Christmas Cat Safety: 25 Tips for a Cat-Friendly Holiday

Christmas Cat Safety; Bengal cat getting ready to take a bite out of a christmas tree

Last updated on February 1st, 2024 at 08:47 am

by Dr. WL Wilkins, DVM, PhD.

The holiday season is a time for celebration, family, and spreading joy. But as I begin to make plans and prepare for Christmas, it hit me that this is our first Christmas with our Bengal cat Roo, and for the first time in many years I need to think about Christmas cat safety and how to keep a cat safe during this busy time. 

From keeping tinsel and string out of her reach, to making sure I don’t use any ornaments or other decorations that she can break, chew, or swallow, there is so much to think about! How am I going to keep her from destroying the tree!

I know that I am not the only cat parent dealing with this dilemma, so in this article I will share with you some tips and tricks to ensure a cat-friendly holiday season for all.

Why is Christmas Cat Safety Important?

As much as we love our feline friends, it’s important to remember that they are curious creatures who can get themselves into trouble if we’re not careful. This is especially true if you own a young hyperactive cat like I do!

The festive period is full of potential hazards for cats, from decorations and food items to the increased activity and noise in the home. It is impossible to keep eyes on our cats every minute of every day, so it is up to use to make sure that our homes are “cat-proof” so they stay safe even when we are not with them.

By taking some precautions and implementing safety measures, you can make certain that your cat stays safe and healthy throughout the holiday season. After all, we want our furry family members to enjoy this time of year just as much as we do!

So, let’s dive in and unravel the secrets to a Christmas that’s merry for you and safe for your cat.

Christmas Cat Safety: calico cat looking up at an ornament hanging on a tree

Decorations and Ornaments: What is Safe (and What is Not)

Decorations and ornaments are a hallmark of the Christmas season. While these elements bring joy to our homes, they can also pose risks to our curious and playful cats. 

Dangers Posed by Tinsel, Ribbon, and String

Every cat loves to play with string. There is something cats find irresistible about a dangling or wriggling piece of string. Even a perfectly stationary string draws cats’ attention!

But when it comes to Christmas, tinsel, ribbon, and string can be especially tempting for curious cats. The added allure of sparkling tinsel or shiny ribbon can make these items even more appealing – and that much more dangerous. 

Let’s look at why these common Christmas items are a threat to cats.

Ingestion Risk

Cats are naturally curious and are naturally drawn to play with string and string-like materials like tinsel and ribbon.  Unfortunately, playing with or chewing on these materials can pose a serious risk of ingestion.  

Usually, the cat doesn’t mean to swallow these items, but the structure of their tongue (covered in rough barbs that point backward toward the throat) makes it difficult for them to spit out anything that gets attached to it. 

So once they get these items in their mouth they continue to swallow it no matter how long it is, since they are unable to spit it out. 

Intestinal Blockages

When cats swallow linear foreign bodies like tinsel or string, it can cause serious damage to their digestive tract. These materials can get wrapped around the base of the tongue or tangled in the intestines, leading to severe injury or even death if not treated promptly. 

They can create a blockage as the cat tries to pass them through the intestines. Intestinal blockages are critical and may need surgical intervention.

Choking Hazard

Cats love to play by batting at, chasing, or chewing on dangling objects, and nothing is more tempting to cats than a dangling piece of string. However, tinsel, ribbon, and string can easily become tangled around a cat’s neck or limbs, which can be dangerous and cause choking.

Sharp Edges and Internal Damage

Tinsel and some types of ribbon may have sharp edges. If a cat chews on or swallows these materials, they can cause internal injuries. Sharp edges can damage the delicate tissues of the digestive tract, leading to inflammation, bleeding, and other complications.

Toxic Coatings

Some tinsel and ribbon may be coated with chemicals, glitter, or metallic substances to enhance their appearance. Some of these coatings can be toxic to cats, potentially causing symptoms such as vomiting, lethargy, and gastrointestinal distress if ingested.

