Enjoying the Chaos of the Holidays Safely With Curious Cats

For a cat, it’s not a matter of being naughty or nice, it’s a matter of a cat just being a cat!

It’s officially the holidays and for our cats, perennial creatures of habit, it can be a time that literally turns their everyday world and routines completely upside down. They are instinctually wired to be both curious and cautious, depending on the circumstances, so every day presents new stimuli to process. For example, seemingly out of thin air, a tree magically appears in the house – a tree with dangly, tantalizing shiny objects hanging from it! Furniture is often moved, boxes and bags filled with goodies pile up in the house, and the kitchen can become an intoxicating den of foods not typically experienced throughout the rest of the year.

Strange people might drop by – strange people with strange smells (to a cat), often spending the night, or several nights – and cat guardians can become distracted, socializing with these strangers instead of their cat. Guardians also can be busy with decorating the house, wrapping gifts, keeping up with social media, shopping and more. But a cat is going to be a cat, after all, trees are meant to be climbed, ornaments are meant to be swat at, and the food is meant to be sampled. But for their safety, and our sanity, there are a few things to keep in mind.

The holidays mean new people in the house, new foods to inspect, and more.

For example, at times like this, your cat might act up for several reasons – lack of attention, stress from the sudden onslaught of change, or overstimulation. My gang will fight more than usual because of all the heightened activity in the house which can translate to decorations crashing to the floor and a variety of other destruction. I’ve long since learned my lessons and try my best to “think like a cat” during the holidays to reduce the stress (both mine and theirs) and for the most part, it works.

Why do I always get blamed for everything?

My treasured family heirloom ornaments remain safely stored in the garage and I only decorate the tree with unbreakable ornaments. They come in so many pretty colors and designs now that it’s not really a big sacrifice and that way I don’t have to worry about ornaments getting knocked off the tree, smashing to smithereens, and one of them getting a shard of glass in their paw. I’ve also made some handcrafted ornaments in a leopard theme, which adds a nice personal touch to our feline-loving household.

I also like to have them “help” me. I know they enjoy the break in their everyday routine as they sniff and inspect each decoration I unearth from storage. There are endless boxes and containers to curl up on, jump into, or explore and they seem to enjoy the soothing Christmas music I have playing in the background as much as I do as we decorate together.

Each container brought out from storage is more exciting than the next!

We do have to move furniture to put up the tree, but it turns out for the cats, they actually enjoy the change. Somehow the settee that has been moved a mere three feet away from where it usually is has become something “new” to them and it’s a favorite nap spot now.

There have been other lessons learned too – NO curling ribbon is allowed on any gifts as ribbon can be very dangerous if ingested and my cats are insanely attracted to it. Rather than risk it, it’s better to avoid it altogether. I’ve also learned the smell of wrapping paper can cause a cat to christen the gift with a spray of urine. We now put gifts out on Christmas morning so there is less of a time span to deal with potential issues.

No live poinsettias in the house, either. The cats would devour the leaves and blooms like they were at an all you can eat buffet and poinsettia is toxic if ingested (as is mistletoe and holly berries). Typically your cat will not ingest enough to cause harm, but to be safe you should visit your veterinarian no matter how much you think your cat has eaten. You can call the Pet Poison Helpline for advice at 855-764-7661.

Silk poinsettias are so realistic looking that you’d never know they were fake!

We also don’t put up a real tree. The smell is just too much like outside for my gang and it causes them to go a bit bonkers, climbing up the tree or marking it with urine. If you decide to go with a real tree and have an active cat, cover up the base of it with something like aluminum foil that will startle her to keep away.

And be cognizant that many of the fertilizers and preservatives used to keep trees fresher longer could make your cat sick. When you bring your tree home and put it in water, toxic chemicals could seep into the water and harm your cat if she decides to drink it (including the aspirin tablets many of us put in the water to keep pine needles from dropping). Nibbling on pine needles could also make your cat ill, and regardless of what type of tree you use, always be mindful of the lights and never leave them on unattended while you’re out of the house. A couple chews on the cord are all that’s needed for a tragedy to occur.

