28 September 2018
Most of us look forward to the Christmas festive period, at least once we have done all of the hard work which goes to having everything ready on time!! We often have a house full of visitors and this can be very stressful for some cats. Houses fill up with all sorts of new things – trees, decorations, parcels, food, candles, people. Of course it is not just Christmas when all these thing apply – any type of celebration or festival brings changes, to taking a bit of time to think it through from a cat’s point of view could help make it good for all creatures, and the same principles apply.
As a species cats enjoy routine and are sensitive to changes in their environment. For less confident cats changes can be challenging. In addition, the season means certain toxic plants and food may be accessible to curious cats.
Christmas Plants – Poinsettia, is often mentioned as a potentially poisonous plant but its reputation is perhaps unfair. If a cat eats this plant the signs of illness are being sick, drooling, refusing to eat and are often quieter than normal but soon resolved without any specific treatment. Nevertheless, it is still a good idea to keep the plants out of reach. In addition, Mistletoe, Holly, Ivy and Christmas Cherry can cause a tummy upset and should be kept away from inquisitive cats. Berries often fall off displays brought into the house as they dry out in the heat of fires and central heating. Pick them up before they become playthings for cats – especially kittens which might be more affected because of their small body size.
Christmas Trees – Many cat owners have had the experience of their cat climbing the Christmas tree and causing it to topple. Usually cat and trees are unharmed, but it is worth thinking ahead (especially if you have kittens or curious young cats which are likely to try getting into the tree) by tying the top of the tree to something secure just in case!! Injuries have been caused by falling the trees and the resulting smash glass baubles which can be particularly sharp when broken.
Ingestion of Christmas tree needles and the fake snow applied to them can cause stomach upset. Chewing of lights and wires can be a problem, especially for nosy kittens. It is not uncommon for cats to pass urine just where you don’t want them to (especially if they are feeling somewhat stressed) – such as under the tree where there are often extension sockets for the multiple strings of lights on the tree. Try to put multiple extension sockets into a box or cover them in some way so they cannot get wet, and to keep all the wires away from animals.
Christmas food – At this time of celebration food may be left out and left-overs are within reach. We traditionally worry about dogs because eating chocolate can be toxic for them – but what about cats? Chocolate is also toxic to cats, although the amount a cat has to eat to make them ill is a lot higher than for dogs, and they are not usually so tempted to eat it. Signs of chocolate poisoning incudes being sick and passing diarrhoea, drinking a lot, appearing drunk, trembling or even having a fit.
Similarly, grapes and raisins, known for causing kidney damage in dogs, may affect cats but poisoning is much less common. Mince pies should never be left out for a cat to eat.
While it may be tempting to treat your cat with special treats or scraps from the Christmas dinner, remember that changes to diet can be upsetting. While a little left-over turkey will be enjoyed by the majority of cats without harm, excessive treats with human food could a cat ill, so do try and stick to their normal feeding routing this time of year, they won’t know they are missing out!! Another hazard can be cooked poultry bones – they are hard for cats to digest and can get stuck in the digestive system so make sure your cats can’t raid the bin after the Christmas lunch.
‘Foreign bodies’ is the term used to describe non-food items that have become lodged in a cat’s body, often in the digestive tract. Objects most common at this time of year are ‘linear foreign bodies’ – string or string like materials such as tinsel or sellotape. If your cat seems to be interested in chewing tinsel or any other string-like material, try to keep it away, remove the material if possible, and keep an eye on your cat for signs of illness. These signs can be subtle in cats and include simply sleeping more, hiding away and being sick or refusing food. Consult your vet if you are worried about your pet and do mention any non-food material you have seen your cat chewing.
The Christmas season is a time for celebration but don’t forget your cat this year. Simple changes can keep cats safe and make them feel more secure.