Cat Christmas Safety Tips: Avoid These Holiday Hazards

| Preston Turano DVM

Don't let a pet health emergency get in the way of holiday fun! Make sure to keep your cat away from Christmas trees and these other holiday toxins.


No matter how you celebrate this holiday season, everyone can keep things “merry and bright” by considering their cat’s safety.

Here are some common holiday household hazards to keep far away from your felines:


A lovely holiday house plant that comes up often in pet owner questions is the poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima). These tropical plants are commonly recognized for their red, white, pink, or mottled leaves. They also have a deep green stem with many green leaves below the vibrant colored ones.

The flowers of this plant are the tiny yellow structures seen near the base of the colored leaves. Its toxin comes from its sap, which helps keep moisture in the plant and prevents animals and insects from eating it. Fortunately, the toxicity from the sap is mild and usually produces minimal to no signs if it gets on a cat’s skin or in their eyes. 

If it is ingested, it may cause mild to moderate gastrointestinal upset in cats, with some salivation, vomiting, or diarrhea. If you notice any of these symptoms and have poinsettias around the house, it is still best to contact your local veterinarian or emergency veterinary facility for advice. Although toxicity is typically mild, it is best to keep these plants out of your cat’s reach, mostly because nobody wants to clean up vomit during the holidays or take their cat for a trip to the ER due to dehydration.

Christmas Trees

Veterinarians often get calls this time of year about cats that drank Christmas tree water, which commonly has a preservative added to it. Ingredients are often just diluted sugar with some mixture of fertilizer containing nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

The good news is that most cats don’t develop any symptoms, and a few might get mild gastrointestinal upset. If you notice vomiting or diarrhea, it is still best to call your local veterinarian and review the product’s ingredients.

The bigger concern with Christmas trees (no matter the species) comes with ingestion of the pine needles. This can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, anorexia, abdominal pain, and pancreatitis. If enough needles are ingested, they can cause an intestinal obstruction that may need surgical removal.

My own cat once ingested tree needles, and required hospitalization and treatment for a week due to pancreatitis, vomiting, and inappetence. It took a few weeks for his appetite to return to normal.

The best way to stay safe is to keep your cat away from the Christmas tree in general.


Another common holiday hazard that is tempting for playful cats and dangerous if ingested is tinsel. Yes, that shiny, sparkling decoration hanging on the tree or part of the ribbon on a present is actually taunting your cat. For your carnivorous cat, tinsel looks like a shiny worm or other prey species, and they are dying to pounce on it.

The real problem occurs when the tinsel is ingested by your kitty. As the intestines try to move the tinsel down to the colon, the decoration starts to drag and pull on the interior, which can lead to an accordion effect. When one part of the intestinal tract enters the lumen of another it is called intussusception and is extremely dangerous.

The tinsel will continue to twist and tangle the intestines, causing blockage and even cutting off the blood supply. These patients need hospitalization, surgical removal of the tinsel, or in severe cases where blood supply is compromised, an intestinal resection and anastomosis. If you’re a cat owner, it is probably best to just skip adding tinsel to your tree altogether.

In the end, we all want Christmas to be “merry and bright” and with as few complications as possible. Save yourself the headache of making an unnecessary trip to the veterinary ER by keeping your holiday household safe for your cats too.

Don't let an emergency get in the way of your holiday fun. Having pet insurance can help you prepare for the unexpected, allowing you to focus more on your cat’s health and less on costly veterinary bills. Click here for a quote from AKC Pet Insurance (underwritten by Independence American Insurance Company) today!

Preston Turano DVM

Dr. Preston Turano graduated from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in 2002. Since that time, he has been a Veterinarian, Medical Director, and Practice Owner.


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