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The 12 Days of Christmas Dangers for Cats

The 12 Days of Christmas Dangers for Cats


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It’s all fun and games at Christmastime, until someone ends up in the veterinary emergency room.


Christmas is a wonderful time of year for us humans. But for kitties, not so much.


It seems that everything that means “Christmas” to people, from turkey drippings to tinsel, is a potential hazard for cats. It’s all too tempting, too scary, or too toxic.


But it doesn’t have to be that way. With a little planning and forethought, you can safely celebrate, even with cats in the house.


Here’s a guide to keeping the “happy” in “Happy Holidays” for cat guardians at Christmas.


1. The live tree


So, this is the cat talking: you take a big tree from outside, and you bring it inside, and you DON’T want me to climb on it? You’ve got to be kidding.


Christmas trees can topple


Cats climb trees. Period. You’re not going to convince yours otherwise. The problem with Christmas trees, unlike living trees that are rooted firmly in the earth, is that Christmas trees can topple. Here are a few funny/not-so-funny videos if you’re not convinced it will happen.


Christmas trees are toxic


The other potential problem with live trees is that they may be toxic, or the water they’re standing in may be toxic.


Pines and firs naturally contain chemicals called “terpenes.” Terpenes are what give Christmas trees their irresistible scent. If a cat consumes any part of the tree or sap, the terpenes can cause:



Pine resin, preservatives, and any fire retardants sprayed on a tree can also leech into the water you’re using that keep the tree fresh. And bacteria and mold can grow in the water, too.


I promise you, the one time your cat wants to drink water from “his bowl,” is the time a giant, toxic tree is sitting in it.


Tree needles are dangerous


And the final problem with living Christmas trees are the needles, which are surprisingly sharp. If a cat were to swallow one, it would likely cause internal damage.


The only way to keep the cat safe with a tree around is to lock one or the other behind closed doors when you’re not home to supervise.


2. The artificial tree


cat with artificial christmas tree

OK, so you’ll get an artificial tree, for the cat’s sake, of course.


While an artificial tree avoids the dangers of terpenes and dirty water, it introduces some additional concerns for human and cat alike.


Unfortunately, most artificial trees are made in China using polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a kind of plastic. PVC, all by itself, releases irritating gases into the air.


But in artificial Christmas trees, PVC is rarely used by itself. PVC is often treated with lead as a stabilizer, and phthalates to make the PVC more flexible. Both tend to shed into the air, and accumulate as dust on surfaces.


And both are linked with a wide variety of health concerns in humans, from diabetes, obesity, and reproductive disorders for phthalates, to neurological damage for lead.[2]


Today, many artificial tree manufacturers advertise their products as being free of PVCs. Consider purchasing one of these, or replacing an older tree with a newer, safer model.


Fake needles can be dangerous, too


Unfortunately, some cats are as attracted to the fake needles on an artificial tree, as they are to the needles on a live tree.


Some cats are particularly attracted to plastic (read this post on plastic and cats to learn more). But just like a real tree, the needles on an artificial tree are sharp, and can cause a serious, life-threatening intestinal blockage or damage if swallowed.


3. Tinsel and ribbon


gifts with ribbon

There is not a cat alive who can resist a bit of string, especially a shiny string that quivers with the tiniest movement.


To your cat, tinsel is not holiday décor, and ribbon is not Christmas wrapping. They are both string, plain and simple.


There’s a reason cats play with string, especially string that crinkles or unfurls the way tinsel and ribbon tend to do. I’ve written all about the appeal (and dangers) of string in this post, “My cat ate a string! What should I do?


The problem is that playing with string is a form of hunting play for cats, and the final stage of “the hunt,” is the kill bite. Once a cat chomps down on a piece of tinsel or ribbon, they’re almost forced to swallow it. The design of a cat’s tongue makes it almost impossible for a cat to spit the string back out again.


Best case scenario, a piece of swallowed string just makes its way on through the digestive tract and into the litter box.


Worst case scenario, it gets stuck.


