Helping to Keep Your Cats Safe and Stress-Free Through Winter
Christmas is a wonderful time of year as we decorate our homes and share food and fun with friends. But it can be a challenging, or even dangerous time for pet cats.
Many festive foods can cause stomach upsets, or worse in cats. Cats are less likely to eat large amounts of toxic foods than dogs, but you should still take care to keep them away from foods including;
Raisins/ Currants/ grapes
Garlic and onions
Salty foods (cured meats and fish)
If your cat eats anything they shouldn’t call your vet or Animal Poison Line.
It’s lovely to include your cat in the festivities with a special festive meal and some tasty treats, but don’t indulge them too much.
Short-term overeating can cause vomiting and diarrhoea, and long-term overeating can cause obesity. Obesity can increase the risk of your cat developing arthritis, bladder problems, diabetes, and even some cancers.
To check if your cat is overweight and for ideas on how to help them slim down check out our blog on obesity which includes a link to a body condition score chart.
Decorating our homes with evergreens is a midwinter tradition that pre-dates Christianity. Most plants will cause only mild oral irritation (drooling and pawing at the face) or vomiting and diarrhoea, but some Lilies can cause fatal kidney failure if any part (including pollen) is ingested. The following list has most of the most common toxic plants for cats at Christmas, but keep all plants and flower arrangements well out of reach.
Glittery Christmas decorations and twinkly lights are impossible for most cats to resist!
Christmas trees: The needles can cause injuries to the eyes and mouth, and fake snow or fire-retardant spray can be toxic if ingested. Cats love to climb! Make sure your tree can’t fall down.
Candles: An obvious risk. Wax and flames can burn curious kitties, but if knocked over you could lose your whole home! Choose artificial flame alternatives.
Fairy lights: Cats love to chew wires so use a circuit breaker and keep wires hidden.
Snow globes: These are generally a safer decoration, but if they fall and smash some contain ethylene glycol which is very toxic to pets.
Tree decorations: Choose shatterproof baubles and make sure tinsel isn’t eaten by your cat.
Avoiding stress at Christmas
Christmas can be a stressful time for humans, let alone for cats who like their routine. Ensure your cat has a safe and quiet space to hide away during times when the house is busy with festive guests and can always exit a busy environment. Some cats enjoy hiding in high-up places, so consider a cat tree in their safe space.
If you have a social cat you might be able to teach them to like guests by asking your visitors to give them some treats. Be sure not to go over their daily allowance though! Guests must understand that the cat comes first and should be told not to approach the cat in their safe space or to try and pick up or stroke the cat.
Think of ways to make your party more cat friendly such as avoiding party poppers and very loud music. If a party is going to be big and loud, consider boarding your cat in a licenced cattery for a few days.
When hosting family and friends at Christmas, keep your cat’s routine as regular as possible. If you need to move litter trays, water, and feeding places do this in plenty of time so your cat can adjust. Don’t drop below 1 litter tray per cat plus a spare because a case of cystitis or inappropriate urination in a corner is not what anyone wants for Christmas!
Your cat might appreciate a pre-Christmas gift of a scratching post or a lovely cosy covered bed to hide away in. OSCAR have a wide range of calming treats, tablets, and pheromones to help your cat stay chilled over the festive period.
Cat calming & anxiety products we offer:
New Year's Eve Celebrations
People love to let off fireworks during the winter months. They are an important part of celebrations including New Year’s Eve, Diwali, and Guy Fawkes Night, but they can be distressing for some pets.
Keep your cats indoors after dark, providing plenty of indoor enrichment. Cats are safest indoors at night year-round as this reduces the risk of incidents with cars and catfights.
Desensitisation to fireworks can work with cats as well as with dogs. Play firework sounds or videos while playing with, feeding, or stroking your cat. Most cats would rather just find a cosy place to hunker down though, so provide this as well. If your cat comes to you for comfort during fireworks then do stroke or groom them, or simply let them sit with you. Never restrain a cat and force them to interact. A big cuddle could add to their stress if they feel trapped.
If planning a display let your neighbours know, make sure your cat is safe and secure during the event, and consider quiet fireworks. Take care to ensure all fireworks and sparklers are out and that cats can’t chew spent firework parts or hot sparkler sticks.
If your event will involve a bonfire this should only be constructed on the day of the event to avoid it becoming a sheltering spot for wildlife and cats.
These are generally safer alternatives to sparklers, but the liquid inside can be irritant to the eyes and mouth. If your cat chews a glow stick contact your vet or Animal Poison Line for advice.
Over the festive period you may have more guests and deliveries than usual which increase the risk of your cat escaping the house, or even leaving home to find a peaceful space. Fireworks or noisy street parades could spook your cat and cause them to run off. It is important to microchip your cat, even indoor cats, and to have the chip checked regularly to ensure it works.
