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Have A Purrfect Christmas

Cynthia B. Whitney
Reprinted With Permission

Back to Index of Articles From Fe-Lines

Nothing is cuter than a cat or kitten playing with a shiny ball, a tinkling bell or a dangling ribbon, right? Well no, not at Christmastime.

Our curious and playful cats can make the holiday season more hectic than it already is. However, if you decorate your tree and home with the safety of your cat in mind, this joyous time of the year can be full of safe fun and frolic for all members of your family Ė including your cat.

The Tree

For many cat owners, the No. 1 concern at Christmas time is the tree. If you bring a fresh-cut pine tree into your catís living space, it is naturally going to think it is for his enjoyment. Your cat will no doubt, thank you by showing off all his acrobatic abilities on, over, up and around the wonderful new tree-toy.

If you canít keep your Christmas tree shut off in a separate room, which most of us donít have the luxury of doing, the first thing you could do to minimize the tree dilemma, is to get a smaller less inviting tree, or better yet, an artificial one. If you canít survive the season without the smell of pine, you can choose from many sprays with which to treat an artificial tree. A real tree has built-in hazards. The tree tar that seeps out of the wood can be toxic, and the pine needles themselves, if swallowed, can cause intestinal problems, or can puncture the tender flesh in a catís mouth. Those tree life extenders you add to the water can also prove toxic to your kitties. Even aspirin some of us dissolve in the water to prolong the life of cut flowers and trees is dangerous to your cat.

Whether you choose a natural or an artificial tree, take steps to prevent your cat from knocking it over or pulling it down. Use clear fishing line to tie the tree to an eyehook afixed to the ceiling, a wall stud or a windowsill. Tying the tree to a heavy piece of furniture works, too. You can also add stability by nailing the tree stand to a large piece of wood. Cover the wood and stand with a festive tree skirt.

I have found a small, artificial tree on a table to be the most economical and sage holiday decoration. But, if you choose to have a real tree, leave it undecorated for a day or two for Chief Inspector Felix to thoroughly investigate. He will soon tire of it, and accept it as a new part of his domain. It may also prove useful to leave on those lower branches you usually have trimmed off. If there is less space for the cat to crawl under the tree, and up the trunk, then he may be less likely to attempt these feats.

Lights or No Lights?

Christmas tree lights offer their own hazards. The cords are particularly dangerous if your cat is prove to leaping at long string-like objects (have you ever met a cat that doesnít?) Hot pepper sauce or bitter apple applied to the corda and bulbs will deter your cat from munching of them. I have found aluminum foil wrapped around any exposed cord to be a good deterrent, and adds a decorative touch. As an alternative to lights, the old-fashioned string of popcorn or cranberries can make a festive tree.

Of course, breakable ornaments are always a concern. If you must put out that sentimental glass ball from Granny on the tree put it up high and secure firmly. Using red ribbon (satin, not curling paper) to tie on ornaments instead of those nasty metal hooks is also more decorative, and safer. On the lower branches that Curious Cleo can reach, use wooden, plastic or pretty calico stuffed ornaments. Avoid anything round. I have found cats are more attracted to round ornaments, no matter what they are made of. In households shared with a cat, garland, tinsel, angel hair, and icicles are no-noís. If youíve ever watched your cat run from under the tree with a piece of garland held between his teeth, then watched your tree come tumbling down, or a tied one come springing back and then shiver off all itís ornaments to the floor, you probably have resorted to a no-garland tree or one with short cranberry strings instead.

Pretty paper

Care should be taken when you bring in those storage boxes of ornaments and gift wrap from the basement, garage or attic. Various insects love the dark, warm and cozy boxes of your memories of Christmas past. Empty all the items outside first, or place them on a light-colored floor or newspaper. When you see any newly awakened creepy crawlers emerge from your bangles and bows, kill and dispose of them before your feline exterminator spies them. An occasional bug teat wonít hurt your cat, but many insects are poisonous. Be especially careful of spiders such as the Brown Recluse, common in the southern United States, which can be deadly to your feline. Other spiders and insects can lie dormant on cold tree bark outside, but when brought inside on Christmas trees or firewood, the bugs many spring to life by your warm fireplace. Indoor cats delight in the diversion of chasing these scurrying objects, so watch carefully.

