The holiday season is here, and many owners like to share the festivities with their cats.  Why not include these special family members?  Should they miss out on the celebrations?  Of course not!  Let them join in, but beware; educated owners know that many dangers exist concerning holiday foods and their cats.

Cat owners wonder, “What kinds of goodies can I safely feed my cat?”  Cats do not yearn for junk food and sweets the same ways that we do.  They may smell things that are enticing, and seem to be interested in what we are eating, but they should not be fed anything other than small amounts of meat from the table.

During the holidays avoid giving milk, eggnog, cheese, and cream to your cat.  Felines like milk and other dairy products, but in reality, most are fairly lactose intolerant. Cats lack an enzyme in their digestive tracts that allows for the proper digestion and metabolism of cow’s milk.  It is ironic that cats and their love of milk is part of our culture.  It shows that humans are not alone in eating and drinking things that are not suited for their bodies!

Chocolate should never be fed to cats.  Chocolate contains a chemical that cats cannot properly digest, and builds like a toxin in their systems.  The signs associated with chocolate toxicity are vomiting, lethargy, muscle tremors, and possibly seizures or coma.  A small exposure will not be life threatening, but you should consult your veterinarian if your cat eats chocolate.

Sugar-free candies are not typically attractive to cats, but they often contain xylitol.  Xylitol is toxic and can rapidly cause low blood sugar and possibly seizures when ingested.

Alcoholic beverages should never be given to cats.  Their small bodies are not equipped to adequately detoxify alcohol.  They can develop alcohol poisoning, which is potentially fatal.  Cats should also be kept away from directly inhaling cigarette or cigar smoke.  Nicotine is toxic to cats, and any type of second hand smoke causes respiratory irritation and even lung cancer.

There are potential risks that can arise with the ingestion of holiday food items. Even if you use caution and avoid feeding holiday food to cats, other dangers can exist.  Turkey carcasses and bones sitting out or in the garbage may attract your cat.  Bones can become lodged in a cat’s mouth or obstruct the intestinal tract and cause severe problems.  If bones make it down into the stomach and intestines, it could be days before a cat would show any signs of illness.  Signs would be vomiting, listlessness, anorexia, and abdominal pain.

Some poultry and hams are tied up with string or netting.  These substances can cause obstructions of the cat’s intestines if they are eaten.  Strings are extremely dangerous because they cause bunching of the intestines.  Be sure to properly dispose of all packaging materials and strings, by placing them in a closed garbage container that your cat cannot access.

Historically poinsettias have been considered toxic plants, but in reality they may only cause mild stomach irritation and vomiting when eaten.  Mistletoe, on the other hand, should never be in reach of a cat.

Holiday decorations including tinsel, ribbons, and yarn are hazards if your cat decides to eat them.  These items cause intestinal obstructions. Some cats like to bat or chew on ornaments. Keep these items out of your cat’s reach.  Christmas tree water can also be very irritating to a cat’s stomach.

The stealth nature of cats makes it difficult to know what the animal has gotten in to. What should you do if you suspect that your cat has eaten something that it should not have?  You should monitor the pet for any vomiting, diarrhea, straining, or anorexia.  If these signs are present, you should consult with your veterinarian.

As you can see, preventing exposure to hazards during the holiday season will save you and your cat from potentially life threatening problems.  Protect your cat from foods it should not eat.  Dispose of garbage securely and keep your cat safely away.  Use good common sense and hygiene when handling and storing food products.  Remind your holiday guests to refrain from sharing their goodies with your pet.  Monitor your cat for any signs of illness.  Although it sounds complicated, it is easy to have a safe and festive holiday season with your cat.

Written by Dr. Wexler-Mitchell of The Cat Care Clinic in Orange, CA
Copyright © 2011 The Cat Care Clinic