Christmas Safety For Cats
Cats and Christmas decorations don't always mix. Here's how to keep your cat safe while still having a festive holiday.
Sharon Bennett spends months planning for the holidays. But when it comes to putting up a Christmas tree, the Tampa, Florida, teacher just says no. If you were the owner of her rambunctious cat, Bootsie, you'd understand. He's the kind of feline that spends hours jumping from couch to chair to windowsill. Just the thought of this cat in a Christmas tree festooned with decorations and beautifully wrapped gifts gives Bennett the shivers. And it should.
"Cats are attracted to things of a shiny nature," says Carol Krzanowski, the managing editor of the Cat Fanciers' Almanac. "So any kind of tinsel or garland, if ingested, can be fatal. The tinsel can get wrapped around your cat's intestines and require surgery. And beware of thin, curling ribbon--this can also cause digestive tract problems if swallowed."
She suggests that pet owners place handblown and glass ornaments on the top of the tree and reserve the bottom branches for wood ornaments. And keep plants like poinsettias and mistletoe berries out of reach--both are poisonous.
Caroline B. Schaffer, DVM, an assistant professor and the director of the Center for the Study of Human-Animal Interdependent Relationships at the School of Veterinarian Medicine at Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama, advises pet owners to go through each room to search for potential dangers. Is there winding greenery on your staircase that may be fatal for your cat? Are there votive candles flickering in the window? Have you covered electrical wires so your new kitten doesn't chew through them? And don't forget to vet items such as that sweet-smelling potpourri in the beautiful dish your great-aunt gave you - the oil in the potpourri could poison your pet.
"If you're a cat owner, you really need to modify your whole style of celebrating Christmas and Hanukkah," says Schaffer.
She stresses that while you may welcome the holiday cheer that houseguests, holiday music, blinking lights, and a chock-filled schedule bring into your life, your cat may not. Don't be surprised if he or she begins displaying hostile behavior, such as hissing at your young nephew, spraying gifts under the tree - or on that pile of coats lying on the bed in your guest room - or urinating outside of the litter box.
"Eliminate as many stresses for your cat as you can," advises Schaffer. "And, if at all possible, make your holiday home a serene one." She says pheromone products such as Feliway, which can be purchased through your vet or your local pet store, are useful during the holidays. The scent, which mimics a mother cat's pheromones, may calm your cat down.
If you plan to have guests during the holidays, be sure to lay out some ground rules. Let them know that feeding your cat poultry bones is a no-no, as they can puncture your animal's digestive tract. Don't allow your brother-in-law to slip your cat a sip of eggnog or any alcoholic beverage. And remind young relatives that your cat is not a toy and should not be pinched or prodded.
Finally, be prepared for the worst - in advance.
"Talk to your vet long before Christmas about what you can do if you have a pet emergency during the holidays," says Schaffer. "You need to know who will be there if your cat swallows a pine needle and your veterinarian is unavailable."
She suggests pet owners introduce themselves to the staff at their local pet emergency clinic and develop a relationship with the clinic's emergency vet. Also, the ASPCA operates a year-round, 24-hour poison control hotline that pet owners can call in case of emergency. Get to know the number by heart.
If worse comes to worst, designate a room as your holiday room and make it off-limits to your cat. That way, you can decorate and adorn to your heart's content, without putting your pet's life in jeopardy. Your cat - and Bootsie - will thank you.