Other Christmas Decorations that May be Dangerous to Cats

While tinsel, ribbons, and strings present significant risks, they are not the only Christmas decorations that can be hazardous to cats.  Other decorations to be mindful of include:

  • Glass Baubles: Breakable glass ornaments can shatter into sharp pieces if knocked off the tree by a curious cat. The glass fragments  can cause cuts or puncture wounds, and if swallowed, they can cause internal damage.
  • Metal Hooks and Fasteners: These can be found on ornaments, lights, and other decorations. Curious cats may try to play with or chew on these objects, which can get lodged in their throat or cause internal damage if swallowed. They are very effective “fish hook” hazards.
  • Small Ornaments and Decorative Items: Objects such as small baubles, figurines, and decorative items can easily be swallowed by cats, posing a choking hazard or even intestinal blockages. This includes larger ornaments that have smaller parts that can be chewed or knocked off. 
  • Light Strings and Cords: Electrical cords from Christmas lights can be tempting for cats to chew on. This poses a risk of electric shock, burns, or ingestion of harmful materials.
  • Scented Decorations: Some holiday decorations, such as scented candles or potpourri, may contain essential oils or other substances that are toxic to cats if ingested or inhaled.

The Dangers of Christmas Trees to Cats

During the holiday season, Christmas trees become the centerpiece of our homes, adorned with beautiful decorations that create a festive atmosphere. But these trees can also present potential hazards beyond just the temptation of hanging treats.

Needles from a real tree, such as fir, spruce, and pine needles, are mildly toxic to cats. While this can cause irritation in the mouth and stomach upsets, cats would have to eat quite a lot before it causes severe toxicity. Real Christmas trees may have been treated with fertilizers, pesticides, or fire retardants that are harmful to cats if ingested.

However, the sharp needles can cause physical damage to the esophagus, stomach, and intestines if swallowed, and even result in intestinal obstruction.

Artificial Christmas trees made of plastic materials can also be dangerous for cats if chewed on and swallowed. These materials can cause intestinal blockages and other internal injuries.

Christmas cat safety: potted red poinsettia plant

Christmas Plants and Flowers Dangerous to Cats

Several plants and flowers commonly associated with Christmas can be hazardous to cats due to their toxic components. 

Here’s a list of some Christmas plants and flowers that are toxic to cats and an explanation of why they pose a risk:

  1. Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima):
    • Toxic Components: The milky sap of poinsettias contains chemicals called diterpenoid euphorbol esters, which can cause irritation to the mouth and stomach if ingested. Ingestion may lead to mild signs of toxicity, such as drooling, vomiting, or diarrhea.
  2. Holly (Ilex spp.):
    • Toxic Components: Holly plants contain compounds called saponins and, in some cases, theobromine (also found in chocolate). Ingesting holly can lead to symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and, in severe cases, lethargy and loss of coordination.
  3. Mistletoe (Phoradendron spp.):
    • Toxic Components: Both American and European mistletoe species contain compounds called viscotoxin (in European mistletoe) and phoratoxin (in American mistletoe), which can cause severe gastrointestinal distress, slowed heart rate, and potentially fatal outcomes if ingested.
  4. Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera spp.):
    • Toxic Components: While Christmas cacti are generally considered less toxic, ingestion can still lead to mild gastrointestinal upset in cats, including symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea.
  5. Amaryllis (Hippeastrum spp.):
    • Toxic Components: Amaryllis plants contain alkaloids that, when ingested, can cause symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and in severe cases, tremors.
  6. Christmas Rose (Helleborus niger):
    • Toxic Components: Christmas roses contain toxins known as glycosides. Ingestion can lead to symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, and, in severe cases, heart issues or even death.
  7. Christmas Kalanchoe (Kalanchoe blossfeldiana):
    • Toxic Components: This plant contains compounds called bufadienolides, which can cause gastrointestinal upset, including vomiting and diarrhea, if ingested by cats. With larger amounts there is a risk of cardiac problems, weakness, and collapse.
  8. Jerusalem Cherry (Solanum pseudocapsicum):
    • Toxic Components: Jerusalem cherry plants contain solanine, a toxic substance that can cause symptoms like gastrointestinal upset, lethargy, and, in severe cases, more serious neurological effects.

The above list is not a complete list of plants and flowers that are toxic to cats. Rather, it is a short list consisting of those plants that more commonly appear in households around Christmas. 

A good rule to always follow is to never bring a potentially toxic plant or flower into your home unless you are certain it is non-toxic and will not harm your cat if they touch, chew, or swallow it. 