A stuck piece of string (or tinsel, or ribbon), becomes a “linear foreign body” in veterinary terms. And this is where all the problems begin.


In short, a cat’s intestines can get bunched up around a piece of stuck string, and the stuck string can kind of “saw” its way through the cat’s gut. This is a life-threatening emergency.

If you see a piece of ribbon or tinsel in your cat’s mouth, throat, or anus, DO NOT PULL THE STRING. Call your veterinarian immediately.


4. Ornaments


cat christmas ornaments

Look what you’ve done: you’ve put all of the cat’s favorite toys all over the tree.


Put ornaments on a Christmas tree and you’ve literally built a kitty Disneyworld in your living room. Expect your cat to become infatuated with a decorated tree.


Ornaments can be delicate things. Many are fragile, and shatter into sharp bits upon falling. Others contain parts and pieces that could be accidentally swallowed. The paint and glitter on ornaments are definitely not cat-safe.


Edible holiday ornaments, like popcorn strings, and ornaments made with dough or macaroni, are especially dangerous. Because they smell like food, they can be particularly appealing to certain cats, and are most definitely potential choking hazards.


Put away the heirloom ornaments and the delicate glass ones. These are intended for cat-free households. Forget about ornaments made from any kind of food.


Put ornaments made of wood, cloth, or straw closer to the bottom of the tree. If a cat takes a swat at those, they’re unlikely to break and harm a cat when they inevitably fall.

the last thing an ornament sees before it dies 

5. Holiday food


Let’s face it: most holiday food isn’t healthful for any of us.


But while the consequences for a human who overindulges during Christmas might be just a bellyache, the repercussions for a cat can be far more serious. Many foods that appear on our holiday table are actually poisonous for cats.


You may already know that onions, garlic, chocolate, and grapes are toxic for cats. You can read this post for the full list of foods you should never feed your cat.


holiday meal

But you probably didn’t know that foods like gravy or cream can also cause severe distress for a cat. Most adult cats are actually lactose-intolerant, and even a little whipped cream scooped from a slice of pumpkin pie could cause terrible diarrhea.


Here’s a post about why dairy-containing products and cats don’t mix.


High fat foods, like turkey skin, can raise the level of lipids in the blood and cause pancreatitis, a very painful and potentially fatal disease. In a cat suffering from pancreatitis, enzymes in the pancreas actually start to consume the organ itself.


The high salt content of pan drippings and gravy can also be dangerous for cats. It can lead to a condition called hyponatremia, in which the kidneys can’t rid the body of all that excess sodium quickly enough.[3] Hyponatremia can be fatal.


What your cat can eat on Christmas


The Christmas table is not all doom and gloom for cats, however. There are some foods that you can safely offer to your cat as a treat on Christmas.


Your cat can have a small amount of any lean, low-salt, gravy-free cooked meat, poultry, or fish on Christmas.


For example, a small piece of shredded turkey meat can be added to your cat’s regular dinner. You don’t have to overdo it – cats’ digestive systems can rebel when too much of a new food is offered all at once – but you can feel comfortable having your cat celebrate in this small way with your family.


If you think your cat may have had a bite of something he shouldn’t, call one of these pet poison hotlines immediately:


ASPCA Animal Poison Control: (888) 426-4435

Pet Poison Helpline: (855) 764-7661


6. Electrical cords


(*This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.)


cat with string lights

It’s just too tempting: it’s a string and it sparkles! At Christmastime, our houses tend to be crisscrossed with electrical cords and light strings.


Cats are weirdly attracted to electrical cords, and it’s likely because they’re coated in plastic. Plastic is strangely appealing material to cats, probably for a number of reasons.


Some cats enjoy chewing – perhaps out of boredom, or because the drive to chew never gets satisfied when your food comes in a can – and it’s possible that the plastic coating on wires have just the right amount of satisfying “give.”


If you have a cord-chewer, you have to double down on your efforts to keep the cords from cat, as this behavior could lead to burns and electrocution.


