Ever year this time of year, we  hear how dangerous poinsettias are for cats. While they contain a milky sap that can cause digestive upset, such as vomiting, drooling, or rarely, diarrhea, there are other holiday hazards that are far more dangerous.

Top 5 Holiday Cat Hazards

  • Decorations: Tinsel, glass ornaments, spray on snow/flocking, foil, plastic wrap/shrink-wrap, styrofoam peanuts and ribbon can all be life-threatening if eaten by your cat. When lodged in the esophagus, stomach or intestines, they may require emergency surgery.
  • Mistletoe: The plant, and particularly the berries, are extremely toxic to pets. The most severe cases can cause low blood pressure, stumbling and even seizures.
  • Christmas lilies: All plants in the lily family are are highly toxic to cats. Just one small bite of a flower, leaf, stem or even the pollen of this plant can cause gastric distress, and, if left untreated, can lead to fatal kidney failure.
  • Christmas tree preservatives: Tree preservatives added to the tree stand can harbor dangerous chemicals, and a thirsty or curious cat may decide to use the tree stand as a drinking bowl.
  • Potpourri:  Many liquid potpourri products and essential oils, including oil of cinnamon, citrus, pennyroyal, peppermint, pine, sweet birch, tea tree (melaleuca), wintergreen, and ylang ylang, are poisonous to cats. Both ingestion and skin exposure can be toxic. Additionally, a cat’s sense of smell is so much more developed than ours, and what smells nice to us can be overpowering for sensitive feline noses.

Never try to pull out a string or object that is protruding from your cat’s mouth. Take your cat to your veterinarian or the nearest emergency clinic immediately.

The veterinarians at VRCC Veterinary Specialty & Emergency Hospital in Englewood, CO, sent me some rather dramatic x-ray images of Hank, a cat who swallowed thread that was used for stringing popcorn – with the needle still attached. Click on the images to enlarge.

x-ray cat needle and threadx-ray cat ate needle and thread

Luckily, Hank’s case had a good outcome: his internal medicine specialist was able to remove the needle and the string using an endoscope.

By taking some common sense precautions, you and your feline family members can all enjoy a safe and happy holiday season.

This post was first published in November of 2011 and has been updated.

26 Comments on More Toxic Than Poinsettias: Top 5 Holiday Cat Hazards

  1. Damn, these are some terrifying pictures. This is why I have to make sure that my cat is kept away from the Christmas tree all the time, but it’s impossible. So we have to make sure the power cords are kept at a safe distance to where she won’t reach.

  2. I haven’t had an x-mas tree since the 1970s. We had a cat who would eat anything with pointy leaves or the like. The broom had to be locked away where he couldn’t get to it. I tried putting a plant on top of a bookcase and he demonstrated how high he could jump. We just gave up the tree idea. Could’ve hung it from the ceiling and he would have gotten to it. Seijin is long gone now, but I’ve never wanted to try a tree again. Now I just hang lights in places not interesting to cats. Or the balls I would’ve put on a tree in some other place, sometimes in a cluster like grapes, again either where cats can’t possibly get to them or won’t be tempted. This year I adopted a 12 yr old cat who is crazy about little balls. Makes up her own games to play with them when I’m not available, so no decorative balls here this year!

  3. Friend’s 2 YO cat swallowed sewing thread. Just thread, no needle — the thread sawed his intestines in half. Vet did a re-section. ALas…there was MORE sewing thread further down the intestine. Sawed his intestine in half again. Unable to save him– he had to be eunthanized. But my friend said “The Cat Was Stupid!!” NO — the cat was not the stupid one……….

  4. Thanks for the list. It’s always good to have a reminder. I had a cat eat tinsel once. I didn’t know about it until I saw sparkles on his butt. I didn’t know any better and just gently tugged it loose. Luckily he had passed most of it. I never used tinsel again.

  5. My human remembers putting tinsel on the tree every year as a child, and her parents reminding her not to let the cat play with it. I don’t know how those cats lived – I would have chewed on it for sure. Once my human was on her own, tinsel never came into her home at the holidays.

  6. 4-5 years ago our kitty Paigey got terribly I’ll with some kind of respitory virus that almost killed her. Our 4 kitties are inside only. The only different thing in our home was a live Christmas tree. She always was trying to drink the tree water. Although it was never proven we blame the tree. Since then we have an artificial tree! Although we miss the lovely fragrance of a real Christmas tree I have this horrible fear of them in our home!! Paigey is healthy & happy besides some serious arthritis!! Our tree always looks funny because I don’t put anything on the entire bottom of the tree lol. We joke when putting the tree skirt on.. Throw it on the floor in a ball because that’s how it will end up several times a day hehe. I also tie the tree to the banister on the stairs. Just in case they get any ideas I try my best to hide the rope. It’s better to be safe than sorry!!

  7. I’m fortunate enough that my kitties don’t chew on the tree. We get a fake one prelit… plastic ornaments… and I always leave one plastic one (no string no hook… just the ball) on the floor. Keeps the curious one out of the tree. Never leave a tree or lights lit unattended. And bitter apple/bitter spray works too. Never ever any tinsel or spray snow. And we put the Christmas town where we know catzilla won’t jump 🙂 Avoid candy canes on trees or candies in open dishes. have a safe christmas everyone!!

  8. Just the other day someone posted on Facebook that they came home to find their kitten had strangled on a string of lights on their tree. They had just put it up the night before and were horrified and devastated. 🙁

  9. My little Max thought the tree was his toy. I finally had to wire the tree to the wall using bolts! He also loved to chew on the light wires…soon learned to love a tree with no lights, no tinsel, and only plastic ornaments…plastic ornaments that stopped 1 foot from the bottom of the tree. I’d get home from work, and Max would be sitting about my eye level, in the tree. We really had some strange looking trees when Max was with us. He was ornery, fun, and I still miss him.

  10. when Magick was a kitten he chomped down on one of the tiny built-in lights on the pre-lit tree and I had to sweep crumbled glass out of his mouth. we have used LED lit trees or lights ever since.

  11. This is why I never use tinsel on the tree or curling ribbon on any presents the kitties can get at – my oldest ate them both MANY times over the years before I figured out that I just needed to ban them entirely. Sometimes she managed to get a hold of some that I wasn’t even sure where it came from! So no tinsel in my house, and any ribbon that comes in on a present immediately finds a sealed trash! Luckily it never seemed to cause her any harm, as I would inevitably find it later in the litter box obviously having gone through her whole system (sparing you the image there). I was so lucky!

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