By Sarah Liu
It’s the most wonderful time of year. Keep your holidays peaceful and pet-friendly with the following tips and reminders.
Dangling ornaments, blinking lights, interesting smells and an easy climb: It’s a rare cat who can resist the allure of the family Christmas tree.
Hazards are preventable with a few precautions and tricks. For instance, try making your tree less appealing with a foil barrier or double-sided tape on tree skirts. Pet safe citrus sprays or apple cider vinegars smell bad to cats and may act as effective deterrents.
Where possible, opt for plastic ornaments instead of glass, and skip tinsel and edible ornaments altogether. When it comes to lights and electrical cords, consider more chew-resistant rope lighting and lower voltage LED lights made with plastic bulbs. Always unplug the lights when you go to bed or leave the house.
Seasonal food and treats
For many people, the holidays are an opportunity to indulge in a festive spread of seasonal favorites. It may be tempting to share the joy with our feline friends, but better to remember that most human food and treats are not healthy for cats.
Even turkey, which might seem safe, is usually prepared with spices and loaded with grease that can easily upset kitty’s stomach. If you must share your turkey, ensure it’s free of spices and remove any small bones that can get stuck in the digestive tract and cause blockage or damage.
When it comes to desserts, refined sugar, dairy, chocolate and certain nuts and fruits, such as raisins and grapes, can all lead to stomach upset or more serious toxic reactions. Alcohol can be attractive to a cat when served in holiday format such as egg nog or spiced cocoa. Make sure you and your guests keep beverages out of reach, and contact your vet immediately if you suspect your pet has ingested alcohol.
Candles and fireplaces
Flickering flames and tempting tapers look like fun toys to curious cats. Prevent toppling by placing menorahs and decorative candles in off-limit areas, such as high shelves or closed rooms. Make sure surfaces are stable and holders are shatterproof.
Scented candles may also cause stress by irritating your cat’s respiratory system. They might also be poisonous if ingested. If candles are required, skip the paraffin varieties and opt for cleaner alternatives such as soy or beeswax.
Where fireplaces are concerned, cats may be attracted to the warmth or feel intrigued by the flickering flames and burning materials. Fur and whiskers singe easily, and sensitive paw pads can get burned on hot surfaces. Keep a close eye if your cat shows interest, and use a barrier such as a fireplace screen to prevent them from getting too close.
Many popular seasonal plants are toxic to cats. Small doses of poinsettia, mistletoe, holly and amaryllis may cause stomach upset, vomiting and diarrhea. Larger ingestions can cause cardiovascular or respiratory failure resulting in death.
Safer alternatives include artificial plants or less toxic options such as Christmas cactus, roses, Swedish ivy or bromeliad. Keep all plants, real or artificial, out of your cat’s reach or place them in rooms your cat does not access.
If you suspect your cat has ingested a toxic plant, contact your vet immediately, or call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 1-888-426-4436.
Presents and packages
Ribbons, bows and tinsel look beautiful on gifts, but if swallowed can tangle in your cat’s digestive system and result in serious or fatal injury. Skip the ribbon, or place gifts out of reach from curious cats. If you see a ribbon or other material protruding from your cat, seek veterinary assistance immediately, and never attempt to pull or remove the object on your own.
Wrapping paper and boxes are usually safe for play while supervised but may contain toxic dyes or materials that upset stomachs if chewed or ingested. Plastic bags present suffocation risks and should never be left where your cat can reach them.
Once gifts are opened, make sure they are promptly out of reach, as many cats will enjoy chewing, swallowing and generally interfering with small parts of toys, jewelry and gadgets or sampling human candy and treats.
The writer is a longtime volunteer with King Street Cats. She lives and works in Alexandria. For more information about King Street Cats, go to www.kingstreetcats.org.