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5 Tips for Keeping Your Cats Safe Over the Holidays

Poinsettias, tinsel, glass ornaments? Make sure your holiday home is free of cat-hazards.

 |  Dec 4th 2014  |   16 Contributions


The last time I put up a Christmas tree was 10 years ago. It was a tiny thing, about two feet tall, covered in colorful twinkle lights and miniature glass ornaments. I lived on the third floor of an old house that had been converted into apartments. My windows were obscured by ancient evergreen trees that pressed up against the glass and were absolutely gorgeous when it snowed. It felt like living in a giant treehouse.

The only threat to my festive cocoon: My cat, Bubba Lee Kinsey, who was two years old at the time. In addition to suffering from antisocial personality disorder and unresolved anger issues, my cat, a former stray, was also extremely feisty and agile. I had placed my tree on top of a bookshelf, thinking it would be safe there. Even the most determined kitty couldn't possibly leap four feet straight into the air, could he?

My cats, Bubba Lee Kinsey and Phoenix, unveil their ridiculous winter snuggling procedures.

I wouldn't have thought it possible if I hadn't seen it happen. Bubba was eyeballing the tree, staring it down in that truly terrifying way the species has mastered. No problem, I thought; that tree is up really high.

But Bubba leapt from the floor with his front legs outstretched, catching wind like one of those flying squirrels. In an instant, he'd tackled the tree, smashing it into the carpet like a 400-pound linebacker sacking a puny pretty-boy quarterback. Many of the ornaments were reduced to glass shards, and several of the tree's green, plastic "branches" had snapped off. I was too impressed to be angry.

My parents' cat, Athella, reclines under their artificial Christmas tree.

The worst part, though, was not my wounded sense of holiday cheer but the fact that Bubba had cut his foot on one of the busted ornaments. My little guy had dominated his prey, but not without leaving bloodstains on the carpet.

Since then, I've taken extra precautions to make sure Bubba and my other cat, Phoenix, stay safe over the holidays. Here are a few suggestions.

1. Poinsettias? More like poison-settias

These gorgeous red flowers may be a harbinger of the holidays, but they can be toxic when ingested by cats. Vomiting, drooling, and diarrhea are all signs that your cat has gotten a little too serious about living it up this season. Fortunately, poinsettia poisoning typically does not require medical attention unless symptoms are severe. 

Other plants to look out for include lilies, which are found in many holiday bouquets, and mistletoe, both of which are far more hazardous to cats than poinsettias. It might be best to avoid these plants or to opt for an artificial substitute.

Athella poses beside an artificial poinsettia.

2. Seriously -- just avoid tinsel

To your cat, tinsel is not the finishing touch on your most perfect tree, it is a FUN, SHINY, DANGLING TOY, OMG! The problem, of course, is that we all know what cats do to fun, shiny dangling toys: They eat them. Tinsel can easily get lodged in your cat's intestine and create a whole host of problems. It may get so entangled that it could tear the intestine or have to be surgically removed. Intestinal tears can be fatal, and surgery can cost thousands of dollars. Seriously -- your tree doesn't need tinsel. It is already pretty enough.

Me and my childhood cat, Sweets, pose by the tree. In his youth, Sweets was an avid climber.

3. Plastic > glass

Like I learned when Bubba tackled my tree, it is nearly impossible to keep something away from a cat when he really, really wants it. Therefore, even if you take every precaution to keep your cats away from your breakable glass ornaments, plastic (or other shatter-proof material) provides a safer alternative that looks pretty but won't explode when kitty inevitably has her way with it.

Keeping breakable, bird-shaped, feathered, and edible ornaments toward the top of the tree is also a solid plan -- as long as your cat doesn't climb or have any elevated platform from which to jump. Where there's a will, there's a way, is all I'm saying.

4. Secure all electrical wiring

Here's a helpful video to illustrate why it is smart to secure all electrical wiring with tape or hide it beneath rugs.

Additionally, ensure your Christmas tree has a solid base to make it more difficult for kitty to tackle. If you have a live tree, do not allow your cats access to the water, as drinking it can make them ill. Artificial trees are also generally safer than live trees because, when ingested, pine needles can puncture a cat's intestines. 

5. Treats > table scraps

If you're anything like me, you'll feel compelled to share your holiday feast with your cats. Instead of handing out table scraps (though a little turkey is probably fine, as long as it doesn't contain any cooked bones), keep a bag of her favorite treats on hand at the dinner table.

Phoenix wants turkey; instead she gets treats.

Even if you've taken every precaution, always be prepared in case of an emergency. Keep the emergency vet's number handy, and have a plan of action.

Read more by Angela Lutz:

Read more about cats and the holidays:

About Angela: This not-crazy-at-all cat lady loves to lint-roll her favorite dress and go out dancing. She also frequents the gym, the vegan coffee joint, and the warm patch of sunlight on the living room floor. She enjoys a good cat rescue story about kindness and decency overcoming the odds, and she's an enthusiastic recipient of headbutts and purrs from her two cats, Bubba Lee Kinsey and Phoenix.

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