Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Keeping Kitty Safe Through the Holidays

We've been in the holiday season for a few weeks now, and different cats cope with it differently...just take a gander at the faces on my two when they were dressed up for this Christmas photo several years ago!

There are many dangers for cats to be found in holiday decorations and goodies, as well. Here are a few to keep in mind:
  • Christmas trees can present an irresistible temptation to climb. After hearing many horror stories of cats pulling over trees and breaking treasured, irreplaceable ornaments, I was leery the first time I put up a tree after adopting my first cat. Watching him closely, I introduced him to the new flora in our home decor. He walked up to it and sat down in front of the tree, looking up at all the sparkly lights as though it was the prettiest thing he'd ever seen. Then he leaned forward and gently sniffed the tips of the branches. I was enchanted! He never did take to climbing my tree, nor did my little Vixen when I took her in. I've been lucky that way, but if you're not sure of your cats on your first Christmas together, keep an eye on them for a while before placing those more fragile ornaments.
  • Garland looks for all the world like a big, sparkling play toy, to a cat. If your cat likes to play with strings, this could be a danger. Be careful of where you use garland, whether on the tree, mantel, or a stair railing. Any of them could prove too tempting for your cat to ignore.
  • Tinsel, or icicles, can also be tempting to cats. And because it's in smaller pieces than the garland, it runs a higher risk of being ingested. If you're finding sparkly metal pieces in the litter box, chances are your kitty's been munching on some tinsel. You may want to forgo that aspect of decorating.
  • Many ornaments may have easily broken-off parts that could present a choking hazard to kitty. Others, especially the older ones, may contain lead paint or glass shards that could do serious damage to a cat's digestive system. Be careful which ones you use if your cats have a tendency to bat them around.
  • Christmas lights are also a danger, especially for cats who like to chew. Who can forget that scene in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation when Aunt Edna's cat chewed through the light string and "lit up" the carpet underneath the living room chair!
  • Ribbon looks pretty wrapped around a package, but this is another item that just looks like too much fun to kitty. If your cat shreds the ribbon and eats some of it, there could be choking, digestive upsets or blockages. Dyes used in the ribbon could have toxic effects. Although your cat may look cute playing with ribbon, it's really not a good idea to let her get into that habit; after all, do you want to come home from a great party to find all your beautifully wrapped presents destroyed?
  • Candles can make a lovely holiday table and are essential on a menorah, but they can also be easily knocked over by playing cats to become a fire hazard, or even set kitty's tail on fire if nobody's watching! There was a video circulating in e-mails several years ago of a family blissfully watching TV as their cat walked on the countertop behind them, its tail catching fire and burning for the better part of a minute before he swished it into the fish bowl and put out the fire. If you'll be lighting candles this holiday season, don't leave them unattended...better yet, just leave them unlit!
  • Chocolate is a part of many tasty treats during the Yuletide season, but it's not good for cats. The theobromine in chocolate can throw a kitty's kidneys, nervous, cardiac, and digestive systems into a tizzy. Symptoms of chocolate poisoning include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, nervousness or trembling, muscle spasms, irregular heartbeat, and excessive thirst or urination. I know, these symptoms occur with other things, too, but if you suspect kitty's gotten into your chocolate stash and chowed down, get thee to the vet! Chocolate toxicity can be treated, and may not cause permanent damage if caught soon enough.
  • Other ingredients in holiday foods that can be toxic to cats include onions, garlic, grapes, raisins, tomatoes, raw potatoes, chicken & turkey bones, and dairy products. Cats who beg for milk but get diarrhea from it may benefit from a product called CatSip, which is a skim-milk product with added digestive enzymes to help the cat process lactose in the milk. If you suspect that your cat has eaten any of these potentially toxic foods, and your veterinarian is not available on Christmas Day (because when else do emergencies happen?), you can call the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center at 1-888-426-4435. Be aware that they will charge your credit card $60 for the assistance.
  • Open doors, left that way when unloading packages or baggage from cars, can be a great temptation to indoor-only cats. Curious kitty may see a bird or squirrel in the yard and take off after it. You'll be distracted with what you're doing and may not notice until much later. If you know you're going to be in and out a lot, it's best to confine your cats to another room of the house where they won't be tempted.
  • Many cats get nervous when the house is filled with holiday guests. And then there's the added danger of well-meaning party guests feeding kitty toxic foods from their plates. My cat tends to hide in the closet when we have company, but if your guests are staying for several days, hiding for that long could cause a urinary tract infection, especially in older cats. A weeklong hospital stay costing hundreds of dollars is not the kind of expense you want to incur at this time of year! 
There are several feline calmative products available on, from companies like Feliway, Native Remedies, and Natural Pet. All contain natural pheromones or homeopathic ingredients to relax the frayed nerves of cats. You may also want to play soothing music for your kitties; has several options for this, many with the reassuring sound of purring added to calm kitty. There's even a speaker that filters out frequencies upsetting to animals, so all that's left are the soothing tones. You can play any CD in your collection on it, relaxing your cats while you're busy enjoying the season!

Holiday time can be a stressful time for everyone, but taking a little extra care can remove the stressful prospect of your cats coming to harm. Now, get out there and enjoy the rest of the season!

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