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Winter and Holiday Hazards for Cats


by Jill A. Richardson, DVM
Veterinary Poison Information Specialist ASPCA/National Animal Poison Control Center

Here are some tips for keeping your cats out of danger during the holiday season.  

FOOD ITEMS

AVOID Holiday Food Items That Could Cause Problems For Your Cat

  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Chocolate (baker's, semi-sweet, milk chocolate)
  • Coffee (grounds, beans, chocolate covered espresso beans)
  • Moldy or spoiled foods
  • Onions, onion powder
  • Salt
  • Yeast dough

PLANTS

  • Lilies that may be found in holiday flower arrangements could be deadly to your cat. Many types of lily, such as Tiger, Asian, Japanese Show, Easter, Stargazer, and the Casa Blanca, can cause kidney failure in cats.
  • Poinsettias are generally over-rated in toxicity. If ingested, poinsettias can be irritating to the mouth and stomach, and may cause mild vomiting or nausea.
  • Mistletoe has the potential to cause cardiovascular problems. However, mistletoe ingestion usually only causes gastrointestinal upset.
  • Holly ingestion could cause vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, and lethargy.  

HAZARDS AROUND THE CHRISTMAS TREE

  • Christmas tree water may contain fertilizers, which, if ingested, can cause stomach upset. Stagnant tree water can be breeding grounds for bacteria, which can also lead to vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea, if ingested.
  • Electric cords - Avoid pet exposure to electric cords. If they were chewed, they could electrocute your cat. Cover up or hide electric cords, never let your cat chew on them.
  • Ribbons or tinsel can get caught up in the intestines and cause intestinal obstruction.
  • Batteries contain corrosives. If ingested they can cause ulceration to the mouth, tongue, and the rest of the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Glass ornaments can cut the tissues of the gastrointestinal tract if ingested.

MEDICATIONS

  • Keep all prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs out of the reach of your cats, preferably in closed cabinets. Remind holiday guests to store their medications safely as well.
  • Pain killers, cold medicines, anti-cancer, drugs, antidepressants, vitamins, and diet pills are common examples of human medication that could be potentially lethal even in small dosages. Less than one regular-strength ibuprofen tablet (200mg) could stomach ulceration in a 7-pound cat.
  • During the holidays, many veterinary clinics have limited office hours. In some cases, pet owners try to medicate their animals without their veterinarian's advice. Never give your cat any medications unless under the directions of a veterinarian. Many medications that are used safely in humans can be deadly when used inappropriately. Less than one regular strength acetaminophen tablet (325mg) can be dangerous to a cat weighing 7 pounds.

OTHER WINTER HAZARDS

  • Antifreeze has a pleasant taste. Unfortunately, very small amounts can be lethal. As little as one teaspoon of antifreeze can be deadly to a cat. Thoroughly clean up any spills, store antifreeze in tightly closed containers and store in secured cabinets. If you think your cat has consumed antifreeze, contact your veterinarian right away!
  • Liquid potpourris are popular household fragrances commonly used during the holiday season. Cats are often exposed to liquid potpourri by direct ingestion from simmer pots or spills, or by rubbing against leaky bottles or simmer pots containing the potpourri, or from spilling the containers upon themselves. Oral exposures result following grooming. Exposure of cats to some types of liquid potpourris can result in severe oral, dermal and ocular damage.
  • Ice melting products can be irritating to skin and mouth. Depending on the actual ingredient of the ice melt and the quantity, signs of ingestion would include excessive drooling, depression, vomiting or even electrolyte imbalances.
  • Rat and mouse killers are used more commonly during colder weather. When using rat and mouse bait, place the products in areas that are inaccessible to your cats.

ALWAYS Be Prepared !!!!

Your cat may become poisoned in spite of your best efforts to prevent it. You should keep telephone numbers for your veterinarian, a local emergency veterinary service, and the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (1-888-426-4435) in a convenient location. If you suspect that your cat has ingested something poisonous, seek medical attention immediately.  

For online information about the ASPCA APCC visit their web site

Please Note: CFA provides the feline health information on this site as a service to the public. Diagnosis and treatment of specific conditions should always be in consultation with one's own veterinarian. The Cat Fanciers' Association, Inc. disclaims all warranties and liability related to the veterinary advice and information provided on this site.