How to keep cats from chewing on electrical cords


  • Keep cords up and out of the way.
  • Secure dangling cords, or cords that are lying on the floor, just begging to be played with.
  • Run cords through PVC piping, if possible, to keep them completely out of your kitty’s reach.
  • If there are cords that cannot be hidden or secured, try smearing them with something unpleasant, like a commercial bitter-apple product (such as this one by Gannick’s), hot sauce, or even Vicks VapoRub.
  • Offer safer opportunities for chewing, like these chicken sticks by Sheba or Blue Buffalo.

7. Plants


Poinsettias and holly are traditional. Mistletoe is just plain fun. Lilies brighten up a cold winter day. But are they safe around cats?





Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) are considered mildly toxic to pets.


This means that if your cat isn’t showing interest in your poinsettia plants, you can probably keep them around. If your cat is obsessed with your poinsettias, consider silk plants. Some are surprisingly lifelike.


If your cat eats a bit of poinsettia, he might experience vomiting, drooling, and, rarely, diarrhea. If the milky sap from the plant touches his skin, it might become red, itchy or swollen. The sap can also irritate a cat’s eyes.


Poinsettia poisonings rarely require medical attention and there is no antidote, anyway. But call your vet if symptoms become severe.[4]





There are actually two varieties of mistletoe: Phoradendron serotinum (the American variety), and Viscum album (the European variety). Both are bad for cats, but the European variety is more toxic.


Keep both types out of the house if you have cats. It’s just not worth it. If a cat ingests a little mistletoe, she’ll probably experience gastrointestinal upset, including drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain.


But if she eats more than a little, the consequences could be dire. Pets have died from consuming mistletoe. It causes an abnormal heart rate, low blood pressure, and seizures, among other symptoms.[5]





The berries are the worst part of the holly (Ilex opaca) plant, from the point of view of toxicity, but no part of this plant is safe for cats to eat. Even the spiky leaves can cause damage to a cat’s mouth.


Like the poinsettia, it’s the sap of the holly plant that usually causes all the trouble. If a cat ingests a little holly, he’ll probably end up with stomach pain, vomiting, and diarrhea, which will likely resolve on its own.[6]


But if he eats more than a little, he might need intervention from a veterinarian to prevent dehydration and more serious consequences.


Christmas cactus


Christmas cactus

Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii), so called because it blooms in December or January (there are other varieties that bloom in fall and spring),[7] is considered non-toxic.


But it can cause irritation to the gastrointestinal tract, leading to vomiting and diarrhea, so keep this rainforest beauty away from your kitties.





Amarayllis (Amaryllis) is also known as the Aztec lily, orchid lily, or naked lily. But it’s not a true lily. Thank goodness.


True lilies are so deadly that a cat could die from licking a few specks of lily pollen from her paws, or from taking a sip of water from a vase that contained cut lilies.[8]


Amaryllis is safer, relatively speaking. If your cat were to eat a few leaves, the alkaloids in them would likely cause an upset stomach.


But eating a large number of leaves, or consuming a portion of the bulb, where the alkaloids are most concentrated, could cause more serious effects, including low blood pressure, weakness, and seizures.[9]


8. Candles

cat with candles

I feel like Scrooge, writing this blog post.


The warm glow of candlelight has been illuminating holiday mantles and tabletops for millennia. For some, candlelight evokes the guiding star of Bethlehem. For others it symbolizes hope and spirituality. For others still, it’s a welcoming sign to guests: come inside and celebrate the season with us.


For people with cats, however, candles are a menace.


The wax


A candle is a candle is a candle, right?


Wrong. There are candles made of paraffin but also candles made of soy, coconut, and beeswax. And they’re not created equal.


Paraffin wax is made from petroleum, and the smoke it produces contains cancer-causing particles, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.[10] If paraffin candles are dangerous to humans, they are likely dangerous to cats, too.


One study compared the soot produced by various candle materials found that soy and beeswax burned at a much slower rate than paraffin, and produced much less soot.


The fragrance


Most scented candles contain synthetic fragrances which emit dangerous volatile organic compounds (VOCs), such as formaldehyde, even when they’re not being burned! In humans, VOCs can cause everything from headaches, to asthma and cancer.


