Latest News

Christmas Safety Tips for your Cat

December? Already? How did that happen? 

With the first months of 2020 going up in flames, followed by that small pandemic issue, this Christmas has snuck up on silent paws on many of us. Lockdown is over (we hope), the shops are open, and reunited families and friends are revving up to celebrate to the max as we usher 2020 into the history books and welcome in a fresh new year.

But what about our pets?

Every year, countless pets present to local veterinary clinics and emergency centres over the Christmas holiday period, with many of these visits being preventable. 
Here are some of the most common Christmas and summer hazards facing our feline family members and some tips on how you can ensure that your 2020 ends on a positive note and that your cat has a very Miaowy Kittymas! 

#1. Festive Foods 

  • Chocolate/Cocoa:
Chocolate contains theobromine, which is toxic to both dogs and cats. Dark chocolate contains the highest concentration of theobromine, followed by milk chocolate. 

Most white chocolate is not chocolate at all, and contains no theobromine (therefore it’s not toxic, but could still cause gastro-intestinal signs). 

Small amounts of chocolate can cause vomiting or diarrhoea which often resolves without treatment, however in hot weather this can potentially lead to dehydration from increased fluid loss.

Larger doses can cause neurological signs such as twitching or seizures, or an irregular heart beat; these are potentially fatal. 

Dogs tend to be greater chocolate thieves than cats, but some cats will eat chocolates after playing with them or batting them off the Christmas tree, or eat festive foods containing chocolate such as cakes and puddings

  • Dried fruit:
Currants, raisins, grapes and sultanas are known to cause renal failure in dogs; this occurs much less often in cats but foods containing these items are best avoided.
This includes Christmas cake, puddings and mince pies

These foods can also contain macadamia nuts, which are toxic to dogs and it’s therefore prudent to avoid them in cats also.

  • Allium species:
This includes onions, leeks, garlic and chives. These foods cause toxicity whether they are raw or cooked and whether they are fresh, dried, in powder, juice or dietary supplement form. 

Christmas foods which might contain these ingredients include gravy and stuffing

These ingredients damage red blood cells, leading to anaemia and a reduction in oxygen delivery to the body’s cells (oxygen is transported by red blood cells). 

Toxicity can occur from a single large dose or multiple smaller doses. In cats, as little as 5g of these ingredients per kg of the cat’s bodyweight can alter their red blood cells. Signs of toxicity can appear within a day but usually occur after a few days. 

Signs include depression, weakness, yellowish mucous membranes and whites of the eyes, rapid breathing and heart rate, reduced appetite abdominal pain, diarrhoea. Breath can smell garlicky. 

  • Alcohol:
It goes without saying that the family cat should not be toasting the holiday season with a glass of bubbly or sharing a stubby of beer. Cats are opportunists and could lap from an abandoned wine glass or a spill on the bench. Some chocolates and fruitcake also contain alcohol, making these foods additionally dangerous. 

Unbaked dough, containing yeast, is also dangerous. A single tablespoon of alcohol can cause damage to the brain, liver and even death in cats. Careful use and storage of alcoholic beverages will reduce the risk of your cat suffering from something much worse than a hangover. 

  • Cooked bones and fatty meats:
Indulging in offcuts of meat such as bacon rind or the fat from a roast can cause gastro-intestinal upsets, and cooked bones can become lodged in, or make a tear in, part of the digestive tract. The string, plastic and styrofoam that meats are packaged in are also potential foreign bodies if eaten. 

  • Leftover food:
Leftovers can cause gastro-intestinal signs such as vomiting or diarrhoea if too much is eaten, and mouldy food can be toxic (for example if your cat gets into the rubbish bin while the rest of the family is watching the cricket or at the Boxing Day sales). Store all leftovers appropriately and ensure rubbish bins are off-limits to curious feline noses.

  • Burns:
With all those wonderful smells in the kitchen, ensure your cat can’t get into trouble exploring. Prevent access to stove tops and barbecues, grillers and hot oven trays, which can cause serious burns to delicate paws.

#2. Christmas Plants

Poinsettias are widely believed to be toxic to cats if eaten, but fortunately the effects are mild, and many cats eating poinsettia show no signs at all of being unwell. 

Other cats might show excessive salivation, vomiting and reduced appetite, with these signs generally resolving without the need for treatment. 

Festive bouquets containing holly, ivy or mistletoe can also cause mild gastro-intestinal signs if eaten by cats. More serious toxins are berries from these plants, amaryllis plants and any part of the Lilium species (Easter lily, tiger lily, oriental lilies). 

Ingestion of lilies can cause renal failure in cats, which can be fatal. This does not apply to “imposter lilies” (such as the water lily) which take the lily name but are not of the Lilium species. 

Festive pot pourri petals or liquid are also best avoided due to their potential for chemical burns or toxicity if ingested. If you bring home a wreath or floral display this Christmas, ensure it is off-limits to cats or only includes plants which are safe if eaten.

#3. Christmas trees 

What’s Christmas without a tree? We love them. So do our cats. A cat could easily use up most of its proverbial nine lives on a single Christmas tree! Here are just some of the hazards associated with trees:

Ø Trees which are not properly stabilised can fall over if climbed by a curious feline. Ensure your tree has a solid, heavy base or is secured to a wall or other object to prevent it tipping over. 

Ø Pine needles can cause cuts, gastro-intestinal upsets or perforation of the intestines if eaten. 

Ø Plant food, fertiliser and the water of live trees can be dangerous to cats if ingested. 

Ø Tinsel which is played with and eaten can cause a linear foreign body. This happens when something long is swallowed and stretches out from the stomach to the intestines, becoming “bunched up” like a concertina as the intestines try to pass it through the GI tract. 

