Happy Holiday Season With Cats

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In the next few weeks, we will be at the start of the festive season, and while we may love it or hate it, it can be a stressful and dangerous time for cats.

Most of us are busy with shopping, visiting relatives, Christmas parties or entertaining at home. Add to that Christmas time can be stressful, the cat ends up not getting as much attention as he or she would like.

Visitors

Christmas is a time for family and friends and most households have more visitors at this time of year. Some cats lap up the extra visitors (and attention), but many cats become stressed with visitors in their home.

Another danger with visitors is indoor cats escaping (particularly in the Southern Hemisphere where it’s summer over the festive season) due to guests coming and going or accidentally leaving doors open.

What you can do:

Provide the cat with an escape, so that they can get away from visitors if they want. Set up another room away from the hustle and bustle, include a litter tray as well as food and water bowls.

Some cats may be happy to remain in the same room but watch from a safe distance. Cat trees and high up perches can provide the opportunity for the cat to stay but on his or her terms.

Never make remain in a situation he or she is uncomfortable with, and let the cat decide if he or she wants attention, never force it on a pet.

Vacations

Plan trips away ahead of time so that you have sufficient time to organise care for pets. Options include boarding catteries (many veterinary practices also board cats and dogs), house sitters or a pet sitter to come around and feed the cat once or twice a day. Pet sitters and boarding catteries book out weeks or months ahead of time, which highlights the importance of booking early.

Even if you are only away for a weekend, it is important to have somebody check on the cat incase of a sudden medical emergency.

What you can do:

If the cat is going away, send along blankets and your cat’s favourite toys to help him settle in. Leave clear instructions with pet or house sitters which include any underlying medical conditions and medicine (if required), the contact details of your local veterinarian as well as an emergency veterinarian. I also like to let my veterinarian know if I’m going away and who will be looking after the pets. They put a note on my file with the name of the pet sitter.

Christmas decorations

Decorations are a hazard for cats and are extremely appealing ‘toys’ for most cats.

Angel’s hair tinsel are the long strands of tinsel which is hung over the branches of Christmas trees. Any long object (which includes string, wool and Easter grass) has the potential to cause a life-threatening situation where one end of the tinsel becomes lodged under the tongue, and the remaining end moves into the gastrointestinal tract. Peristalsis (wave-like contractions) propel the free end along the GI tract but because the object is anchored and cannot move the GI tract creeps up the trailing part and becomes plicated (folded) which can cause a blockage or trauma to the GI tract. Christmas ribbon used to decorate presents the same risk.

Christmas baubles which hang from tree tranches are irresistible to cats to play with. Glass decorations can shatter leaving glass shards on the ground.

Long, bright, and sparkling Christmas lights can cause electrocution if chewed.

Candles can pose a fire hazard if knocked over or bun the cat if he or she brushes past a lit candle.

What you can do:

Avoid tinsel or other string-like decorations on the Christmas tree.

Apply bitter apple to fairy lights and unplug when not in use.

Place breakable ornaments high up on the tree away from cats and use plastic or non-breakable ornaments lower down.

Place candles out of reach of cats and never leave candles lit when you are not in the room to supervise.

Food

Christmas is a time of celebration and that includes time with family and friends as well as lots of food. Ham, turkey and prawns are all safe for cats to eat, but only in moderation. Trim fat and skin off meat and limit the number of treats the cat eats. Christmas food is not nutritionally balanced and complete and adds extra calories. Too much fat is a known cause of pancreatitis in dogs and may cause problems in cats too.

What you can do:

Never feed cooked bones, chocolate or any food which contains onion, garlic or raisins. See here for a more comprehensive list of human foods toxic to cats.

Discard uneaten food properly, preferably in the outside garbage bin to prevent the cat raiding the bin.

Do not feed treats if your cat is on a food trial (to determine if the cat has food allergies), is overweight and speak to your veterinarian if your cat is on a prescription diet.

Treats should make up no more than 10% of the cat’s diet.

Plants

Is holly toxic to cats?

Popular Christmas plants pose a risk to cats due to their toxicity. Common toxic plants include holly, mistletoe, poinsettia (mild), amaryllis and some Christmas trees.

Spruce and fir are non-toxic to cats, however, there is conflicting information on the toxicity of pine trees, therefore it is better to err on the side of caution and avoid them.

I often see guests bringing a bunch of flowers as a gift to the host, this can be dangerous if the wrong type of flowers is in the bouquet. Lilies, in particular, are deadly to cats, other toxic flowers include tulips, daffodils, amaryllis, hyacinth, gardenia, hydrangea, gladiola, carnation and dahlia. The toxicity of other flowers can range from mild to moderate.

What you can do:

Avoid bringing toxic plants into the house, or place them in an area where the cat can’t access the plants.

Due to the high fatality rate of lilies, keep them out of the house or put in a room the cat can’t access.

If you have a live Christmas tree (cut or in a pot) in the house, cover the water dish to prevent the cat drinking from it. Water regularly to reduce the number of pine needles which drop.

Changes

Cats are creatures of habit and Christmas can be a time of stress for them. Their humans are out of the house more, visitors coming and going, new objects (Christmas tree, decorations), furniture may be moved around to accommodate decorations or visitors and less time is spent with the cat. All of these can manifest in several ways which include going to the toilet outside the tray, destructive behaviour, hiding and overgrooming.

What you can do:

Stick to a routine as much as possible and remember to make time for the cat. 10-15 minutes a day of play therapy and make time for cuddles and strokes. Your cat will thank you for it.




Julia Wilson is a cat expert with over 20 years of experience writing about a wide range of cat topics, with a special interest in cat health, welfare and preventative care.Julia lives in Sydney with her family, four cats and two dogs. She enjoys photography, gardening and running in her spare time.Full author bio Contact Julia