Christmas Food Dangers to Cats

As we indulge in holiday feasts, it’s important to keep in mind that some of our favorite dishes can be harmful to cats. 

Some foods commonly associated with Christmas can be toxic or dangerous to cats and should always be kept out of reach:

  • Chocolate: Chocolate contains theobromine, a compound that is highly toxic to cats (and dogs). Ingestion can lead to symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, seizures, and even death.
  • Alcohol: Cats should never consume alcohol as they cannot metabolize it properly. Even small amounts of alcohol can cause severe symptoms in cats such as vomiting, decreased coordination, difficulty breathing, coma, and death.
  • Raisins and Grapes: Both raisins and grapes can cause severe kidney damage in cats if ingested.
  • Nuts: Macadamia nuts are very toxic to cats. Ingestion can lead to symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, and even death. Most other nuts are not toxic to cats; however, they do present a choking hazard and their high fat content can cause gastrointestinal distress and should not be given to cats.
  • Onions and Garlic: Both onions and garlic contain compounds that can cause damage to a cat’s red blood cells, leading to anemia. Cats should not consume these foods in any form.
  • Bones: While bones may seem like a natural treat for cats, they can splinter and cause physical injury or even blockages in the digestive tract.
  • Citrus: Cats are sensitive to several compounds found in citrus, including volatile organic compounds like limonene found in the skin of citrus fruits. Fortunately, cats seem naturally averse to citrus, but if you have that one outlier who likes to be different from normal cats, make sure to keep citrus fruit where your cat cannot access it. Ingestion can cause symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, and central nervous system depression.
  • Xylitol: Xylitol is a sugar substitute found in many Christmas treats such as cookies, candy, gum, and even some types of peanut butter. It is toxic to cats (and dogs) and can cause a severe decrease in blood sugar if ingested, leading to symptoms like vomiting, seizures, and coma. 

It’s important to keep all of these foods out of reach of your cat and to remember that even small amounts can cause severe adverse reactions. If you suspect your cat has ingested any of these foods, contact your veterinarian immediately.

Even Your Guests Can Endanger Your Cat

During the holiday season, the influx of guests can pose a potential risk to your cat’s safety. 

Visitors, unfamiliar with the house rules regarding your pet, may unintentionally leave doors open, providing your cat with an opportunity for a potentially dangerous outside adventure. 

Guests might inadvertently feed your cat with unsafe or toxic foods, or even bring items or luggage into your home that may contain toxic substances or small objects that could be a choking hazard.

Additionally, the noise and bustle of gatherings can cause stress and anxiety in cats, leading to potentially harmful behaviors. 

Visitors who are not accustomed to living with cats may not be aware of the cat’s presence and risk stepping on or tripping over them, which may result in injury to both the cat and the guest. 

If your guests include small children who are not familiar with cats, rough play or teasing can result in either children or cats getting injured. 

How to keep your cat safe at christmas: brown tabby cat looking at a decorated christmas tree

25 Tips for Keeping Your Cat Safe During Christmas

As you can see, there is a lot that can go wrong with your fur baby during the holidays. So many things in their routine and environment get changed during this busy time that it is hard  to keep track of it all. 

But there are several things you can do to help ensure your cat’s safety during this festive time:

Tinsel, Ribbon, String, and Other Decorations

  • Avoid Breakable Decorations with Dangling Elements: Opt for unbreakable, cat-friendly ornaments without small, tempting components. Try to avoid dangling ornaments, since cats find dangling things irresistible. 
  • Avoid the Use of Tinsel, Ribbon, and String: Do not use these items to decorate your tree or home. If used on gifts, do not leave the gifts out where the cat can access them, monitor your cat closely during gift opening, and dispose of wrapping immediately so cats cannot get to them. 
  • Cover Electrical Cords: Conceal or secure light strings to prevent electric shock or ingestion.
  • Provide Safe Alternatives: Offer cat-friendly toys to satisfy your cat’s natural curiosity for string-like objects.
  • Secure Decorations: Use adhesive putty, hooks, or zip ties to secure decorations to the tree or mantle so they cannot be pulled down by rowdy play, and wherever possible make sure they are placed out of the cat’s reach.
  • Avoid Scented Decorations: Opt for pet-safe alternatives to scented candles or potpourri, and never leave lit candles where cats can access them.
  • Limit Access: Consider keeping your cat in a separate room when decorating is taking place, and only let them out once all decorations are safely secured and out of reach.
  •  Supervise: Always watch your cat when they are around decorations and promptly remove any items that may pose a potential risk.

