T.E.A.M. = Together Every Animal Matters

Holiday Safety Tips for Cats

Ho-Ho-Hey!! Holidays aren’t just for people. They are a time to share the good times with your family and nothing says family like your pets. However, homes that celebrate the seasonal festivities become pet playgrounds at this time of year so you need to cat proof your holidays. Cats delight in un-decking the halls, unintentionally unwrapping your gifts under the tree, climbing the tree (or spraying it!), gnawing decorations, and otherwise creating chaos. The result is a Christmas that could end up anything but merry.

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Cats don’t often eat plants (other than catgrass), but they do claw them and then lick/groom away the residue.

Lilies - Beware of poisonous holiday plants and floral arrangements that include lilies. Many varieties-including Tiger, Asian, Japanese Show, Stargazer and the Casa Blanca-can cause kidney failure in cats.

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Holly and live mistletoe – Moderate to very toxic, especially the berries and leaves; mistletoe - very toxic, all parts, especially the berries. They will cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and lethargy if ingested by your pet.

Poinsettias are NOT deadly but can cause nausea and/or mild vomiting.

Ivy - moderate to very toxic, all parts;

Christmas greens such as balsam, juniper, cedar, pine and fir - all parts have a low level of toxicity;

Hibiscus - may cause vomiting or bloody diarrhea if ingested;

This is not a conclusive listing...there are many more toxic plants. An additional listing of both non- and toxic plants can be located at http://www.sniksnak.com/plants.html. It's wise to keep plants out of your pets' and children's reach.  Instead, silk or plastic holiday plants make an equally showy statement without the poison potential.

Candles and Cat Behaviors

Candles look beautiful but also prove irresistible especially for kittens. Cats paw-test everything to see what it is or meet it head-on to sniff and explore. Singed paws and whiskers prove painful to your cat and are a fire hazard for your entire family should Mittens knock over the Menorah. Instead, electric candles are available for decorating purposes. If you must have the real thing, ensure pets are safely out of the way and candles out of paw-reach. As well, be sure the fireplace screen is secured against curious cats, too.

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Christmas Trees and Cat Behavior

Tree fascination is natural. Kitty thinks you've bought her a new climbing perch, complete with cat toys that swing, sparkle, and invite swatting and biting. Cats love heights and the Christmas tree challenges them to climb and knock the whole thing down. Some cats take aim at the tree just as they would your outside bushes and spray the greenery. Cat play includes using teeth, noses and claws to target twinkling lights and dangling ornaments.

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Place Christmas trees in a stable stand, and attach the tree securely to a window or wall with something like fish line. Tree needles can be toxic and cause mouth and stomach irritation. Even needles and the wire of artificial trees could pose a problem. Be sure your cat is not chewing on branches or eating fallen needles

Instead, smaller trees can be set on table tops, inside of baby play pens, or in a room protected by a baby gate. Situate breakable and dangerous decorations on the top of the tree out of reach of inquisitive pets.

Create a Cat Christmas Tree for your cat's enjoyment. Create a tree just for her using a scratching post decorated with cat toys or, if using a tree, attach thick twine to protect topple-prone trees from the cat's airborne assault. Just make sure the ornaments are kitty safe. Decorate it with catnip mice and kitty treats, fresh mint or dried or silk flowers, bows, strings of popcorn instead of tinsel, soft sparkle-ball pom-poms and soft cat toys. Keeping them on the lower branches encourages the cats to stay at floor level.

If you have a live tree, cats may drink from the water in the tree base. Because tree preservatives are often sugar-based (and inviting to pets) and because the water stands so long, the water in the tree stand often harbors potentially harmful bacteria. Additives such as added fertilizer, flame-retardants, insecticides, preservatives, and aspirin can make pets sick. Chewing tree lights, swallowing tinsel, eating tree needles or other holiday décor can kill a pet. Instead, make the area around the tree unattractive to keep paws at bay. Aluminum foil deters many cats since they dislike walking on that odd-feeling surface. Silver foil also offers a festive holiday look, so use this as a tree apron around the base. Or, invest in some clear plastic carpet protectors and place under the tree-nub side up. That makes cruising or lounging under the tree uncomfortable.

The soft "tacky mats" available from home product stores designed to keep throw rugs from sliding around work well to keep cats away because they dislike walking on sticky surfaces. Another option is Sticky Paws which is a double-sided tape product designed for cat training. Sticky Paws now is available in larger sheets as well as strips that you can apply directly to carpets beneath the tree, or to place mats situated on table tops or wherever needed.

Use your cat's smell sense to keep her away from the tree. Citrus scents are off-putting to cats so scatter orange or lemon peels around the base of the tree. Vicks (menthol smell) also works as a good pet repellent. Dip cotton balls in the ointment and stick in the lower branches of your tree. They'll look a bit like snow and blend in with the rest of the decorations.

