Christmas with a Cat: What You Need to Know

By John Platt Jr. February 25, 2019

The holidays are a time filled with cheer, warmth, and family. For some of us, this means new additions to the family in the form of pets as gifts. If you’re a new cat owner this holiday season, or you’re a new cat owner who hasn’t celebrated their first Christmas with a cat yet, there are some things you should know.

Dangerous Decorations

Some of the many joys of the holidays come in the form of decorations. Some have decorations that have been passed down for generations, like the string of pearls my family hangs on our Christmas tree, others like to buy flashy sparkly decorations. Well, for our sensitive and vigilant cats, these new changes to their homes will certainly arouse suspicion. As your cat learns what the decorations are, he or she might decide to taste some of the decorations. Unfortunately, some very popular holiday decorations are very dangerous and sometimes toxic for cats to eat. Here are some decorations to avoid this holiday season:

  • Tinsel – some tinsel, if you attempt to pull it out of your cat’s mouth, can tear up their esophagus
  • Poinsettia – poisonous to dogs and cats alike, can cause bouts of vomiting and nausea
  • Mistletoe – will cause a dangerous drop in blood pressure in your pet, often proving fatal
  • Lilies – dangerous when consumed in large amounts, can cause fatal convulsions
  • Ivy/Holly Berries – once ingested can cause diarrhea and convulsions
  • Glass ornaments – although your pet can break the ornament, much to your dismay, the danger comes from leftover shards of glass your cat can step on or ingest
  • Candy canes – in general, it’s safe to avoid using human food as decorations if you live with a cat, although often not directly dangerous, your cat could mistake an inedible ornament for something edible
  • Candles – regardless of the season, candles should be kept out of reach of your cat, who could spread the flame accidentally with just a swipe of the tail, or possibly singe their whiskers
  • String lights – your cat will think that string lights are just flashy play strings, and if they chew on the cords they could become seriously burned or electrocuted

The Christmas Tree

For many of us, the Christmas tree becomes a focal point in our households during the holiday. The glowing green monument to our holiday cheer is going to be the center of your cat’s attention. Not only does it turn on and off, it’s also covered in shiny reflective ornaments that are hung just out of reach. This means your cat might end up trying to climb your Christmas tree or pull the branches closer to the ground. The tree could then possibly fall and cause injury to your cat and people nearby.  Not to mention a very big mess to clean up afterwards.

First, consider a fake tree as its artificial pine needles are far less likely to be harmful to your cat if ingested. In addition, step down a size for your Christmas tree.  Smaller trees are less likely to fall over than larger taller trees. If you decide on a real tree, ensure that your cat doesn’t drink the water as it can contain pesticides and other chemicals harmful to your cat. Place the tree away from any furniture it could use to jump into the tree. Most cats hate citrus, so place some lemon or orange peels in and around your tree to keep your cat away. Finally, you can anchor your tree to the wall with a hammer, nails, and some fishing line. Fishing line is strong and thin so it won’t be too noticeable.

Visits from Friends and Family

For cat owners, there’s nothing better than being greeted at the door by your loveable fluffball after a long day at work. But, this can change during the holidays. You might have friends or family get-togethers in your home, which could stress out your cat. Cats are typically less social than dogs, and they often become territorial or terrified when it comes to strangers in their home. In addition, if your guests are unfamiliar with living with a cat, they might accidentally leave a door open giving your now-stressed cat a perfect escape plan.

Not only are most cats shy around strangers, but all cats are also highly sensitive to noise! Add multiple strangers, celebrating, singing, dancing, and music, and what you end up with is a very uncomfortable environment for your cat to be in. When incredibly stressed out, your cat is more likely to react negatively either by attacking guests, destroying your things, or running away. To avoid this, lock your cat in a room he or she is familiar with, that is large enough for them to be entertained while you have guests over. This guarantees your cat a relatively quiet, isolated area where they can keep calm.

Holiday Traveling

AAA estimated that in the 2018 holiday season 1 in 3 Americans would be traveling. That means it’s likely that you will travel during the holidays. How do you handle traveling for the holidays and have a cat?

If you are going on a road trip with your cat, you will need to get your cat used to being inside the carrier. The alternative is to get a medium sized crate that fits inside your vehicle. If you go with the crate, you might also consider investing in a litterbox that fits in the crate for your cat to use. This eliminates the need to stop and let the cat out of the carrier for bathroom breaks. You should also consider getting a harness and leash for long road trips.  As this will allow your cat out of the carrier or crate to stretch their legs. Do not allow your cat to free roam the car since this creates a dangerous situation where the cat can distract the driver.

Some people fly during the holiday season, which can be complicated when you throw a cat into the mix. If you must fly with your cat, ensure you know the exact dimensions of the cat carrier. If you buy one too big to fit, you will most likely be asked to leave the plane. A soft-sided carrier is a tad more forgiving as it can be squeezed into a smaller area. Also, withhold meals from your cat before your flight, as flying on an empty stomach reduces the likelihood that he or she will become nauseous. If your cat doesn’t fly well, you can discuss medications with your veterinarian.  Finally, if you are traveling abroad with your cat, then read our article international travel with a cat for more information.

You might run into the situation where you cannot take your cat with you during your holiday travels.  If you cannot take your cat with you, then you have essentially two options. The first is boarding, which most cats absolutely despise. Dogs are happy to see new people and be in new environments. Cats are most comfortable at home with you. If you must board your cat, try to do it with your veterinarian if they offer it, as they will already be familiar with your cat’s behavior and needs. The best scenario is that you find a family member, friend, or a paid professional to come to your home and either pet-sit or visit your cat throughout the day. Cats are more self-sufficient than dogs. They can often go 24-48 hours without human contact, as long as someone is putting out clean food and water for them.

Giving Cats as a Gift

Unfortunately for pets across the country, the holidays are the time when pets are bought and given as gifts the most frequently. This also means that many more families decide they aren’t ready for a pet, either returning it or taking it to a shelter. If you intend on getting a pet for someone as a gift, please double check their willingness and ability to take on a new family member. We would suggest buying cat toys, collars, or treats, and then offering to go with the recipient to help them adopt a cat.  To explore some reasons why you should adopt, read our article about reasons to adopt a cat this holiday season.

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