Christmas Trees:

  • Secure the Tree: Anchor the Christmas tree securely to prevent toppling. This works best if your tree is placed near a wall. 
  • Fake Trees are Safest: Fake Christmas trees are a safer alternative since they do not drop needles, do not require water to keep them alive, and are lighter thus less dangerous if they fall over.
  • Water Live Trees with Water Only: If using a live tree, avoid adding substances to the tree water that may be toxic to cats.
  • Monitor Needle Drop: Regularly clean up fallen needles to prevent ingestion. 
  • Prevent Chewing: If your cat likes to chew on the branches, try using deterrent sprays like bitter apple to discourage them. 
  • Create Barriers: Establish barriers around the tree to discourage climbing and keep them away from tree decorations. Aluminum foil placed around the base of the tree will deter some cats.

Holiday Plants and Flowers

  • Eliminate Toxic Plants: Keep toxic plants like poinsettias, holly, mistletoe, and Christmas roses out of reach. Better yet, keep them out of your home altogether.
  • Choose Cat-Safe Alternatives: Opt for cat-friendly plants or artificial alternatives to reduce risks.
  • Educate Guests: Inform guests about the potential hazards of certain plants and flowers and ask them not to bring them into your home.

Food Safety for Cats

  • Secure Chocolate and Alcohol: Store chocolate and alcoholic beverages securely where cats cannot access them.
  • Avoid Offering Hazardous Foods: Educate guests on cat-safe treats and discourage offering human food to cats.
  • Be Mindful of Ingredients: If you like to give treats off your plate to your cat, check ingredients in holiday dishes to ensure they are safe for cats.

Hazards of Guests

  • Remind Guests to Close Doors: Instruct guests to be cautious about leaving doors open to prevent accidental escapes.
  • Inform Guests About Safe Feeding: Provide clear guidelines on safe cat treats and foods to prevent toxicity.
  • Secure Belongings: Advise guests to keep their belongings secure, avoiding exposure to hazards.
  • Create a Safe Retreat: Establish a quiet retreat for your cat to reduce stress during gatherings. This includes placing their litter box in a quiet area where they can use it undisturbed.
  • Supervise Interactions: Monitor interactions between guests, especially children, and your cat to prevent injuries.

Above all, keep an eye on your cat’s behavior, especially after any changes in routine or environment. Be aware of any symptoms that may indicate poisoning or illness and contact your veterinarian immediately. 

Make sure you always have your veterinarian’s phone number handy and know where the nearest 24-hour animal hospital is located.

If you are wondering how to tell when your cat needs to go to the vet, check out our article on signs to look for if you think your cat is sick.

Conclusion

Maintaining Christmas cat safety doesn’t have to be an overwhelming task. The key is awareness and prevention. 

By understanding the potential hazards the holiday season might introduce for your feline friend and taking appropriate precautions, you can help ensure that both you and your cat have a joyful and safe Christmas. 

Remember, safeguarding your pet’s health and wellbeing is a top priority, and with a mindful approach, you can create a cat-friendly holiday environment. 

That is a lot to think about, but your cat’s safety is worth the extra effort. 🐱

chirstmas cat safety: grumpy orange cat wearing christmas hat, studio image

Sources:

https://www.petmd.com/cat/are-christmas-trees-toxic-cats

https://www.aspca.org/about-us/press-releases/

Author

  • Dr. Wendy Wilkins DVM PhD.

    Dr. Wendy Wilkins is an experienced veterinarian and epidemiologist with over 20 years of expertise. She holds a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree and a Doctorate in Epidemiology from the University of Saskatchewan. Throughout her career, Dr. Wilkins has excelled in clinical practice, academia, research, and regulatory veterinary medicine. She is a respected voice in knowledge dissemination, delivering factual information in a readable and understandable manner through articles, books, and public engagements.