7 Holiday Hazards for Cats

Poinsettias aren’t as deadly as once thought, but other holiday items can cause severe injuries. Read about these seasonal dangers for cats.

Snow globes contain anti-freeze. By: Doug Waldron
Did you know snow globes contain antifreeze? By: Doug Waldron

The holidays are a tricky time for pets. Quite a few dangers lurk amid the presents and decorations.

Some are obvious — you probably know that leaving a candle unattended could get your cat into trouble, not to mention that it’s a big fire hazard for everyone. Other dangers this time of year aren’t so obvious, though, which makes them all the more deadly. (I bet you haven’t given much thought to snow globes.)

In this article, we’ll look at 7 holiday hazards for cats.

1. Snow Globes

Decorative snow globes speak to the children in all of us. Unfortunately, snow globes also contain ethylene glycol (antifreeze), which keeps them from freezing and cracking. The consequences of a broken snow globe can be tragic for cats, as a recent post on Floppycats showed.

The blogger, Donna, told how her 10-month-old Ragdoll, Charlie, began acting strangely after breaking a snow globe. Her husband was struck in particular by the cat’s sudden and excessive displays of affection.

Donna did some research and found out about the antifreeze. A veterinary test confirmed her suspicions. “Just a small amount left on his fur was enough to do the damage after my husband had dried him off,” she writes. “The poison was destroying his kidneys.”

Despite an all-out effort, the young Ragdoll died 3 days later. “We later learned that the overly affectionate behavior was all part of the antifreeze poisoning. It gives a pet a feeling like being drunk.”

This video shows how cats are attracted to the movement in the snow globe and how easy it is to knock one over:

2. Poinsettias

Word was that poinsettias were poisonous to cats and dogs. Not so.

The gaudy and beloved Christmas plant has a white sap that can, according to the Pet Poison Hotline, cause drooling, mild vomiting and, once in a great while, diarrhea, if ingested.

This same sap can lead to redness, swelling and itchiness if it gets on the skin or a mild conjunctivitis if it comes in contact with the eyes. “Signs are self-limiting and generally don’t require medical treatment unless severe,” the website explains.

3. Christmas Lights

Everybody worries about the cat knocking the Christmas tree over. And, yes, that’s a problem. But what about the lights on the tree?

The first year in our new home, my husband set up the tree in our tiny living room. Our cats, Cricket and Kilah, were entranced by the smell of blue spruce and played jungle cats to their hearts’ content.

Suddenly, Tim and I happened to glance at the tree. Kilah was just about to chomp down on a lit-up Christmas bulb. One of us grabbed her before she went Technicolor. The tree was later exiled to our enclosed back porch.

4. Candles

The Festival of Lights has dangers of its own, as we discovered (we celebrated both Hanukkah and Christmas). Woody, our former stray, got way too curious about the menorah one night and ended up with short crispy whiskers on one side.

Moral of the story: Do not leave candles and cats unattended.

5. Tinsel and Ribbon

Tinsel is not your cat’s friend. Neither are skinny ribbons. Both can slip down a cat’s throat like spaghetti, as I found out when I gave Phoebe a ribbon to play with.

Fortunately, the remedy that the vet tech gave me over the phone worked immediately.

Phoebe was lucky. Not all cats are, as Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD, has pointed out here at Pets Adviser. “The cat can swallow the string, but some of it often gets caught underneath the tongue,” she says. “The rest of the string goes down into the GI tract and gets stuck in different sections, causing an accordion-like effect. The surgery to correct these obstructions can be difficult.”

6. Bad Surprises

Kerry Caffrey was admiring a lilac-colored pop-up card that showed a bunch of pretty white cats scurrying about, playing with balloons and gift wrap.

When she opened the card, which someone had sent her daughters, a piercing caterwauling came out of it. “I swear to God they recorded alley cats,” Caffrey says.

Apparently Riggs, her year-and-a-half-old tiger cat, thought so, too. “The minute he heard the noise, he turned, hissed, and his whiskers went back flat against his face,” Caffrey recalls. “I didn’t even recognize him. And he didn’t see me either — it was like he was looking right through me.”

The usually good-natured, playful Riggs turned into a wild cat. He leaped onto her leg, biting her in the thigh and arm. Caffrey “had to fight him off me, literally. Two hours later he was okay, rubbing against my leg and purring.”

It was redirected aggression, pure and simple. Riggs clearly thought the noise had come from another cat on the warpath; unable to find that cat, he lunged at his beloved human, tearing her “left leg open from top to bottom.”

Caffrey, who developed a low-grade fever, had to get a tetanus shot and go on antibiotics for 10 days. She contacted the card company. The president wrote back immediately, saying they wouldn’t use this particular sound effect again.

7. Slipping Outside

Some cats really do like to hang out with your guests. But a lot of them would rather be elsewhere. So you may want to find a room or section of the house where they can hang out in peace.

It’s a good idea for more than one reason: With all the people coming and going during the festivities, it’s all too easy for your felines to slip out of the house unnoticed. Remember, you want the holidays to be safe for them, too.

T.J. Banks

View posts by T.J. Banks
T.J. Banks is the author of several books, including Catsong, a collection of her best cat stories, which was the winner of a Merial Human–Animal Bond Award. A contributing editor to laJoie, T.J. has received writing awards from the Cat Writers’ Association (CWA), ByLine and The Writing Self. Her writing has been widely anthologized.

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