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Cats and Christmas

Yes, it’s true, Christmas is upon us yet again.  A time of fluffy white snow, happy children, beautifully wrapped gifts and exceedingly large meals.  Or, if you’re a cat owner, a time of missing ornaments, broken baubles, toppled trees, and shredded wrapping paper.  The antics of the family cat can be a welcome distraction when the discussion gets a bit too heated around the dinner table, but just as cats enjoy all the new toys there could be some hidden dangers too.  Here are some things to think about this holiday season.

Cats are curious by nature and will want to investigate the tree at least!The Christmas tree
  • “What could be better?” says the cat.  “The joys of the outdoors in the warmth of my living room!”  Christmas trees are a cat’s dream come true.  Many cats, especially kittens, find climbing the tree irresistible and will stop at nothing to try to make it to the top.  You can try all sorts of deterrents, including aluminium foil around the base (cats hate walking on it) and keeping a water spray bottle close at hand, but it usually won’t stop them trying at least once.   Many cats also hate the smell of oranges, so some people say keeping orange peels under the tree can help deter climbing.  If your cat is particularly curious, you may simply have to lock them out of the room altogether.
  • The ornaments are another endless source of feline entertainment.  Make sure all expensive, fragile or potentially dangerous ornaments are placed at the top of the tree out of easy reach.  This includes glass baubles, things that look like small furry creatures, and anything that has a string or ribbon on it.  Make sure all wires and clips are attached tightly to the branch, and try not to have any ornaments that swing from side to side where the cat can see them.
  • Where possible don’t provide your cat with a launching ramp (i.e. keep the tree away from the sofa or other furniture).
  • Beware of electric cords and light bulbs, and watch your cat carefully to make sure they do not take a rather shocking interest in them.
Poinsettia and many other favourite Christmas plants are poisonous to cats. Deck the halls, carefully!
  • As mentioned above, any decoration that swings or is otherwise attractive to the cat should be placed out of reach or avoided altogether.  Sharp, pointy decorations or those with small parts that could fall off should also be placed carefully.
  • Ribbons and string can be fatal to cats, so if you must use either in your decoration or whilst wrapping presents, make sure it’s well out of their reach and clean it up immediately after use.
  • The eating of pine needles should be discouraged whenever possible.  Citronella, Tabasco sauce, or bitter apple spray can be used on the bottom branches to discourage chewing.
  • Some plants including mistletoe, holly, lilies and poinsettias, are toxic to cats and cause serious problems if eaten so keep them out of reach or better yet, simply admire them in the homes of others.  The same goes for fake snow – best to avoid it altogether.
  • Make sure all human food is kept out of reach of your cat – they don’t need it and it could make them sick!  But if you absolutely must share, be careful with what you give them to sample as some foods such as chocolate are toxic to cats.  Never give cats (or dogs!) turkey bones as they could cause serious problems if eaten.
A joyful yet stressful time for all
  • You aren’t the only one who dreads the arrival of the in-laws.  Cats will not only pick up on your stress and act out accordingly, but can also be thrown off by all the extra activity in the house.   
  • Some cats will deal with this stress by displaying charming behaviours such as urinating on your carpet or guests’ luggage, scratching up the sofa, or becoming generally unpleasant and aggressive.  Others may spend the whole time hiding under the bed or outdoors.
  • To help ease your cat’s stress levels (and perhaps your own too!), try to spend a few moments with your cat alone each day and provide a quiet, calm area to which they can retreat if needed.  Make sure food and water bowls are well stocked and easily accessible to even the most timid kitties.  Calming pheromone sprays or plug-ins such as Feliway can be tried to help keep the peace.
  • Remember, some cats are particularly prone to urinary tract problems (such as infection or even blockage) during times of stress and cold, so monitor your cat for frequent or difficult urination.  They’re also more likely to pick up a case of the sniffles and go off their food, so ring your vet immediately if you have any concerns.   
But aside from the dangers, Christmas can be a wonderful time to share with your cat.   Some of your best photos will be of your cat interacting with the Christmas tree or popping their head out of a pile of wrapping paper.  A few devoted owners even give their cats their own stocking to open on the big day.  Do remember, however, that when buying your cat a gift, Murphy’s Law clearly states that the more expensive the gift the less interested they will be in it and the packaging is almost always more fun than the toy itself!Cat-in-the-wrapstocking-sleep         Many of the points above also apply to dogs. Also, you might want to take a look at the related blog published last Christmas entitled "The nightmare before Christmas" for more tips on keeping your pet safe at this time of year.  If you are worried about the health of your pets over Christmas, talk to your vet or use our Interactive Symptom Guide to check how urgent a problem may be.
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“No! Not on the carpet!” – Vomiting in Cats