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Ribbons, yarn, rubber bands, tinsel and string can cause intestinal obstruction and bunching of the intestine along the length of the string. These conditions require surgery and can be fatal. Ribbons around your cat's neck may be cute, but they can also be dangerous.

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Adhesives and glues can be toxic and are often attractive to animals.
Potpourri contains oils that can be toxic to cats if eaten. We may not think of eating it, but some curious pets may.

Tinsel's shininess is attractive to pets. When eaten, it can cause blockages, which often require surgery to remove. Leave it off the tree altogether.

Angel hair, flocking, and artificial snow are mildly toxic. If consumed in larger amounts, however, they could cause blockage of the intestine.

Chewing on electrical cords, including cords of lights can cause problems ranging from burned mouths, to electrical shock to death by electrocution. Some larger lights can become quite hot, and could also cause burns. Unplug decorative lights when you are not there, use pet-proof extension cords, and spray cords with a product such as Bitter Apple or Chew Stop.

Cats may knock glass ornaments off of trees, which could cause cuts on paw pads and a trip to the emergency clinic. Sharp ornament hooks can also become imbedded in your pet's mouth or esophagus. Place ornaments that are shiny, or could be swallowed or broken high up on your tree. Larger, less intriguing ornaments can go near the bottom.

Decorating trees with food is asking for problems. Candy canes and gingerbread people can be as enticing to your pet as they are to children. Diabetic cats can run into problems with regulating her disease if she were to steal candy canes off of the tree as cats can do. Popcorn, raisin, or cranberry garlands are beautiful, but can cause an obstruction when eaten, requiring surgery.

With careful thought into keeping your tree safe for all members of your family, you can advert a holiday you may regret.

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Gifts Under the Tree
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Edible items left under the tree can be very tempting, and remember that companies often package pet gifts wrapped in ribbon. Make sure to remove ribbons or ties before you present gifts to your cat. If played with and swallowed, yarn, ribbon, or string on gifts can cause intestinal obstruction, requiring surgery.

Perfumes and aftershaves contain ethanol (alcohol), and perfume also contains essential oils which can be very toxic to cats if ingested.

Batteries for toys or other gifts can be toxic and cause intestinal obstruction. Keep in a safe place until they are ready to be inserted in the gift.

And don’t forget to buy some gifts for kitty. It will make her feel special and keep her occupied during the busy family gathering.

Food – Related Items

Holiday foods we enjoy cooking and eating can be a big problem for your pet. It is important to remember that human food is not healthy nor easily digestible for cats or kittens.

Rich, fatty foods, like gravy or grease, can cause problems ranging from stomach upsets to pancreatitis, which is an inflammation of the pancreas resulting in pain, vomiting, and dehydration. Cats with this serious condition often require hospitalization for treatment.

Alcohol can cause serious intoxications in pets, and many pets are attracted to it. Clean up glasses after holiday parties. Cats are often attracted by the sweet taste of drinks, especially eggnog.

Chocolate, coffee, and tea all contain dangerous components called xanthines, which cause nervous system or urinary system damage and heart muscle stimulation. Although chocolate ingestion is more of a problem in dogs, cats may also have signs ranging from diarrhea to seizures and death. Unsweetened baking chocolate and dark chocolate are the worst culprits, but all chocolate, fudge, and other candy should be placed out of your cat's reach.

Uncooked meat, fish, and poultry can contain disease-causing bacteria, such as E. coli, and parasites such as Toxoplasma gondii. These uncooked foods should not be given to your cat. For your own health, as well as your pet's, wash utensils that have been in contact with raw meat, and cook meat thoroughly.

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Bones from fish, meat, or poultry can also cause problems if swallowed. Even small bones can splinter causing lacerations (tearing) throughout the intestinal tract. So, no matter how big or how little they are, be sure to keep bones away from your cat.

Tobacco products can be fatal to pets, if ingested. Signs of poisoning develop within 15 to 45 minutes and include excitation, salivation, vomiting, and diarrhea. Pets may develop seizures, collapse and die from cardiac arrest. Keep cigarettes, cigars, tobacco, nicotine gum and patches, and ashtrays out of the reach of pets. Empty ashtrays frequently since cigarette butts contain about 25% of the total nicotine in a cigarette.

Uncooked yeast dough can expand and produce gas in the digestive system causing pain and possible rupture of the stomach or intestines.

Grapes and raisins contain an unknown toxin, which can damage the kidneys.

Remember, cats have an exceptional sense of smell – juices on plastic or aluminum foil left on countertops are very tempting. If ingested, plastic or foil wrap (cellophane candy wrappers or food wrap) can cause choking or intestinal obstruction.

