Now we are on the countdown to Christmas, many of us will be putting up the tree and decorations over the coming weeks. Your cat may also find this time of year very exciting and even come up with some novel games like “Climb the weird indoor sparkly tree”, “play with the pretty Christmas decorations” and “eat the lovely goodies that our humans thoughtfully left out for us“.
Veterinary practices usually see a big increase of poorly pets over the Christmas holidays, with illnesses ranging from stress and tummy upsets to more serious problems such as intestinal blockages and accidental toxin ingestion/poisonings.
Remember to check the holiday season opening times of your veterinary practice and who is providing emergency cover over night and on the bank holidays. If your cat needs medication or a prescription diet, make sure you have enough to last over the festive season.
I’m sure you will agree that you would much prefer to spend the holiday season celebrating with your family, rather than visiting the veterinary practice; so here are my tips for having pet safe celebrations.
Be very careful what you feed your pets because many of our favourite festive treats can be very harmful to our pets. It may be tempting to give your pet lots of treats over the holiday period, but any sudden change of diet may lead to digestive upsets and very poorly pets. Be on the lookout for well-meaning visitors (the elderly Aunty in my family) giving extra tit-bits to your cat and remember that over indulgence can lead to an unhealthy weight gain.
Fortunately cats tend to be much more sensible than dogs and generally don’t eat things that are not good for them , but here is a list of harmful festive foods just in case
- Sweets – especially those containing Xylitol (a sweetener)
- Raisins, grapes and dates
- Blue cheese
- Fruit cakes, mince pies, Christmas pudding
- Onions, garlic, chives
- Meat bones – can cause constipation, intestinal damage & choking
Shiny ornaments and decorations can be very attractive to curious pets who could suffer serious injuries from chewing and ingesting them. Not to mention the mess it causes when they manage to pull down a Christmas Tree or decide to open any gifts that may be under there! Some festive plants and berries can also be highly toxic to our pets too.
Christmas Tree – Ensure that the base of your Christmas tree is as sturdy as possible and discourage your pets from climbing it. Tree needles can be toxic and cause mouth and stomach irritation, even needles and the wire of artificial trees could pose a problem.
If you have a real tree, make sure your pet cannot drink the water in the bucket/stand. Christmas Tree Preservatives that are used in the water or on the tree itself can also be highly toxic.
Tinsel – This can be very attractive to cats but if it is eaten, it can cause blockages which often require surgery to remove.
Lights – Chewing on electrical cords of lights can cause problems ranging from burned mouths, to electrical shock. Never leave lit candles unattended or within reach of your pet. If knocked over the flame and hot wax can cause burns.
Ribbons and string – These can cause intestinal obstructions if swallowed and are a choking hazard to pets if they get caught around the neck.
Pot-pourri – This contains oils that can be highly toxic to pets if eaten (fortunately cats are rarely daft enough to try the pot-pourri!).
Christmas plants – Many popular festive plants are toxic to pets including Mistletoe, Holly, lily and Poinsettia, which can all can cause vomiting and diarrhoea.
We recommend that pets are never left unsupervised with the Christmas Tree or decorations
Gifts Under The Tree
Gifts under a tree can prove very attractive to pets who want to play with or eat them, so make sure that your pet is supervised at all times
- It may be best to avoid putting any food gifts out until right before your family will be opening them, as these will be very appealing.
- Perfumes and aftershaves usually contain ethanol and essential oils which can be very toxic.
- Batteries for toys or other gifts can be toxic and cause intestinal obstruction, so keep them in a safe place until they are needed.
- Cat treats and toys left under the tree can be very tempting.
- Pet gifts are often packaged wrapped in ribbon, so make sure to remove this packaging before you present gifts to your pets.
I know it wont be inside your homes, but this product is widely available and is used during the cold weather, so care should be taken to ensure that it is never spilt on your drive or in the garage. Ethylene glycol (normally known as anti freeze) is very dangerous and even a relatively small quantity can cause serious kidney damage and can be fatal. Cats usually ingest it after walking through the spilt liquid and then grooming themselves to clean it off.
Our cats are creatures of habit so try to keep your pets routine the same as normal if possible. With lots of excitement and visitors it is often easy to forget to let the cat outside.
Try to keep your cat’s feeding times the same and don’t be tempted to add too many rich festive extras to the bowl.
Christmas jumpers and Santa hats are popular with many of us at this time of year and because we consider our cats to be important members of the family, this trend is sometimes extended to them as well. With plenty of cute festive outfits being widely available from pet stores it can be fun to dress up your cat if he or she will tolerate it, but please remember that when wearing a pet coat, jumper or festive outfit that your pet could easily overheat in the extra layers; these extra items should be removed after a few minutes, especially if you are indoors.
- Any dress up outfits should still allow your pet to move around freely and be able to eat, drink and go to the toilet.
- Ensure your pet is not uncomfortable whilst being dressed up; if he or she just sits in one place and refuses to move, walks around hunched up or is pawing at the offending article, please remove it.
- Watch for signs of overheating
- Ensure your cat’s outfit doesn’t get tangled or caught on anything
Sometimes lots of visiting people can be very stressful for our pets and cats especially seem to be more susceptible to the upset.
- Make sure your cat has somewhere to retreat to if it all gets a bit too much. Provide a quiet room away from the commotion with water, food and a litter tray available.
- A litter tray is a really good idea for a nervous cat so that he or she does not have to worry about asking to be let out.
- Don’t force your pet to be sociable and petted by visitors if they seem uncomfortable.
- Be sure to inform your visitors of any household ‘rules’ or problem behaviours concerning your pets, for example stealing food from the table.
- If your pet gets distressed when you have visitors you can use Feliway, which will give off pheromones which help calm cats during stressful periods. Speak with your veterinary nurse for more information.
Holiday Care and Travel
If you are going to be away over the festive season and are not planning on taking your cat with you, remember to look into a cat sitter or cattery space as early as possible.
If you are lucky enough (or brave enough) to take your cat visiting with you remember to make suitable provisions before you go.
- A bed and/or travel crate is a good idea so that your pet has their own area to rest in.
- Remember to take your pet’s food and bowls.
- Find the number of a vet local to the place you are visiting and take a copy of your pet insurance policy, in case of illness or accidents.
- If your cat is on any medication, don’t forget to take it with you.
- Make sure your cat is microchipped (ensure the details are up to date) and is wearing a collar with a suitable id tag, just in case he or she runs off.
- If your pet gets distressed about travelling and visiting strange places you can use Feliway (for cats).
- Remember to allow your cat time alone and a place to retreat to.
- It is generally not a good idea to let strange cats meet as it tends to lead to a great deal of stress, so if there is already a cat in the place you are visiting take steps to ensure that they are kept separate.
I hope these tips help
Merry christmas & Happy New Year from Algi & Myself
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I am a qualified and registered Veterinary Nurse with over 20 years experience working with small animals.
i currently work for Castle Vets Pet Healthcare Centre in Reading, which is a large, single center, small animal veterinary practice.
The recently rebuilt premises now includes a separate but integrated cat clinic, outstanding in-patient wards and operating theatres, spacious comfortable waiting areas, 9 consulting rooms for both veterinary surgeon and veterinary nurse consultations, diagnostics room with x-ray, ultrasound and endoscopy equipment and a well equipped laboratory.