We wait until Christmas morning to put the gifts out…immediately a cat will appear out of nowhere to investigate the goodies!

Avoid draping your tree with tinsel, too. Most cats are mesmerized by the shiny strands and if ingested they could become entangled in their intestines, causing them to twist and close off requiring expensive and dangerous surgery. The same with curling ribbons, strings, and yarns that are tied onto gifts. They can be irresistible to a cat, so consider larger grosgrain ribbons, decorative gift tags, or big bows as an alternative.

After experiencing a scare with a plastic bag and one of my cats, I now make sure to keep them out of reach at all times.

Plastic bags you bring into the house to carry gifts, food, and whatnot can also be a hazard – cats startle easily and in a split second can find a bag handle around their neck. Either cut the handles or immediately put the bags away where they can’t get to them. If you decorate with candles, try flameless ones — they still give a nice glow but you don’t have to worry about kitty burning a curious paw or knocking them over and starting the house on fire!

And all those yummy holiday foods that make the holidays so special – be aware many of them are not good for cats. Chocolate, grapes, raisins, nuts (especially macadamia), rich and fatty foods like gravy or grease, onions, garlic, alcohol, uncooked doughs with yeast and raw eggs, bones, candied sweet potatoes or yams, deserts, and more. If you must give your cat a tidbit of something (and most cats will insist you must), give them a moderate amount of something, such as fully cooked turkey, and avoid anything excessively spicy or drenched in rich sauces.

Jazmine is trying to get out of my grasp – she wants a taste of cookie dough but I won’t give it to her because nothing about it is safe!

Keeping your cat’s inner nature in mind will help both you and your cat enjoy the holidays without too much stress. If hustle and bustle get to be too much for them, especially if company drops by, they will need their quiet time. Make sure they have access to a private room with food, water, and litter to feel safe and secure (many cats will hide when company comes) and if you’re thinking the holidays are a good time to bring a new pet into the house, despite your best intentions, it’s probably not a good idea. Getting a new pet is best when you have the proper time to devote to a new furry family member and the holidays can be very traumatic to an animal even in the best of circumstances.

The cats like the privacy of our guest bedroom to chill when the chaos of Christmas gets to be too much for them.

Most importantly, remember to take a few minutes each day, no matter how hectic it is, to let your kitty know just how special she is to you, after all, your shared relationship is the best gift of all!

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  1. Erin the Cat says:

    Such excellent advice for the days ahead. It does sound so very hectic in your house, and I can imagine that your companions really do get excited. We are the opposite and have a quiet do and no decorations. Just my birthday lunches, birthday cake and some cream and mouse nibbles. Then we will curl up and enjoy a few carols and some nip cordial by the fire. And maybe tell stories till the flames die down and I go out to work.

  2. jmuhj says:

    How fortunate we are not to have holidays at this time of year, so all of those potential dangers and problems are not, for us! That said, I do put up a few decorations because most people, whatever their background, do see it as a secular holiday and a time to feel thankful and generous.

    Enjoy your holidays safely, comfortably, warmly, and with lots of love!

  3. Happy Holidays – you are all so pretty today!

  4. meowmeowmans says:

    Thank you for this really sage advice, Deb. Luckily for us, Gracie and Ava are pretty good about not climbing the tree or messing with the holiday decorations. Ava does like being under the tree, but there’s nothing wrong with that. 🙂

  5. Da Boyz are seriously up for anything! We will most likely travel to other places over the holidays, but we are very cognizant of the time, and refrain from delaying cat mealtimes.

  6. You share some great advice. This year, we have no decorations, no tree, no nothing. We’re moving soon…so the mom didn’t want to put up decorations…so they’re all safely packed away.

  7. Ellen Pilch says:

    Excellent post. There are a lot of dangers this time of year. I love the paw stockings 🙂