Keep your feline and home festive and safe throughout the season.
It’s November and it will soon be time to pull those boxes of holiday decorations out of the attic and decorate the house. If you have cats, though, there are several precautions you need to take to ensure they stay healthy into the New Year.
If you celebrate Christmas and prefer a real tree, be aware that pine needles can injure your cat’s mouth if chewed. The sap is also a harmful irritant. In addition, these trees are often treated with chemical preservatives. The water in your tree stand is thus very bad for your cat, so cover the top of the opening with foil or plastic wrap and then cover with a tree skirt. Don’t get a flocked tree—the chemicals used in fake snow are toxic to cats.
Ideally, never leave your cats unattended in the room with the tree or other tempting decorations, such as a garland and ornaments on a mantle. If you’re leaving the room, take your kitties with you and shut the door. This is not practical in open-plan homes, so take measures that minimize the danger to your cats.
Choosing the right ornaments is half the battle. Never use any kind of tinsel. Ingesting just a few strands of tinsel can create a dangerous intestinal blockage. Avoid edible ornaments, such as cranberry and popcorn garlands, cookies or candy canes. Put all delicate or breakable ornaments on the top half of the tree. Better yet, display them separately in a glass-front cabinet. Put Christmas lights only in the upper half or two-thirds of the tree, depending on the size of the tree and the jumping ability of your cats. Always unplug the lights when you leave the room.
Any cat worthy of the name will try to climb the tree at least once, so do your best to keep him off it. If that is impractical, make it impossible to knock over. You can brace the tree stand with a couple of sandbags, and then cover them with a tree skirt. You can also use wires and screws to anchor the tree to a nearby wall or to the ceiling.
Other traditional decorations to avoid are those that include real holly berries or mistletoe. Both are likely to make your cat very sick if eaten. Plants grown from bulbs—such as lilies, tulips, narcissus and amaryllis—are also poisonous to cats. Eating poinsettias won’t kill a cat, but it can make him sick. Look for realistic silk flowers or if you must have real ones, choose nontoxic flowers such as orchids, roses, African violets and bromeliads. It’s still not a good idea to let your cat eat these plants, but at least they’ll give him a tummy ache at worst.
Never leave lit candles where a cat can get at them. All cat owners are aware of the delight cats take in knocking things over. Always extinguish candles when you leave an area where cats are present.
When you wrap presents, avoid elaborate bows and fancy decorations. If your cat can pull off pieces of ribbon or small baubles, he will and swallowing these things can be as bad as swallowing tinsel.
One way to deal with your cats’ curiosity as you bustle about decorating, baking and wrapping packages is to provide safe distractions. Offer an occasional favorite treat, provide new catnip toys and replace those old worn scratching posts with new ones. This way your cats won’t feel left out of the festivities. Although they’ll still probably try to climb the tree.
About the Author: Lisa King is a freelance writer living in Southern California. She is the former managing editor of Pet Product News International, Dogs USA, and Natural Dog magazines. Lisa is also the author of the well-received murder mystery novels “Death in a Wine Dark Sea” and “Vulture au Vin.”