With Cats and the Holidays, it’s Not About Who’s Naughty or Nice, it’s About Cat Behavior

Never mind if I’ve been naughty or nice…it’s more like, have you taken into account my feline instincts BEFORE you judge me?

It’s officially the holidays – a time when one is frequently asked whether they’ve been naughty or nice, suggesting perhaps that if they’re naughty, Santa might not bring them a gift. When it comes to our cats, it’s not so much whether they’ve been naughty or nice; it’s how the holidays actually affect their instinctual behavior, sometimes causing them to be unintentionally naughty when they’re typically otherwise nice.

Cats are creatures of habit and the holidays are a time that can literally turn their everyday world and routines into complete chaos. They are also 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, shopping and more. What’s a cat to do, but be a cat? Trees are meant to be climbed, ornaments are meant to be toys to swat at, and Christmas dinner is meant to be sampled, whether you approve or not.

It’s true…you might think your cat is misbehaving, but your cat is just doing what comes naturally to him.

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 is relatively well-behaved, but sometimes there will be more fighting than usual because of all the heightened activity in the house. 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.

Boxes, bows, ribbons, and bags…PLUS human and canine company, that’s a lot to ask of a cat any time of the year!

My treasured family heirloom ornaments remain in storage 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.

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. And the cat condo we usually keep in the front hallway area has been moved to the guest bedroom. It’s now prime real estate and perfect for bird watching!

This normally neglected settee has become front and center now that we’ve moved it a few feet from its normal spot.

It was a tight squeeze getting this cat condo into the guest bedroom, but Jazmine is quite thrilled with the results!

There have been other lessons learned too – NO curling ribbon is allowed on any gifts. Mia, in particular, is addicted to it and will chew it up in a split second. Ribbon can be very dangerous if ingested, so rather than risk it, it’s better just to avoid it altogether. I’ve also learned Peanut is attracted to the smell of wrapping paper and sometimes she will christen a gift with a spray of urine. We now put gifts out late on Christmas Eve so there is less of a time span to deal with potential issues.

We also can’t bring live poinsettias into the house. The cats would devour the leaves 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 also call the Pet Poison Helpline for advice at 855-764-7661.

I like to decorate the mantel and none of it is real – all the pine garlands and poinsettias are silk!

I no longer get a real tree either. The smell is just too much like outside for my gang and it causes them to go a bit bonkers, climbing up the tree. If you decide to go with a real tree and have an active cat, cover up the base of it with something like foil that will startle her to keep away.

Be aware as well 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 cause sickness in your cat, 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.

You should also avoid draping your tree with tinsel – most cats are mesmerized by the shiny decoration and if ingested it could become entangled in their intestines, causing them to twist and close off requiring expensive and dangerous surgery. As mentioned above with Mia, the same holds true with fancy ribbons, strings, and yarns that are tied onto gifts. They can be irresistible, 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 can quickly find a bag handle around their neck. Either cut the handles or immediately put the bags away somewhere they can’t get to them. And if you decorate with candles, try flameless ones — they still give a nice glow about the house 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 dangerous to cats. Chocolate, grapes, raisins, nuts (especially macadamia’s), 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 titbit of something, such as fully cooked turkey, do it in moderation, 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!

It’s just best to respect your cat’s nature rather than spend the holidays stressing out. They will need their private time in the midst of all the hustle and bustle and if you have company coming that’s especially true. 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, making it very difficult to find them) 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.

When all is said and done, the best gift of all is snuggling on the couch at the end of the night with my gang – they love the routine as much as I do.

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  1. So much to think about! Fortunately no Christmas in this Palace so no worries. But a happy and well cat is also a house without stress and accident or veterinary emergency. Great tips and the guys all look fabulous!
    Toodle pip

  2. I make a lot of concessions for decorations as well. I only get an artificial tree, and NO tinsel! Ever. Only unbreakable ornaments go on the bottom. Lucky for me my girls take little interest in climbing the tree. They only enjoy batting at dangling ornaments on the bottom branches. Happy Holidays!

  3. Those are great reminders ! Better safe than sorry : we have a fake tree, unbreakable ornaments, no garland or tinsel, and the gifts are wrapped and kept safe behind a closed door a few hours before celebration. They are unwrapped under Claire’s close supervision, and every ribbon or string is immediately put away from curious or playful kitties. But we are allowed to play with every tree decoration ! Purrs

  4. Ellen Pilch says:

    Excellent post,especially the warning of the dangers of real trees. We know someone with a tree farm and he uses potent chemicals on the trees.

  5. It’s SO hard for us to be good for so long. There are too many temptations out there…and we aren’t talking about the treats. 🙂

  6. jmuhj says:

    We don’t celebrate christmas, so we don’t have any of those issues — but thank you for all of the excellent suggestions! Hoping people who do celebrate will follow them to keep their beloved cats safe and limit the stress they have during this season.

  7. Athena says:

    We don’t really celebrate Christmas because Mum is like a cat and hates lots of people being around. A quiet Christmas is always the best for us 🙂

  8. da tabbies o trout towne says:

    grate points guys !!! thanx for sharin …. N last fotoz:
    hay, ewe knead ta slow up a bit N due sum chillaxin !! 🙂 ♥♥♥

  9. We agree that mischief is definitely in their DNA and NO COOKIES MOL!!!!