Festive Foods, Flowers, and Felines Don’t Always Mix

By Kelly E. Connolly

Does your kitty ever get the “Meow-nchies” around this time of year? Will he jump onto the table in order to sample a seasonal bouquet? Is he constantly begging for hearty, holiday fare?

The celebratory season offers a rich variety of foods and pretty ornaments that might appeal to your cat’s epicurean senses, but beware – these delights could lead to all sort of feline health havoc. Read on for a list of holiday foods and plants for your kitty to avoid – and ones he can savor – so both your and your furry friend can celebrate the season in style.

Nom Nom Nom

I don’t know about you, but I’m a sucker for a sugarcoated Christmas cookie.

Or one of those peanut blossom treats with a chocolate kiss on top after a holiday dinner.

But did you know that sugary foods are not recommended for cats? Although it’s true that cats can’t taste sweet things (due to a lack of the Tas1R2 “sweet receptor” protein), that won’t stop many cats (including my own) from trying to score sugary snacks this season.

cats cant taste sweet

However, not only do many dessert delicacies contain Xylitol, an artificial sweetener that can be toxic to animals, but cats are particularly at risk because of theobromine, a chemical compound commonly found in many types of chocolate.

Plus, a diet rich in sugar (which is even found in certain cat treats and dry food) can lead to all sorts of feline health problems, including obesity and diabetes. Diabetes occurs when the pancreas can’t regulate the proper amount of insulin needed to break down sugars in the blood stream. Diabetes Mellitus, also known as “sugar diabetes,” is particularly common in overweight cats, and is a chronic and debilitating disease that could cause lethargy, dehydration, coma, and even death.

So even though you might want to shower your kitty-critter with love this season by spoiling them with rich foods, it will mean much more if you offer them wholesome treats instead. Try giving leafy green veggies or planting some catnip herbs to satiate Fluffy’s cravings. Or dole out small amounts of cheese as tokens of your affection. Believe me, your four-legged friend will thank you in the long run!

safe christmas treats for cats

Dangerous Decorations

You know the old saying, “Curiosity Killed the Cat?” Well, that rings true more often than you know. Humans might love the sight of sparkly tinsel or strings of lights during the holidays, but tinsel, ornament hooks, dangly decorations, and strands of holiday lights can be very dangerous for kitties, especially curious cats with hearty appetites!

These types of adornments can pose potential choking hazards to your cat, and if ingested, can lead to emergency intestinal problems. Metal ornament hooks or glass decorations can also break into sharp pieces that could seriously cut kitty paws or mouths.

All these types of garnishments should be placed well out of reach of your cat, especially those who are prone to jumping onto tables or mantels in search of holiday trimmings – which is almost all of them. You should also use caution when hanging strings of electric lights or using extension cords around the house, lest Fluffy decide to take a bite and receive the shock of his life.

Mealtime Malaise

Who doesn’t love a holiday dinner of turkey, chicken, or ham with all the trimmings?

If you have a cat like I do, he would gobble down an entire side of beef in a minute flat! But animals fed rich holiday food can suffer an array of ailments.

Veterinary annals are full of stories of pets choking on animal bones, often leading to death or serious injury. Moreover, bones may splinter as a cat chews them, leading to mouth, throat, or stomach injuries.

Many human holiday foods are also loaded with calories, or covered in rich sauces that could cause intestinal upset, including pancreatitis, in your cat. And remember to avoid giving leftover animal fat to your cat, because eating too much fat could lead to stomach upset, vomiting, or diarrhea.

don't feed your cat animal fat

Hazardous Houseplants

Food and decorations aren’t the only potential problems your cat could run into this holiday season. Many seasonal plants and flowers are also toxic or poisonous to felines.

Poinsettias, mistletoe, and holly may spread holiday cheer to people worldwide, but if ingested by cats, these plants could lead to severe gastrointestinal upset, coma, or even death.

Lilies, amaryllises, and Christmas pine needles also fall into the “Do Not Ingest” category. To be absolutely safe, refrain from bringing any plant whose toxicity level is unknown into your house, and remind potential houseguests to do the same.

However, if you do have a cat who absolutely insists on munching anything green, try offering him some organically grown cat grass or bamboo instead of a traditional holiday houseplant.

What to Do If Your Cat Has Eaten Something Suspicious

If you suspect your cat has ingested something potentially toxic, call your veterinarian right away, or The Pet Poison Helpline at 1-855-764-7661 (even open on holidays). But if you can remember that caution and moderation are the keys to a safe and healthy holiday season for both humans AND cats, you and your fuzzy friend will enjoy this season without worries.

For a list of foods and substances toxic to cats, please visit Petpoisonhelpline.com. For more information on non-toxic and toxic plants for cats, please visit ASPCA.org.

NOTE: A different version of this article originally appeared on Just-Do-Something.org.

Kelly E. Connolly is an Eastern Attorney who writes on the side. Her expertise in animal issues has led to interviews on television and the radio, and with The New York Times, USA Today, and CNN.com. She shares her home with two mischievous, elderly cats and one goofy, misbehaved dog.