I knew it was going to be a rough day when I walked in and saw that three of my ten morning appointments were vomiting cats.  Second only to the chronically itchy dog, vomiting cats can be one of the most frustrating things we have to deal with as vets because there are so many possible reasons why it can happen.  Anything from what the cat had for dinner last night to metabolic diseases that may have been brewing for years could be the cause, and distinguishing between them can take a lot of time, money and effort.  And that’s just for the vet – as the owner of a cat that vomits frequently myself, I understand how unpleasant it is to walk downstairs in the middle of the night and step in a pile of cat sick.  Be it on the new white carpeting or the beat up old sofa, it’s not pretty.  It may be a harmless hairball, but it can also be a sign of serious illness in your cat so it’s definitely worth getting it checked out by your vet.  If you are unlucky enough to have a vomiting cat, here are some things you may want to consider. Why do cats vomit so much? Amber prowl cropVomiting in cats is extremely common, but that doesn’t mean that it’s normal.  Some cats are simply prone to hairballs, especially long-haired cats or those that groom excessively.  Others are particularly sensitive to the kinds of food they eat and may not be able to tolerate a particular protein such as beef or additive such as wheat gluten.  Intestinal worms can cause vomiting sometimes, and you may even see them wriggling around after they come up!  Poisonings are rare (cats have a much more discerning palate than dogs) but do occur.  Sometimes playful kittens will swallow things such as pieces of string which can be very dangerous indeed.  Metabolic disorders such as kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, diabetes and liver problems can all cause vomiting too as can tumours of the intestinal tract such as lymphoma.  Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas, an organ which secretes digestive enzymes) or inflammatory bowel disease are other common causes which can present themselves in a wide array of confusing ways.  And of course there is one of my favourite terms, “dietary indiscretion”, which can describe the ingestion of anything from rancid rat remnants to last week’s chicken chow mein from the bin.  With such a huge range of possibilities, it’s easy to see how difficult it can be to find the underlying cause. What should I do if my cat vomits? Amber-drinkAs with any medical condition, the best thing to do is contact your vet.  They may tell you to simply starve your cat for a few hours (cats should never be starved for long periods of time though, and should always be brought to the vet if they go more than 24 hours without eating, as this can lead to other serious problems) and reintroduce a bland diet such as plain boiled chicken, as this may fix many acute cases of vomiting.  As always, fresh water should be available at all times.  Or, if your cat is displaying other symptoms such as lethargy, inappetence or diarrhoea they may recommend you bring him straight down to the clinic.  The vet will do a physical exam and take a detailed history, so try to remember as many details as you can about your cat’s behaviour in the past few days.  They may take a blood test or check the urine to rule out metabolic diseases.  Depending on the symptoms they may also choose to take some x-rays of the abdomen to look for anything that the cat may have swallowed, or perhaps perform an ultrasound scan to check for any tumours or other problems with the internal organs.  Because there are so many possible causes for vomiting, sometimes many different tests will be needed so it can become quite expensive at times.  Yet another case where pet insurance is a real plus! How is vomiting treated? As previously mentioned, if your cat is otherwise well, you may be asked to feed him something bland such as chicken or white fish with no flavourings or fats added.  Although dogs often appreciate rice or pasta mixed with their meat, cats usually do better without the addition of a carbohydrate.  Or, if you’re not up for cooking, there are a number of prescription pet foods available that can help as well.  If hairballs seem to be the problem, there are special pastes and foods that will help them pass through the body instead of being vomited up.  A worming tablet or liquid may be prescribed if there is evidence of worms.  An anti-emetic (medication that stops vomiting) can be given to help calm things for a bit, and sometimes other medications such as antibiotics or steroids are used as well.  If a foreign body is found (in other words, your cat ate something that got stuck), surgery will be performed to remove it.  Surgery can also be used to remove some types of tumours, or to take biopsy samples of different parts of the intestinal tract to help diagnose the problem. Some cases of vomiting will resolve on their own, while others can require weeks of intensive diagnostics and treatments.  If left untreated, excessive vomiting can make the cat very ill and you also risk missing any underlying medical problems so make sure you talk to your veterinary surgeon right away if you are at all concerned.  But please be patient with your vet if they can’t fix the problem right away – and remember that we can be just as frustrated by it as you! If you are worried about your cat vomiting, talk to your vet or use our interactice Cat Symptom Guide to check how urgent the problem may be.
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