards if you have visitors and they are not cat-aware – doors could be left open which might mean that your new arrival could escape in unknown territory or a busy road, or maybe they could have access to poisonous plants or household chemicals, and even a toilet with the lid up can present a risk for a tiny kitten.
There can still be dangers around the home for your established cat at this time of year. One of the most poisonous plants for a cat is the Poinsettia, a shiny-leafed household plant with bright red bracts that are sold in every supermarket around Christmas, and are very popular as gifts or even bought for your own home with their bright cheerful foliage. If you do acquire one of these plants, you will need to put it well out of reach for Kitty, maybe in the bathroom or kitchen if they do not go in there, as any nibbling could be fatal for your cat. You will also need to be careful about decorations using holly, ivy, mistletoe or yew as these too are poisonous, and many cats will chew household foliage or see it as something to play with. Any ingested fibre or sap from these plants could prove fatal, but if the worse happens, and your cat somehow manages to chew any of your Christmas foliage, you should phone your Vet as quickly as possible before the toxic chemicals have chance to get a grip of their system.
Christmas trees are mildly toxic to cats, and although the sharp ends of the ‘needles’ will normally stop your cat actually trying to eat them, there is still a risk that they could work themselves into a paw and cause severe discomfort. On the whole, unless you have a very placid, possibly older cat, Christmas trees and cats really don’t mix! Once your tree is fully decorated with lights and shiny baubles, it will present a huge temptation to a cat as a plaything. Many cats will try and climb the tree (pulling it over in their attempts), or are attracted by the shiny decorations that they view as toys to be played with, and will try and pull them off to chase round the room. If your tree decorations are made of glass or other breakable material, they can shatter when they hit a hard floor, and again, your cat could swallow small pieces or get them stuck in a paw. Christmas tree lights can present a real hazard, as your cat will probably get an electric shock if they chew through the thin wire or try and remove the light fittings.
You may also need to watch out that your cat does not start unwrapping your Christmas presents for you before you are ready to open them yourself, if they are under the tree! Cats are often tempted by glitter and brightly coloured ties and ribbons on a well-wrapped gift, and see them as new toys – any bits of wrapping accidentally ingested could well present a problem, especially if they end up wound round the cat’s intestine instead of passing right through them.
Candles are another hazard worth bearing in mind at Christmas, when we often have lighted candles to add atmosphere to our festive rooms and dining table. Try and put any lighted candles well out of your cat’s way (not forgetting about them yourself, of course!), and never leave a candle unattended. If your cat shows any interest in a particular fragrance of candle, such as anything faintly resembling the scent of catnip (although we cannot always predict which fragrances will appeal to our cat’s senses!), it would probably be as well to use that particular candle only in a room that your cat does not go into. Don’t forget that you might need a fireguard if you only use an open fire at Christmas. Cats are very attracted to the warms and may get dangerously close, and a few might even want to explore the chimney.
Try and keep your cat to their normal diet over Christmas. They do not understand the concept of the festive period, and therefore they do not need to deviate from their usual meals in favour of something rich that will upset their digestive system. No doubt they will appreciate a little of your cooked turkey, which will be absolutely fine for them, but don’t try tempting them with rich paté, prawn cocktail or sausages wrapped in bacon, as you will regret the consequences! Any sudden change to a cat’s diet can result in an upset stomach, and the effects of rich Christmas food will not be pleasant for anyone. You may also need to make sure that the kitchen door is firmly closed if you have left the remains of the turkey out (or anything else they fancy snacking on) as even if your cat does not normally jump on work surfaces, he may become very determined to sample the delicious-smelling Christmas fare.
Don’t be put off having a festive celebration just because of your cat! Many of them will take absolutely no notice at all and carry on as normal, whilst others may become stressed by the level of noise and the volume of unknown visitors. In the latter instance it would be a good idea to find Puss a quiet corner (maybe in your bedroom) with a comfy bed, a favourite toy, some of their favourite food and a bowl of water, whilst the festivities continue. Some cats relish the excitement of more people to admire them and will play to the gallery, although it’s best not to leave the more sociable type of cat unattended with any potential hazards. You will soon recognise which category your cat falls into and be able to help them to survive the festive period, so that you and your family and friends have a very Happy Christmas!