‘Tis the season for trees, candles, and lights, but while it may bring holiday joy to adorn your home with an array of festive décor, cat owners may want to think twice about displaying some of the most common holiday decorations as they can actually be hazardous to your feline friend.
Certain holiday décor staples like ribbons and tinsel can be among the most dangerous for your cat. According to Dr. Jerry Klein, chief veterinary officer for the American Kennel Club (AKC), thin ribbons (such as those used in wrapping presents) are often ingested by cats, and then require surgical removal. “You’ll also want to be very careful of tinsel; dogs and especially cats chew on tinsel, which can become lodged in their intestines and require expensive surgery,” he adds.
Festive plants are also a popular choice, but some go-to holiday options can actually be deadly for a curious kitty. Klein notes that lillies are among the holiday plants that can be particularly dangerous for cats. “Any part of the plant can cause kidney failure in cats. Do not bring them into your house, and be aware that they are often part of many flower arrangements,” he warns. Other potentially toxic plants include holly and mistletoe, daffodils, amaryllis, and cyclamen; a full list of poisonous plants can be found via the ASPCA’s website.
Unfortunately, one of the most popular holiday decorations—Christmas trees—can be irresistible to some cats, as kitties can be very attracted to the shiny ornaments and sparkly tinsel or garland, or simply want to climb the branches to discover a fun new hiding place. “You’ll have to feel out your cat and see how he or she reacts to your Christmas tree—some cats will only like to sit under it, while others will immediately try to climb it,” advises Ingrid King, founder and publisher of The Conscious Cat and author of five cat books, including Purrs of Wisdom: Enlightenment, Feline Style and, Tortitude: The BIG Book of Cats with a BIG Attitude.
No matter how your cat reacts to the presence of a Christmas tree, it’s always a good idea to choose cat-friendly ornaments and take a few preventive measures to keep your cat safe. The best way to pet-proof your tree is to prohibit access when not supervised. “Consider purchasing a free-standing pet or child safety gate…and if that isn’t an option, avoid glass or breakables that cats may be tempted by, as well as tinsel and stuffed ornaments that clearly look like toys,” says Bryna Donnelly, director of GreaterGood.org’s Rescue Rebuild program. Klein also notes that pet parents should only use plain water if they’ve chosen to bring a real tree into their home; never use fertilizers or chemicals in the container in case your kitty decides to drink from it.
“You’ll also want to be sure to secure your tree to a wall or the ceiling with fishing line or wire to prevent cats from knocking it over,” adds Tami Kelly, a spokesperson for Treetopia. While a “real” Christmas tree and many plants can be a no-no in some homes with cats, there are plenty of artificial options that can be kitty-friendly. According to Kelly, artificial Christmas trees, garland, and florals tend to be safer because they aren’t as enticing to your cats, so they’re less likely to be chewed on and accidentally ingested. “Faux holiday decor is available in a wide array of colors to help you express your personal style, and artificial greenery looks more real than ever before,” she says.
In addition to tinsel, glass ornaments, and plants, cat owners may also want to forego candles in their home for the holiday season. “I personally had a longhaired cat that caught his tail on fire swishing it over a candle,” Donnelly warns. “Battery-powered candles are really the only way to go in households with pets.”
Always be sure tree lights and any other decor with wires remain unplugged so your cat isn’t able to chew on them or get tangled up in the cords when you’re not around, and once you’ve finished decorating your tree, be sure to pick up any pieces of ribbon or ornament hooks on the floor. “These glittery items may be attractive playthings to your cat, but they can get very sick if they ingest them,” Kelly warns.
Even though cat-friendly homes have to be careful when choosing holiday decor, there are still plenty of are ways to include your cat in your holiday traditions. Donnelly recommends making special cat-friendly holiday treats or buying a pet advent calendar—and, of course, you can always surprise them with new toys or scratching post.
“You can even create a little ‘Christmas tree’ that’s just for your cat with something that’s tree-shaped and safe to climb,” King suggests. “Decorate it with green and red toys and you’ve just made a safe, enriching, and festive holiday activity for your cat.”