With your cat trying to ďhelpĒ at every step, wrapping gifts can be a challenge. Be sure to pick up pieces of ribbon that your cat could easily ingest. Donít leave scraps of adhesive tape on table edges; if a paw comes in contact with it, the result can be a much-frenzied feline. Also be mindful not to leave out bags of recent purchases. While investigating, your cat could easily get its head stuck in the handle of a shopping bag.

Like most animals, cats learn from repeat behavior. If you let your cat do something a couple of times, then reprimand him for repeating the action, you not only are wasting your time but also being a bit cruel. Donít let your cat play with ribbons and bows while you are wrapping gifts, then scold him for playing with the finished presents under the tree.

To avoid confusion, try to distract your cat from playing with any ribbons, bows or packages. When I carry boxes and bags in the house, I bring out a new cat toy or a clean, empty box to divert them. Sometimes it takes a toy in an empty box to keep them busy enough that they donít bother my purchases.

I also do not put any ribbon or bows on the packages that are displayed under the tree. Special gifts that must have added decoration are stored in safe closets or drawers. A few pretty ribbons are just not worth the danger to my catís safety. I use pretty cat-designed paper to make up the difference.

When decorating your home, consider candles a special hazard. Place Menorah or festive candles out of kittyís reach, and donít leave them lit when you cannot be around to supervise. A scorched whisker or tail can send a cat into a panic, causing it to knock over the candle and possibly start a fire. Potpourri burners may release seasonal pine scents or pleasant cinnamon-spice aromas, but such a decoration presents a double whammy Ė a lit candle and hot water. Be extra careful when using this type of decoration.

Toxic Temptations

Cats are known to inspect anything new and different in their environment and the unusual living plans of the holiday season are far from the exception. Besides the pinesap from your Christmas tree, there are numerous winter plants to be wary of. The Poinsettia makes a pretty door stop decoration Ė and a grave top for your cat. Keep this pretty, yet poisonous, plant far away from your cat and all animals. Holly, Crown of Thorns, Jerusalem Cherry with the pretty red berries, Christmas Roses, and Mistletoe are all poisonous. The Japanese Yew, which looks lie a pine tree with dark green needles and delightfully appealing red fruits, can cause almost immediate death if ingested. This one must be avoided at all costs.

How toxic any of these plants are depends on the plant, the size, age and general health of your cat, and whether he took a one-bite sampling or had an extra meal from it. A general rule would be to induce vomiting (or call the nearest poison control center) and take you cat, and the remaining plant, to the veterinarian immediately.

A good holiday practice is to check your regular veterinarianís hours, which may change during the holidays, and double-check the location and phone number of the emergency clinic/vet.

Food for Thought

The special rich and tasty foods of the season are enjoyed by all. The turkey, ham, roasts, whip cream goodies, oysters, and peppermint delights are among the tempting foods you may want to share with your feline family. This is well and good, but remember the key word here is moderation. Your cat canít run for an Alka-Seltzer if it overeats; he will just become sick. Also, be especially careful of turkey bones and skin that your cat can choke on, and test any table food shared with our cat to make sure it isnít too hot.


With all the extra activities and chores of the holiday season, itís easy to leave the cat behind. Prepare ahead, making sure your catís vaccinations are up-to-date. Have him groomed, including cutting his mails. Be extra watched when company arrives with all the increased opening and closing of closets and doors. Cut toenails will minimize Aunt Annieís scratches, and your feline friend lock in a closet all evening will not soon let you forget.

So, donít ignore your cat. ďYou may get busy, but donít forget kittyĒ -- not the wise words of mark Twin, but still a good reminder. Giving your beloved cat extra attention will not only make him feel still part of the family, but will actually help lessen his curiosity about all those bags and boxes youíre so busy hiding around the house.

If you keep alert, know your cat, and practice common sense safety precautions, Christmas can be a beautiful and fun time for you, your family, and your feline friends. Meowy Kissmouse