Safely Preparing for the Holidays with your Cat
Are poinsettias toxic?
Poinsettia plants are not as toxic as many would have you believe; they are only mildly toxic. If your cat ingests this plant, they may experience some vomiting, drooling and on occasion, diarrhea. Far more worrisome are plants such as lilies, holly, or mistletoe which can be found in many holiday bouquets. Lilies belonging to the genera Lilium and Hemerocallis are the most dangerous plants for our feline friends. Ingestion of even small amounts of the pollen can cause sudden kidney failure in cats. As for the ingestion of holly and mistletoe which are also toxic, you can expect gastrointestinal upset and possibly heart arrhythmias. Those holiday bouquets are beautiful, but they can be deadly to our cats. If you suspect your pet has ingested one of these plants, contact your veterinarian immediately.
Are there any holiday foods that are safe for my cat?
During the holidays, we are greeted with an abundance of confections, baked goods, and rich, fattening foods but beware! What is safe for you may not be safe for your cat or dog. It is best to not feed your pet anything other than his or her regular diet. Foods that can cause problems:
- Chocolate or cocoa contains theobromine which is a highly toxic chemical to cats and dogs. Small amounts can lead to vomiting and diarrhea, but large amounts can cause heart arrythmias and even seizures.
- Bones are best left on the plate or in the trash. Ingestion can result in a foreign body in your cat’s stomach or intestines. Vomiting and diarrhea usually ensue, and surgery may even be required to remove the bone. Chewing on bones can also lead to broken teeth which can be painful and pose an infection risk.
- If your pet ingests any of these food items, or anything else out of the ordinary, contact your veterinarian immediately.
Is it harmful if my cat drinks the Christmas tree water?
Ingestion of the Christmas tree water is not too troublesome, but it can cause some gastrointestinal upset. If preservatives are added to the water, they are not particularly toxic since they are diluted in the water however, some vomiting and diarrhea may occur. Medical treatment is rarely needed unless clinical signs are severe. If you suspect your pet has ingested some Christmas tree water, we suggest contacting your veterinarian so they can work with you to ensure that your pet does not need further care.
What other holidays hazards should I be aware of?
- Holiday ornaments - These can cause injury to the gastrointestinal tract or even obstruction if ingested. Most ornaments are usually not toxic unless they contain poisonous chemicals such as those found in snow globes or bubble lights. Some imported snow globes contain ethylene glycol (antifreeze) which can be fatal if ingested by a cat or dog. Bubble lights contain a chemical called methylene chloride that can cause lethargy, aspiration pneumonia and irritation to the skin, eyes, and gastrointestinal tract in an exposed pet.
- String Lights - Chewing through a light strand can cause electrocution which often presents as difficulty breathing and burns in the mouth. Best to keep the lights unplugged if you cannot be there to supervise.
- Tinsel - Cats may find these crinkly, shiny strands enticing to play with, but ingestion can cause obstruction of the gastrointestinal tract. Best approach is to go tinsel free if you have pets. The same goes for ribbons.
- Essential oils/liquid potpourri- These inviting aromas are great to smell but can cause serious harm to your pets, especially cats. Ingestion of small amounts of liquid potpourri can cause chemical burns in the mouth, difficulty breathing, gastrointestinal upset and even organ damage. Cats lack an essential enzyme in their liver that metabolizes and eliminates essential oils putting them more at risk than dogs. The type of oil and concentration of the oil that an animal is exposed to determines the types of symptoms that will develop. Some common signs of exposure include drooling, vomiting, tremors, ataxia, low blood pressure, low heart rate, difficulty breathing, GI ulcers, seizures, skin irritation and liver and/or kidney failure. Contact your veterinarian immediately if your pet has been exposed, especially if any clinical signs are noted.
How do I prepare for a road trip with my cat during the holidays?
First things first, make sure that you schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to ensure that your pet’s vaccinations are up to date and that they are healthy enough for travel. Is your pet microchipped or wearing a secure collar with ID tags on it? Make sure your pet can find his or her way home if lost. Pets can be carsick just like us. If your pet isn’t used to taking car rides you will probably want to take a few practice runs in the car, gradually increasing the time with each trip. Feed your pet only a small meal two or three hours before your trip to reduce the likelihood of an upset tummy. Also, consider talking to your veterinarian about medications that can help calm your pet or help calm his or her tummy while traveling, if necessary. Don’t forget to pack items to help clean-up your car, especially a few extra towels. Whether you are flying or driving, make sure your pet is secured in a pet carrier. This protects your pet from sudden movements or in the event of an accident. Also, make sure you bring an adequate supply of food and any medications that your pet may need while away from home. You may also want to bring along your pet’s bed or crate so he or she has a familiar place to sleep. Be sure to bring a copy of your pet’s vaccination and medical history in case an unexpected emergency arises while you are away from home. It may be helpful to research veterinary clinics in the area you are traveling in case you need to seek out care for your pet. More importantly, have fun and enjoy your trip together.
One final note-
If your pet happens to run into a mishap during the holidays don’t forget to seek medical care from your pet’s veterinarian especially if he or she is exposed to any toxicants. Your veterinarian may recommend one of the many Royal Canin Veterinary Gastrointestinal diets available to help soothe, nourish and restore your pet’s gastrointestinal tract. Royal Canin wants you and your pet to enjoy the holidays.
--Adrienne Bautista, DVM, PhD, Diplomate ABVT