But natural scents, typically from essential oils, can be equally dangerous to cats, if not more so. Cats almost completely lack liver enzymes that humans have to metabolize the compounds in many essential oils. Exposure to essential oils can lead to liver failure, seizures, and even death in cats.


Get the full story about essential oils in this post, “Are essential oils safe for cats?


The flame


christmas candle

Do you have one of those cats who like to knock things off shelves? Do not put a lit candle around any gravity-testing cats. You’re just asking for a house fire.


Even if your cat can be trusted around your favorite Hummels, she probably can’t be trusted around a lit candle.


Cats, who are forever seeking warmth, are attracted to lit candles like a moth to a…well you get the idea.


Singed whiskers or much, much worse might result.


Read about why cats like to knock things over in this post.


9. Chaos


holiday guests

House guests are in and out. You’re singing loudly to the Christmas tunes blasting from your iPhone. There’s drinking and strangers and somebody just took a tree that belongs outside, into the house!


So much fun! Unless you’re a cat.


Cats are not so far removed from their wild relatives, who survived by being hyper-aware of changes in their environment. Their hearing is much keener than ours and their sense of smell is acute. Cats notice even tiny changes, and they don’t like it.


Read more about how cats feel about change in this post.


We humans understand what causes holiday noise (and we even welcome it). Many of us enjoy the comings and goings of friends and family at this time of year.


But cats can’t make sense of this sudden upside-down world they’re living in. They don’t know what will and won’t harm them, and they’re constantly on alert.


cat hiding

Consider creating a “sanctuary” room for a sensitive cat who does not enjoy the ruckus. The room should include a comfortable bed, a litter box, food, and water, or even a white noise machine if you have one. (I own this one by Buffbee and use it as an alarm clock and white-noise machine for myself and I LOVE it.)


Keep the door closed and instruct guests that the room is off-limits.


A side note: a stressed cat often doesn’t like to be petted. I know it seems counterintuitive, but not all creatures are soothed by touch the way many humans are. Sometimes being touched or constrained, even if it’s intended in a loving way, can add to the stress that a cat may be feeling.


So, don’t force a cat to submit to this kind of attention if it doesn’t comfort him.


10. Fake snow or flocking


Fake snow, artificial snow, or flocking can really help set a Christmas scene. There’s nothing like snow, both real and faux, to make it feel like Christmas.


How many ways can you flock a tree?


People have been trying to recreate snow indoors for centuries. In the 1800s they used flour and cotton. In the late 1920s, an issue of Popular Mechanics recommended a mixture of varnish, cornstarch, and mica to create a snowy effect.[11]


Today, the look of real snow is created by spraying, misting, or painting tiny fibers, dust, or powder onto tree branches. You can buy a pre-flocked artificial tree, or you can DIY your own flocking. Some live-Christmas-tree sellers will add flocking on the lot for a fee.


What are the dangers of flocking?


cat and Christmas tree with flocking

Because there are so many formulations out there, it’s impossible to say with certainty whether the flocking material itself is toxic if ingested by a cat. Some contain animal fats and oils to help the fake snow form flakes. Some contain propellants, and chemicals to keep the stuff liquid-y enough to spray out of aerosol cans. Others contain glues that help the flocking stick to surfaces.


Poison Control contends the flocking material itself is unlikely to cause poisoning. The real risk is that the product could expand when swallowed, causing a choking hazard, or intestinal blockage.[12]


The other potential danger of flocking for animals (and people) who breathe, is that the dust and fibers can be irritating to lungs. There’s actually a disease called Flock Worker’s Lung, a serious condition for factory workers who are breathing this material all day long.[13]


The real risk of flocking for cats is that it doesn’t stay where it’s put. Flocking flakes off and can be eaten or inhaled by a cat. Here’s a story about two cats in Australia who died after sleeping in the box that contained the flocked family tree. It’s believed that they ate some of the flocking, although it’s equally possible they merely inhaled it.


In my opinion, there’s nothing that looks as good as a healthy cat around the Christmas tree. I’d leave the fake snow off.