This requires surgery to remove the offending item (which is more difficult than removing a more compact foreign body) and can result in death if timely removal does not occur. This same risk applies also to ribbon from the wrappings of presents. 

Ø Fairy lights can cause cuts to your cat if the lights are made from sharp glass or plastic. They can also result in electrocution or a fire if the leads or wires are chewed or used as a toy. 

Ø Decorations are colourful and shiny invitations to play, but are also potential foreign bodies. This includes Styrofoam “snow”, baubles and the hooks attached to decorations. 

Ø Avoid placing catnip presents for your cat under the tree because this will encourage them to explore the area. 

#4. Other festive hazards 

Ø Batteries for toys, especially button batteries, look like fun toys but can cause chemical burns or heavy metal poisoning if swallowed. 

Ø Wrapping paper and silica gel packs found in some product packaging can cause gastro-intestinal blockage. 

Ø Some snow globes contain ethylene glycol (antifreeze) which causes death in cats if as little as one tablespoon is ingested.

Ø Candles can cause burns to feline paws, whiskers and noses, or lead to fire if accidentally knocked over.

Ø Burning essential oils and scented candles can cause burns if licked, and some oils and incenses are toxic to cats if inhaled.

Generally speak
ing, if something is not safe for a small child, you should consider it unsafe for a cat. 

#5. Stress

This time of the year can be very stressful for our feline family members. Additionally, with many cats having been in lockdown with their human family for much of this year, this Christmas has the potential to upset our cats even more as their previously quiet homes are filled with visitors (possibly also bringing strange dogs into the cat’s hallowed space). 

Furniture gets moved around, there is increased noise and lighting, foreign items appear and the cat’s routines and favourite past-times are lost in the festivities. Extra cleaning of the home can erase the cat’s scent marks, increasing stress further. 

Cats who have had their families working from home due to Covid-19 might be unsettled by the sudden disappearance of the family for holidays, the presence of a strange pet-sitter, or being transported to a cattery where their safe and predictable world is turned upside down.

You can help your cat by ensuring they have an area of the house where they can get away and be undisturbed during the festivities. 

Provide all their important resources where they can be easily accessed (food, water, litter tray, bedding, toys etc.) 

A plug-in pheromone diffuser or spray (Feliway) in the cat’s preferred room might help to reduce anxiety. 

Let any visiting children know not to disturb Puss unless he/she wants to interact, and ensure visiting animals can’t ambush your cat. 

Visitors can offer the cat safe treats or toys to help the cat associate these new people with positive experiences, but don’t force things if your cat isn’t feeling the festive love! Keep party poppers and whistles and loud music away from the cat because these loud noises will be very frightening for them.

If you have multiple visitors coming and going, ensure your indoor-only cat doesn’t rush out the front door, where the risks of accidents or getting lost are increased.

A Christmas lunch of roast chicken/turkey/beef, minus the fat, skin, bones and gravy, is a safe meal for your cat, if you want to include them in your celebrations. Occasional (non-toxic) treats are fine but keep a watch on how much the cat is being fed and ask visitors not to feed them without checking with you first. 

There are also great safe toys and equipment designed especially for cats, which you can bestow upon your feline friend from “Santa Paws” in lieu of them helping themselves to other forms of entertainment that could cause them harm.

Make sure you have the phone number of the nearest out-of-hours animal emergency facility on your fridge, and programme the directions to the clinic and the contact number into your phone. With luck you won’t be needing them, but if you do, valuable time is saved by being prepared and it saves you from trying to source this information in an emergency when you are stressed. 

Many common poisonings and illnesses have non-specific clinical signs, such as anorexia, lethargy, vomiting, diarrhoea and neurological signs, which can make identification of the cause more difficult, but if you are able to let the veterinary staff know exactly what your cat has had access to, how much they have eaten and how long ago, this will help them provide more appropriate treatment.

Most important of all, spend quality time with your feline friend this Christmas, and remember to “think like a cat” when planning your celebrations, which will mean much more to them than anything else!

From Maggie and myself, have a very Miaowy Kittymas. Stay safe and enjoy the holiday!

written by Candice Drew, December 2020 for Australian Cat Lover (all rights reserved).

About the Writer

Candice qualified as a veterinary nurse in Australia in 2005, being awarded the Novartis Award for Outstanding Achievement in Veterinary Nursing in her qualifying year. 
She has worked extensively in Australia and the UK, and is a UK Registered Veterinary Nurse. Candice is experienced in general practice, shelter nursing and referral nursing (Surgery and Emergency & Critical Care [ECC]). 

She attained the Diploma of Veterinary Nursing (surgical) in 2009, qualified as a trainer & assessor in 2015, and completed the ISFM Diploma in Feline Nursing in 2018. Candice is interested in most aspects of veterinary nursing but her passions are feline nursing, ECC and working with students.

Candice is the happy slave of a 10-year-old rescue cat named “Maggie”, whom she adopted in January 2018.


1. Blue Cross for Pets: “Keeping your cat safe at Christmas”. Retrieved 2/12/20

2. Brutlag, A. and Schmid, R.: “Holiday and Winter toxins”. Retrieved on 2/12/20

3. Cope, R.B. (2005): “Toxicology Brief: Allium species poisoning in dogs and cats”. dvm360,

4. Cornell Feline Health Centre: “Beware holiday health hazards”. https:// Retrieved 2/12/20

5. International Cat Care (2019): “Christmas safety for your cat”.

6. Vets Now: “21 Christmas cat dangers: how dangerous are they and how can you avoid them?” Retrieved 2/12/20

No comments

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.