Ask Einstein the cat: ‘Tis the Season to Be Cautious


Dear Einstein,

The humans have set up the evergreen in the living room, so I know the holidays are here. I love this time of year. I have a real tree, and it’s covered with cat toys. The problem is my people go insane whenever they catch me clinging to the top branches. The tabby next door is giving me grief, too. She says last year she had to go to an emergency clinic. I won’t go into what she told me, but let’s just say some parts of your insides were never intended to see daylight.

Should I hide until the holidays are over?

Tiny Tim

Hey Timorous,

The holidays are supposed to be joyous, but they can stop we kitties dead in our tracks. This year the Festival of Lights came early, so kosher kitties reading this have already dodged the dreidel. But that still leaves Christmas and the New Year.

According to the Pet Poison Helpline (800-213-6680), during the holidays the calls increase substantially. That means the holidays may be the bomb for two-leggers, but it could be a different kind of bomb for those of us with four feet.

Lights, strings, action

The Christmas tree is a veritable cornucopia of feline fiasco. Humans deck it out, then howl like a beagle in heat when the cat climbs it. What kitty can resist a tree covered with shiny dangly things? None! It’s in our DNA, but it should stand for Do Not Ascend.

An anchored tree is a happy tree, or at least upright. It can be secured to the wall or the ceiling with heavy fishing line. That won’t stop us from scaling it, but at least it won’t fall on top of us.

Tempting as they are, you might want to avoid the glass ornaments. Once you’ve freed them from their branches and sent them crashing to the floor, you can cut yourself or get those metal rings lodged in your throat. Your humans should place the breakable decorations out of your reach.

Another danger humans often forget is tree water. Hopefully your tree only drinks tap water or a commercial preservative labeled non-toxic to children and pets. Homemade formulas made with Tylenol or aspirin are a deadly proposition if you decide to imbibe.

Since Christmas lights look and act like lizards, they’re begging to be bitten! Kitties who chomp down on a cord can expect mouth burns or a move to the real estate beneath the backyard. Your humans can prevent this by using a fiber-optic tree.

Anything stringy begs us, "Bite me!" And I mean anything. Your tabby neighbor can testify to that. Tinsel causes twinkle turds. (Thread for stringing popcorn, ribbons, and cooking twine do the same thing without the "sparkles.") It may look funny to have that shiny stuff hanging out of your behind, but tinsel can wrap around your tongue or anchor itself in the stomach. When the intestines contract and move, tinsel can saw through them.

To keep from ruining the holidays with a vet bill the size of the national debt, humans should dispose of cooking string, and avoid popcorn garlands, ribbons and yarn. Dried or silk flowers make a nice tree trimming. Some dried baby’s breath is dusted with glitter and can have the same visual affect as tinsel. Baby’s breath can cause gastric upset, but it’s not considered deadly. To safely garnish gifts, your mom can hot glue an ornament or silk flowers directly to the wrapping paper.

No insensitive scents!

Humans may think they’re ratcheting up safety a few notches by substituting liquid potpourri for scented candles, but they’re not. It’s true, you’d have to work harder to set the house on fire, but according to those smart docs at the ASPCA/Animal Poison Control Center (APCC), rubbing up against the simmer pot can burn your skin, mouth, paws and even your eyes. While they can rough up the dog a bit, potpourri pots are more of a concern for we kitties because we can jump on the counter.

Terrbile gifts for cat lovers

I’ve never understood why humans give cat lovers gifts that can kill kitties. High on the Stupid Gifts List:

Candles: All it takes is a friendly bump from a kitty and, poof, like magic, the house is up in smoke, or you could get a really nasty burn. Give cat lovers flameless candles instead of traditional burning candles. They still flicker and they’re safe.

Toxic plants: Folks who would never dream of gifting a bottle of arsenic may not give a second thought about giving death in a flower pot. But they do. Humans love lilies; so do we kitties. Ingesting any part of most species will cause kidney failure within 48 hours. If you invited a lily into your insides, you must see a vet immediately. Ironically, a dog snacking on the same lily will only suffer gastric upset. Where’s the justice?

But wait; there’s more! Mistletoe has properties similar to a deadly castor bean. Other flora that people shouldn’t give to cat families are Star-of-Bethlehem, eucalyptus, Jerusalem cherry, English Ivy, Christmas rose, narcissus, amaryllis bulbs, croton, most any bulb and Christmas cactus and holly.

Inside the Poinsettia myth

Despite their deadly reputation, poinsettias are mostly bark and not much bite. To misquote Mark Twain, "Reports of poinsettia deadliness were greatly exaggerated." According to the APCC, poinsettias are no longer considered killers. All the puking that follows a snack of poinsettias won’t admit you to join the choir invisible, but it might make you wish you were eligible. But that doesn’t mean they are necessarily safe, either. Because of all the unattractive drooling and throwing up, you could get dehydrated.

When your people buy arrangements for cat-loving friends they should instruct the florist to leave off lilies or any other the killer plants. What’s wrong with fern or a dozen roses or even silk plants?

Don’t go AWOL on New Year’s Eve

The days before and after the New Year have many of same problems as Christmas. If guests invade your home, sequester yourself to a quiet room with your food and water bowls and a litter box. Some kitties, terrified by party chaos, will dash out the door to perceived "safety." Outdoor kitties should get their tails inside before dusk and the onset of fireworks. New Year Eve is notorious for animal AWOLs.

Hopefully you and your tabby neighbor will survive the upcoming holidays without trauma. If your folks don’t take these steps to keep you safe, I’d consider leaving a different kind of present for them under the tree.

Got a question for he who knows everything feline? Just Ask Einstein in the comments below and you might be featured in an upcoming column. (Letters don’t have to be written from the cat’s point of view.) Remember, any change in your cat’s behavior or activities could be a symptom of disease and should be investigated by your vet, even if it unfortunately involves glass tubes and cat posteriors.

Find out how Catster can teach you more about your cat:

About the author: Einstein’s assistant, Dusty Rainbolt ACCBC, is the vice president of the Cat Writers’ Association, editor-in-chief of and a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She’s the award-winning author of eight fiction and non-fiction books including her most recent paranormal mystery, Death Under the Crescent Moon.

Get Catster in your inbox!

Stay informed! Get tips and exclusive deals.

Current Issue


Follow Us

Shopping Cart