11. Alcohol


alcoholic punch and cat

If your celebrations include a little toasting with adult beverages, keep your drinks where your cats can’t get to them. Instruct guests to do the same.


Alcohol contains ethanol. Ethanol poisoning can lead to a slowed heart rate, heart attack, seizures, and coma. One teaspoon of alcohol will cause alcohol poisoning and requires an immediate trip to the emergency vet. Three teaspoons of whisky will actually kill a five-pound cat.


You might think that your cat would never be interested in alcohol, and you might be right. But they might be interested in the cream in drinks like eggnog, or cream liqueurs. Do not allow anyone to leave a drink unattended around your cat.


12. Snow globes


snow globe

Snow globes are beautiful and safe for cats until “someone” decides it might be fun to knock one over.


The liquid inside a snow globe sometimes contains ethylene glycol, which is the same compound that makes antifreeze poisonous.[14] Even a tiny amount can cause kidney failure in cats.[15]


It’s hard to know how much ethylene glycol is in your snow globe, so keep cats away. And don’t leave cats home alone with a snow globe within reach.




cat on lap at Christmas

Does it sound like I’m taking all the fun out of the holiday? It feels a little like that to me, too.


But it’s all part of the having-a-cat-package, isn’t it? Cats are unpredictable and they do what they want. It’s what we – or at least, I – admire about them anyway. We can't explain to them why they shouldn't climb the Christmas tree, or chew on our light strings.


With a forethought, and a little care, and a willingness to put away the most dangerous objects, you can have your holiday celebration, whatever that means for you.


And you will have it with a warm cat on your lap.


What could be better?


Love Pinterest? Here's a Pinterest-friendly pin for your boards!

The 12 Days of Christmas Dangers for Cats Pinterest-friendly pin




[1] Taylor, Lauren. “Are Christmas Trees Safe for Cats?” The Dodo, 11 Dec. 2020,


[2] Chejadmin. “Artificial Christmas Tree.” The Center for Health, Environment & Justice, 1 Mar. 2023,


[3] Staff, Oakhurst. “How Much Is Too Much? Cats and Salt.” Oakhurst Veterinary Hospital, 4 Jan. 2023,


[4] “Poinsettia.” Pet Poison Helpline, 28 July 2022,


[5] “Mistletoe.” Pet Poison Helpline, 3 Mar. 2020,


[6] Pet Poison Helpline. “Holiday Toxins.” Pet Poison Helpline, 20 Dec. 2022,


[7] “Cactus from the Rainforest: Christmas Cactus.” ANR Blogs, Accessed 19 Dec. 2023.


[8] Young, Amy. “Lily Toxicity in Cats.” Animal Health Topics / School of Veterinary Medicine, 29 Mar. 2021,


[9] Pet Poison Helpline. “Holiday Toxins.” Pet Poison Helpline, 20 Dec. 2022,


[10] “Candles and Incense as Potential Sources of Indoor Air Pollution: Market Analysis and Literature Review (EPA/600/R-01/001).” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 22 Dec. 2005,


[11] Williams, Tate. “What Exactly Is Christmas Tree Flocking?” Mental Floss, Mental Floss, 9 Dec. 2019,


[12] “Safe Use of Artificial Snow.” Poison Control, Accessed 20 Dec. 2023.


[13] “Flock Worker’s Lung.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 28 Nov. 2023,


[14] Aercmn. “Common Christmas Pet Dangers: An Ultimate Guide for Pet Owners.” Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota, 23 Dec. 2020,


[15] “Antifreeze Poisoning in Cats - Symptoms & Prevention: RSPCA.” The Largest Animal Welfare Charity in the UK, Accessed 20 Dec. 2023.


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  • Sharon – It’s good to hear that you got something out of the post! I remember when I first learned about how toxic lilies are to cats. It was surprising to me, too. We’ve never had another lily in the house since.

    Dawn LaFontaine
  • Thank you for such a comprehensive list. Knew most of the issues with a tree, but not many others. Lilies and their pollen was a surprise. And all the scents that are not OK for cats or humans.


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