By Peter Hanlon, University of Melbourne.
If cats could use the internet, they’d discover that searching “cats” and “Christmas trees” can lead to catastrophising on a scale akin to humans asking Dr Google if they’re going to die from the common cold.
“Are Christmas trees poisonous to cats?” “Cats and Christmas trees – a recipe for disaster.” “Can cats and Christmas trees co-exist?” It’s enough to bring on a moggy migraine.
Dr Leonie Richards, Head of General Practice at the University of Melbourne’s U-Vet Veterinary Hospital, says cats and Christmas decorations have always been a recipe for mayhem. But in good news for cat lovers, the main victims she’s come across in this festive frolic have been trees, not cats.
“You can never say never, but it would be pretty unlikely,” Dr Richards says of the prospect of a cat doing itself serious harm while playing in or under a Christmas tree. “The most common outcome is just mess and mayhem.”
The attraction is obvious – shiny, sparkly objects, strings of tinsel, baubles that are just asking to be batted around by little paws. Dr Richards says it’s generally kittens and younger cats that are mesmerised, and recalls once treating a cat that used to play with the loose change on its owner’s bedside table and accidentally swallowed a five cent piece. “A Christmas tree is the same principle – all those shiny balls and lights and tinsel, it just looks like one big playpen for them.”
While a mischievous puppy is more likely to take a crash-through approach to presents and props, cats are climbers and can launch themselves into branches, bringing the danger of an unstable tree coming down on top of them. “In theory they could knock the tree over and it could pin them down, break a leg or crush a foot, but I’ve never seen it,” Dr Richards says.
Not all cats are jolly about Christmas….
The string from baubles and other decorations, especially tinsel, could cause severe intestinal issues if swallowed by a cat. Internet warnings about pine needles – both real and artificial – and the danger of poisoning by sap consumption are likewise overblown. “People say chewing the tree, maybe the needles could act like a sewing needle, be swallowed and pierce the intestine. But I can’t imagine a cat swallowing a whole pine needle, that doesn’t look very tasty to me.”
Dr Richards once treated a dog that had chewed through an electrical cord, giving itself a nasty shock and burning its mouth and tongue in the process, but never a cat. “It’s possible in theory, but in reality, fairly unlikely. They don’t tend to chew electrical wires, and they couldn’t chew the lights because they would be too hot when turned on.”