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Keeping Cats Safe: A Guide to Holiday Hazards


A tabby cat sits on a table with pine needles and a Christmas tree in the background.

The other day, I came upon a silly cat video while scrolling through social media. As I watched the compilation of cats knocking over Christmas trees, batting ornaments, and chewing on holiday lights, I knew I was supposed to be laughing, but I couldn’t stop thinking: how many times have these same silly actions led to catastrophic consequences?


In 2017, Nationwide pet insurance members spent $41 million treating conditions caused by the holiday season, with Christmas and New Year’s Day corresponding to an uptick in veterinary visits. The most magical time of the year is also one of the most dangerous times for our furry friends, but being aware of common holiday hazards can neutralize some of the risks. Here are CLA’s tips for keeping your cats safe during the holiday season. 

Deck the Halls (With Lots of Caution)

Half of the joy from the holidays comes from decorating. I’m not suggesting that you don’t deck the halls this year, but instead you do so cautiously. Everything from Christmas trees and lights to Hanukkah Menorahs present dangers to your cats, but these dangers can be minimized by being aware and taking some extra precautions, including:


Safeguard Your Christmas Tree

The most iconic fixture of the holiday season is also one of the most hazardous. The video linked at the start of this blog features clips of cats batting at ornaments, climbing in Christmas trees, even pulling them on top of themselves. There are a few simple ways to safeguard your Christmas tree:


1. Secure the Christmas Tree

Be sure to properly secure your tree to a wall with hooks and fishing line. If your Christmas tree isn’t secured properly, it’ll be left vulnerable to being knocked over by an overly curious or rambunctious cat. In addition to being a pain to clean up, this can also lead to serious injury if the Christmas tree falls on top of your cat.


2. Be Strategic With Ornaments

To you, grandma’s ornate glass ornament is a treasured heirloom. To your cat, it’s a tantalizing toy just waiting to be batted off the tree. In addition to breaking grandma’s heart, a broken glass ornament could lead to paw injuries for your cat. To avoid this, hang breakable ornaments toward the top of the tree, or consider retiring them until next year.


3. Block Access to Christmas Tree Water

If you choose to decorate your home with a live tree, it’ll likely sit in a bowl of water and fertilizer. How is your cat supposed to know this water isn’t for them? If mistaken for a new water bowl, your cat could end up ingesting harmful chemicals and bacteria. Chewing on a live tree’s sharp needles can also lead to punctures in your cat’s mouth or intestines if swallowed. Be sure to closely monitor your cat around a live Christmas tree, only include plain tap water in your tree stand, block access to water in the stand, or consider switching to a fake tree.


Monitor Gift Wrap

Cats are curious creatures, attracted to shiny, crinkly, and dangling items. The inevitable chaos of last-minute present wrapping can create the perfect storm; with crinkly paper, dangling ribbons, and shiny bows strewn about, your cat won’t be able to resist. 


Before you know it, your cat could swallow ribbon, tinsel, or wrapping paper, leading to intestinal blockages, hours in the ER, hundreds of dollars in vet bills, and an abundance of stress for you and your baby. Be sure to closely monitor your cat when wrapping presents, or keep them in a separate room until everything is put away.


Keep Lights and Candles Out of Reach

Did you know that cats perceive fire differently than humans do? They have unique light receptors, called rod cells, that allow them to see heat waves, which appear as blurry or wavy lines. Drawn in by the light, warmth, and tantalizing waves, cats are often tempted to play with a candle’s flame without realizing it will burn them. This can lead to burns or house fires from toppled candles, so be careful to keep your Hanukkah Menorah or your favorite holiday candle out of the reach of furry paws. 


Additionally, despite their fluffy cuteness, cats are predators with sharp teeth and a keen hunting instinct. Without prey to direct these instincts toward, cats turn to the next best available option: Christmas lights. Those sharp teeth are perfect for puncturing Christmas lights’ protective insulation, leading to electrical burns and shocks that can cause damage to cats’ tongues, lungs, and hearts. Keep electrical lights out of reach of your cat, and if they manage to chew through one, seek medical intervention.


Avoid Most Holiday Plants

It was a real blow to learn that some of my favorite holiday plants are harmful to my cats, but it’s worth it to keep them from the health complications that come with ingesting toxic plants. Holiday plants to steer clear of include:


  • Poinsettia: Causes intestinal upset when ingested. 

  • Mistletoe: While some species are merely irritating to the intestinal tract, other species are highly toxic and can cause liver failure and seizures.

  • Holly: Causes gastrointestinal issues when ingested

  • Lilies: Peace lilies, Christmas lilies, and many other flowers in the lily family are highly toxic. Ingesting any part of a lily can lead to fatal kidney failure without prompt medical intervention.


Not-So-Purr-fect Holiday Foods

The holidays are the perfect time to enjoy decadent foods and time with family, but it’s important to keep our cats in mind when cooking and disposing of food. Raw poultry, fatty foods, and cow’s milk are upsetting to cats’ tummies, and your cat could end up choking or suffering an intestinal blockage if they manage to get ahold of a cooked chicken bone, which has a high likelihood of splintering when ingested. Be diligent about keeping any food scraps out of reach on countertops and tables, and make sure trash cans are secure.


Just How Toxic is Chocolate?

It goes without saying that chocolate, candies, and all types of alcohol are a no-go for cats. You should keep these out of reach, but what if your cat gets into some chocolate? Just like dogs, cats are highly affected by the theobromine found in chocolate. This component is more present in darker chocolates than milk chocolate, and it can be fatal if cats consume enough of it. If your cat consumes any amount of chocolate, consult a vet immediately.


Any consumption of chocolate is a cause for concern, but here’s a guide to figure out when chocolate ingestion constitutes an emergency:

Chocolate Type

Toxic Amount for Average Cat

Milk Chocolate

1.1 oz

Semi-Sweet Chocolate

0.5 oz

Dark Chocolate

0.5 oz

Baker's Chocolate

0.2 oz

Signs of Chocolate Toxicity:

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Reduced appetite

  • Increased thirst

  • Heightened breathing and heart rate

  • Hyperactivity

  • Seizures

  • Tremors

  • In severe cases, coma and death


Helping Cats to Endure the Holiday Hustle and Bustle

In addition to the many hazards that the holidays present, the holiday hustle and bustle can be stressful to cats. As lots of new people, noises, and smells enter your home, some cats may struggle to acclimate. Often, providing your cat with a quiet, private space with food, water, and a litter box is enough, but some cats may need extra support. 


If you’re looking for some extra support this holiday season, CLA’s got you covered. Jessica Bartlett is a UW-Certified animal behaviorist offering virtual consultation services that can be accessed from anywhere. By tailoring her services to the unique needs of her clients and drawing on her certification in advanced feline training, Jessica is able to provide personalized support for a myriad of cat-related challenges.


Check out the Cat Lovers’ Academy website to learn more about Jessica, meet her kitty family, take a look at her free purr-fessional resources, and access her behavior consulting services.



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