Here is the lowdown on some of the common hazards along with some hints on how to prevent feline foes during the festive period.
Mistletoe contains toxic compounds and, although considered to be fairly low in toxicity, some cats develop drooling, vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal discomfort within a few hours after eating it. The toxic part of the plant is the leaves and stems rather than the berries. In rare cases tremors or convulsions have been reported so it makes sense to keep them well away from your cats.
Poinsettia is a Euphorbia species of plant. Although it does contain a toxin it is less toxic than most other Euphorbia. Almost half of the cases reported to the Veterinary Poisons Information Service remained well after eating Poinsettia. However, it can cause irritation to the mouth and stomach with drooling, vomiting and in-appetence. Occasionally, animals may develop a high temperature and have more severe stomach irritation with bloody vomiting or stools. Keeping plants out of harms reach is therefore a good idea.
Lilies are often included in Christmas bouquets. Many varieties are dangerous as they are highly toxic to cats. Ingestion of any part of the plant, including drinking the water they have been stood in, poses a high risk. Kidney failure and fatalities are a strong possibility. Prevention is very much the advice for this particular plant. Don’t wait for symptoms to arise. Immediate veterinary attention should be sought if you suspect ingestion.
Christmas Trees & Decorations
Christmas tree species include spruce, fir and pine. These trees are considered to be of low toxicity but if eaten may cause mild stomach upset such as vomiting and diarrhoea, and they could cause gut obstruction if eaten or injury to the G.I tract if needles are sharp.
Loose needles can drop in to ears too. Signs of this include sudden onset ear irritation and head shaking.
Lametta - Cats and kittens tend to be curious about most decorations but lametta is one of their favourites. It catches the light and oddly some cats like to chew and swallow it. If enough is consumed a tight ball in the gut could cause an obstruction.
Salt Dough Decorations pose the hazard of salt poisoning in dogs and cats. A decoration may contain around 8g of salt per tablespoon which is very high. As well as vomiting and diarrhoea, symptoms can include a raised heart rate, high blood pressure and kidney failure. Consequently prompt veterinary attention is important.
Chocolate: Although it tends to be more common in dogs, chocolate poisoning can affect cats too. Advent calendars and christmas tree decorations are a particular risk. Theobromine is the toxin responsible, with the higher percentage cocoa being the most toxic. Signs include vomiting, diarrhoea, increased thirst and in some cases convulsions. Keeping chocolate away from cats is therefore just as important as it is for dogs.
Feline Stress at Christmas
Scent profile is important for making a cat feel safe and secure. Christmas paraphernalia brought in to the home brings in new and strange smells. This can be very stressful for a cat. In an attempt to restore their own scent, some use urine to mark the house. Rather than scold them, which is likely to make the problem worse, it’s important to help them feel secure again. However prevention is better than cure.
What can we do?
- Think about making sure their core territory is not disrupted. This is where they eat and sleep. Avoid bringing any different scents into this area. Also don’t wash their bedding too much at this time of year as this will help retain their own scent in the home.
- Prepare for parties by making sure your cats can retreat somewhere safe and secure. Having lots of boxes to hide in away from the noise as well as providing places to climb up on will help too.
- Make sure that the cat’s litter tray remains in a quiet place and avoid lots of foot traffic in that location.
- Provide house-cats with mental activities. This may help to take their minds off all the comings and goings.
- Feliway is a feline pheromone that is said to help promote security. It’s available in a spray or diffuser and can help keep make the environment feel safer. Click here for some useful information on cat behaviour and how to ensure the home is a safe haven for them at Christmas and throughout the rest of the year.
Caroline Clark is a consultant in animal behaviour counselling and you can find more information at www.peteducationandtraining.co.uk