From the 10th June 2024 microchipping cats will be compulsory, as will keeping your contact details up to date on a government-recognised database.
If your cat wears a collar this can carry a tag with your contact details, but always choose one which will break away if your cat is caught up. You might also want to invest in a GPS tracker to keep tabs on your outdoor cat! Using a Weenect Cat Tracker, you can track your cat's movements on a real time map via a smartphone app (iOS and Android). The cat tracker collar allows you to locate your pet wherever it happens to be.
Anti-freeze poisoning in cats
Ethylene glycol is used in some anti-freeze products. Small amounts can cause severe kidney injury and is often fatal. Cats are most likely to ingest ethylene glycol from a contaminated puddle or from grooming themselves.
Ethylene glycol is not usually an ingredient of car screen wash but is common in engine anti-freeze. Use these products carefully and clear up any spills. Ethylene glycol may also be found in some water features and in snow globes.
Signs of poisoning
Often no signs initially (for the first half an hour of ingesting)
Drinking a lot of water
Lack of coordination
Abnormally fast heartbeat
Shallow but fast breathing
By the time symptoms appear it is usually too late to save the cat. If you see your cat ingest anti-freeze, contact your vet immediately. Early cases can be treated with intravenous alcohol!
Reduce the risk of ethylene glycol poisoning by using alternative products where possible. If there is no alternative use and store the products carefully, clearing up any spills straight away. Make sure your cat has access to fresh water at all times indoors and out.
Consider wiping your cats’ paws when they come indoors. Their paws may be contaminated with road salt as well as antifreeze. Dirt and ice can also ball between the pads of longhaired cats so train your cat to put up with gentle foot care.
Cats and cars
Cars present a danger to cats all year round, but vets do see an increase in car-related injuries in winter for a number of reasons.
Cats sheltering from the cold
During cold weather, cats can take shelter for warmth by hiding under the bonnet and wheel arches. Cats can be badly injured when the engine starts up. Always check your wheels and tap your bonnet before setting off on a journey, especially if you see paw prints on the bonnet!
Helping to keep your cat visible during dark nights
Darker nights mean that your cat may be difficult to see for drivers. It is recommended that cats are kept in after dark to reduce accidents, but dark days can be a problem too.
Consider a reflective collar, but remember that these are less effective on long-haired cats. Always use a safety collar that will fall off if the cat is caught up.
General advice for avoiding stress this winter
Cats should have access to an indoor litter tray all year round, however, it is more of a necessity during the colder months so that they are not forced to go out in cold or wet weather. Avoiding urination can lead to cystitis and kidney problems, and avoiding defaecation can cause painful constipation. Older cats and those with medical problems are even more likely to appreciate a safe indoor toilet.
The rule of thumb is to provide a tray for each cat, plus at least one extra. Place these in quiet areas and away from food, water, and beds. You may need to offer different types of litter to a cat who prefers going outdoors to find what they like to use best. Most cats prefer not to use a try in a corner or a covered tray as this can make them feel vulnerable.
Your cat should have access to water both inside and out of the house. In cold weather, the water may freeze so ensure water bowls are regularly cleaned and kept free of ice. Some cats prefer filtered or rain water over tap water, while others enjoy running water from a cat fountain. Keep water bowls out of corners and away from food and litter trays.
Cold and wet weather, plus short days might mean your cat is spending less time outside which means they may be getting less physical and mental exercise. Consider active feeding to keep them entertained and moving, and offer them different toys each day on a rotating basis.
Adjusting your cat's diet to fit their exercise levels
If your cat is less active in winter it may also be worth adjusting their diet to cater for less movement. OSCAR Neutered Cat is suitable for all neutered cats from 4 months, as well as those who are less active or prone to weight gain
If your cat loves to be outside provide them with a sturdy waterproof place to shelter. If they use a cat flap make sure this doesn’t get stuck shut by ice, snow, or fallen leaves. If you have been working in the shed make sure your cat hasn’t found a cosy place to settle down before you lock up!
Fleas and ticks
Fleas are a year-round problem thanks to our centrally heated homes and snuggly soft furnishings. Keep up with your cat’s regular flea control, and if you see flea dirt in the coat consider a home treatment too. Find out more about fleas in these previous blogs:
Ticks are less of a problem for cats, but may still be found especially in rodent nests! If you find a tick on your cat, ask your vet for advice. Most over-the-counter flea treatments will not control ticks on cats and dog tick treatments can be fatal for cats.
Do you need further advice?
If you need any further advice, please contact the OSCAR Helpline Team on our freephone number 0800 195 8000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.