By Eric McCarrison, BVMS MRCVS (Rtd)
For humans Christmas is usually a loud, happy time, filled with presents, parties and family gatherings with lots of bright lights and indulgencies of food (especially mince pies), drink and music, but have you ever considered looking at it from your cat’s point of view?
Most cats love nothing more than lying asleep in a nice quiet spot, perhaps even curled up in front of a heat source such as a fire. They are naturally nervous, and dislike a lot of noise and changes in routine. Even moving furniture around to accommodate people staying or to make more place settings at the table can be very distressing for cats.
So, before we consider the numerous specific problems for cats at Christmas, what can be done to reduce our cat’s distress when things are obviously going to be vastly different for him or her?
Firstly, even before you start planning the Christmas meal think about where you could provide a nice quiet spot away from the busy areas, and encourage your cat to sleep there – so that he/she gets used to it. Another good thing to start at least 1 month beforehand, and preferably even earlier is the use of pheromones which can come in the form of sprays or plug-ins that look very much like air fresheners. One better known trade name for these is Feliway, but there are others such as Pet Remedy (which one of our Trustees swears by). These are designed to gently reduce stress levels in cats and can be very successful if used before the stress triggers occur.
Now let us move on to the individual problems that all cat owners should be aware of during the Christmas period. Some of them may be a surprise to you.
As all cat carers know, cats are inquisitive creatures so when a tree suddenly appears covered in bright lights and things that twinkle, they cannot help themselves – it needs exploring! Those dangling baubles are great to pat and play with but if they are glass then they are likely to get broken, and glass is obviously a risk to soft paws. Cats are usually very careful what they eat but tinsel is very interesting to them, and I have seen blockages in cats where tinsel has been eaten. Remember, cats’ tongues have backward pointing prongs which will guide anything like tinsel continually backwards until it is swallowed.
Trees are also great for climbing so please make sure that it is secured and will not topple over. If you have a real tree, then (perhaps surprisingly) oils or resin from the tree can be irritant and even mildly toxic to cats – and do not forget to cover the electric cable in case your cat decides to have a chew at it. It may be best to keep your cat away from the tree if possible, by having it in a separate room.
When it comes to other household decorations please be aware that the snow-globes can be filled with ethylene glycol – otherwise known as antifreeze – which is extremely toxic to cats. So please be careful not to break these. Houses always look great with mistletoe and holly up on the wall etc. but did you know that the berries from both are poisonous? And those lilies in the flower arrangements are also very dangerous to cats, as are the poinsettia plants that are so popular over the festive season. If you are having a party, then please do not have party poppers. Can you imagine just how frightening the noise from those is? They will startle and frighten your cat.
The kitchen is another danger area not only at Christmas but perhaps more so then. With more varied foods about at Christmas it may be tempting to give your cat treats, but please be aware that cats have quite different tolerances to food that we, on the other hand, take for granted. Onions, raisins and chocolates are all dangerous for cats, and the string on beef joints etc. can be eaten and can cause bowel blockages. Whilst I’m sure that it’s obvious to all of you, I must emphasise that Christmas pudding and Christmas cake have raisins in them; and that mince pies have currants in them (which are dried grapes – the same as raisins), and the smallest amount can be extremely dangerous to your feline companion. As well as food, Christmas is often a time for more alcohol but no matter how funny, watching your pet drinking out of your glass, it will have a very nasty effect on your cat. If you, by any chance, have overindulged yourself, you must be very careful with the paracetamol the following morning. It is great for a hangover but is extremely toxic to your cat and will cause death within 3 days – so put those tablets back in the cupboard!
None of this should put you off having a great time at Christmas, but a little preparation for your cat’s sake will mean he or she can enjoy it every bit as much as you do.
"Kittens are angels with whiskers"
Alexis Flora Hope