Meat-soaked strings from rump roasts are also enticing. Ingestion can cause a surgical emergency called a 'linear string foreign body' in the intestines.

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To be safe, put away food immediately and animal-proof your garbage. Garbage contains all kinds of other hazards for your cat such as plastic wrap and bags, 6-pack beverage holders that could cause strangulation, fat trimmings, bones, and pieces of ribbon or tinsel.

Feed your pet(s) before a party so they will not be so apt to beg or steal food. And make sure your guests are aware that they should not be feeding your cat(s) anything from their plate, no matter how nicely he asks.


Some pets love visitors and behave very well. Others may be fearful or aggressive. Plan for how your cat will react to visitors.

A quiet room, away from the commotion, with water, food, and litter box available will help fearful cats be more comfortable. Your pet will be happier and safer in a room away from the front door.  Isolate him in one room with toys, water, and “dirty laundry” – a shirt or pillowcase that smells like you.  There he can be away from the loud welcomes and hugs.  You’ll also prevent him from getting out through the constantly opening door.

Small kittens should also be kept away in a separate room. Kittens tend to hop onto chairs and, if your guest is not used to looking where they sit, they may crush your kitten when they sit. Kittens also like to run between people’s legs so you want to avoid your kitten from being stepped on. Kittens are still growing and their bones and internal organs are fragile so being stepped on by an adult human can easily kill them.

Provide plenty of interesting toys to keep your cat busy while the people-party is going on especially if you will be “quarantining” him in another room.  Keep the window blinds open so he can see the outside world. Make sure any small space where he may roll his favourite ball under is blocked. This way, he doesn’t lose his favourite toy in the first few minutes. And don’t forget to put his favourite pet bed or blanket in the room too so he can feel comfortable.

In the room where your pet is staying safe, play a radio softly or run a fan on low speed.  The soothing “white noise” will help block out the strange, loud noises of the people party. Make sure to check in on him from time to time during the party and pat or play with him for a few minutes. You want to make sure that he feels safe and not punished or abandoned.

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Brushing up on obedience training before the holidays may help a pet who has become a little rusty. Be sure to inform your visitors of any household 'rules' or problem behaviors concerning your pets, e.g., sneaking out the door, jumping up on the couch, getting food from the table, etc. For pets who may not behave or could be aggressive, placing them in a separate room, using pet gates, or having them stay at a friend's house during a party, may be necessary. Sometimes, boarding a pet in a kennel may be the safest alternative.

Cleaning products such as disinfectants get a lot of use during the holidays as we polish up our homes for visitors. Remember, many of these products can be toxic to your pets. There are many “green” and pet-safe products now available in most stores.

When inviting visitors, make sure they know you have a pet. If these people have allergies, you could help them by using a product such as Allerpet to decrease the dander in the house.

If you are traveling during the holidays, and need to leave your cat(s) at home, start to make accommodations for your cat(s) early. Many boarding facilities fill up very fast. Responsible pet sitters are a good alternative. If they are unfamiliar with your house or pet(s) have them come over and get acquainted before you leave.

New Pets

New pets are not good holiday gifts. If someone is thinking about getting a new pet, give the new prospective owner a variety of cat toys, food, or books on cat care. You may also wish to give a gift certificate so the person can choose his or her own pet after the holidays.

Similarly, if you are thinking about getting a new pet for yourself, remember, pets need routine and a time to bond with you. With its noise, commotion, and special hazards, the holiday season is anything but routine. Think about getting your new pet after the holidays. You will not have an after-holiday let down!

And don’t forget other animals during this special season.  Why not make the holidays more enjoyable for homeless pets? Contact TEAM Cat Rescue (www.teamcatrescue.ca) to see if you can donate money, food, kitty litter, toys, or time.

Don’t forget New Year’s!  New Year's brings in a brand new year filled with the promise of hope, prosperity, health, and happiness. But be alert to any pet hazards such as fun noise-makers and confetti which can very easily pose a serious threat to your pets' sense of well-being and health. Noise-makers can frighten your pet causing the pet to bolt out an open door window, or leap to a precarious area in search of safety. Confetti can be ingested, wreaking havoc to the digestive tract.

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Caution: Those adorable holiday costumes for your pets may be cute at get-togethers or in family photos, but pet owners should be wary of costumes which have rubber bands to keep them securely in place on the pet. If rubber bands are accidently left on the pet after the fun of dressing up is over, the pet could chew off and swallow them, causing choking and/or intestinal injuries. And, too, the bands can become embedded into the pet's flesh.

Take these tips to heart and hopefully your holiday season will be merry for all the members of your family. Season’s Greetings!!!

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