The holiday season is a fun time, full of family and friends, good food, and festivities. It can also be stressful, with too many activities, family feuds, and failed expectations. Either way, your cats feed off your energy and, like you, experience holidays with either excitement or dread.
So how do you make holidays less stressful for sensitive, furry family members? Here are some tips, and who knows? They may help relieve some of your stress, too.
- Understand how your cat responds to the holidays. Does she hide under the bed at the ring of the doorbell, or is she at the door, ready to greet visitors? Is she upset by changes, such as moving furniture and putting up decorations–or does she want to lend a helping paw? Giving your kitty the best holiday season possible depends a lot on what her needs are and giving them to her.
- Give shy cats a safe haven. If your cat hates changes and company, create a quiet space away from noise and activity. It could be a bedroom or other relatively large, enclosed area that includes things that smell like him–a favorite bed, toys he loves, a scratching post or cat condo. It’s best if you set this up well ahead of time so that he learns this spot is especially for him. That way, he will gravitate to it in a less stressful frame of mind when the rest of your home is too hectic for him.
- Let your friendly cat be part of the festivities. Don’t lock her up for the evening (unless you have highly allergic guests) because she will be frustrated and bored. If you have cat-loving guests, all the better–have some interactive toys ready in case they want to engage your kitty in some playtime.
- Dress up your kitty for the holidays? Give it a pass–most cats don’t want to wear an elf hat or Santa suit. If yours is one of the rare ones who doesn’t mind, go for it and print up some cards. Same thing with visits to Santa at the local pet store. Unless your cat is leash trained and has already had pleasant visits to the store, don’t do it. You will just stress him out and make him unhappy.
- Use cat-friendly decorations. Cats may chew on and get tangled up in the most unlikely things, so keep that mind. Instead of tinsel and tinsel garlands, consider using decorations made of paper, cardboard, wood, metal, and fabric.
- Many holiday plants can be poisonous to cats. While the dangers of poinsettias have been exaggerated, it’s still not good for your cat to chew them, and mistletoe and holly are very much a danger. So are amaryllis and other bulb plants. Investing in silk versions of holiday plants is the best way to keep your cat safe. Or get a festive holiday planter and plant catnip in it!
- Pine needles from a real tree are poisonous to cats, as is the water the tree is kept in. Fake trees are safer, but the “needles” can still cause intestinal blockage if swallowed. If you think your cat is a chewer, you might want to settle on a ceramic tree or other option less tempting to a mouthy cat.
- Christmas decorations often involve electrical cords and breakables. Cord covers are a lifesaver for kitties who like to chew on them. If you must decorate your tree with fragile ornaments, keep them more to the top of the tree where they are (maybe) out of reach. Decorate lower branches with fabric, paper, and cardboard ornaments…or cat toys.
- Speaking of cat toys, why not buy holiday-themed toys and decorate your cat’s cat tree with them? It looks festive and is fun for your kitties. Hang stockings especially for your cats and fill them with your cats’ favorite treats and little toys.
- A lot of holiday food isn’t good for cats. The ingredients are too rich, and some, like onions and garlic, are toxic. But you can still give your cat special holiday treats. If you are cooking turkey, boil the giblets, liver and heart, and chop up a few pieces for your cat. A few bite-size pieces of turkey, as long as it is prepared without the aforementioned onions or garlic, are nice too. Just don’t overdo it.
- When it comes to receiving gifts, you’d think cats would be indifferent, but a lot of them enjoy helping you wrap presents–and opening them, too. Let them join in the fun. Yes, you may wind up ruining some of the wrapping paper, but it’s a small price to pay to make your cat happy. Just make sure you keep ribbons and string out of reach.
- Fun kitty Christmas gift idea: wrap up an empty, cat-size box as a present and then help her tear open the wrapping on Christmas day. Crumple up some of the wrapping and throw it in the empty box. Instant kitty toy!
- Along with fun activities, there are also quiet holiday times, like watching the Hallmark channel with some treats. Your cat would probably enjoy these quiet times with you, so have some cat treats ready to share, too.
- And if the holiday stress is getting to you, shut yourself away with your cat for 10 or 15 minutes of cuddling or play. A break will do both of you good.
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.