Holiday Hazards

Author: Jessica Stern, DVM

November 15, 2012

While the holiday season is a time for celebration, it is important to remember that for our pets, it is a time when they can be exposed to a variety of dangers. Knowing some of the common hazards that your cat(s) may be exposed to will help keep them safe so that you (and they) enjoy the holidays!

An abundance of food and snacks are available during holiday gatherings. Cats can be enticed by the smells of these foods. Ingestion of rich, fatty foods can cause gastrointestinal upset, including vomiting and diarrhea. Foods that contain onion or garlic can cause damage to your cat’s red blood cells if they are ingested in large quantities.

Chocolate is potentially toxic to cats and dogs. Ingestion of a large amount of chocolate may cause vomiting, diarrhea, rapid heart rate, muscle tremors, seizures, and can progress to coma and/or death. While chocolate itself poses a threat, so does the packaging it comes in; foil or plastic wrappers can be ingested and can become lodged within the gastrointestinal tract causing a blockage that could require surgery.

Plants and Christmas trees can also pose a threat to your cat. Poinsettias are mildly toxic and can cause vomiting and diarrhea if ingested. Mistletoe and holly are considered to be moderately toxic, causing vomiting and diarrhea initially, which can progress to heart problems and collapse. Lilies are extremely toxic to cats - ingestion of any part of the plant can cause kidney failure and possibly death. The oils within natural Christmas trees can also cause gastrointestinal upset if the needles or water used to keep the tree alive are ingested. Occasionally, trees are treated with pesticides or fragrances that also can be harmful to your cat. Artificial tree branches and limbs can cause intestinal blockages if consumed.

Tree decorations, like tinsel, and wrapping paper ribbon can be very dangerous for cats who love to play with string-like toys. These materials can become trapped within the intestine and will bunch the intestine up like an accordion. As the intestines contract (to push food through the GI tract) the string can cut through the intestinal wall and cause significant damage. String and other foreign bodies require surgery for removal. Glass ornaments can cause cuts or wounds on the skin or in the intestinal tract if ingested. Decorative lights pose a risk for an electric shock- cats may show signs of burns around the mouth, difficulty breathing, heart arrhythmias, loss of consciousness, or death. Make sure all electrical cords are as far out of reach as possible.

Exposure to these potential hazards can easily be avoided by being diligent and making sure your cat is not allowed access to them. Knowing the potential dangers that surround the holiday season can make your holiday season safer and less stressful for both you and your cat(s).