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The Christmas season is approaching quickly!  For many people, Christmas involves decorating, gifts, gatherings with family and friends, and snow!  It also involves an increased risk for toxicities for pets.  Awareness of the common toxins can allow us to prevent exposure and a visit to the veterinary emergency clinic!  In this article, we will cover the toxicities for our feline friends.

            Not only does the holiday bring about setting up the traditional Christmas tree, but also decorating with the other common festive plants including the poinsettia, Christmas cactus, mistletoe, holly, and amaryllis. Cats ingesting the Christmas tree itself can develop vomiting, anorexia, abdominal pain, foreign bodies, and depression.  The ornaments, hooks, and tinsel that decorate the tree can also be problematic if ingested.  These decorations can lead to foreign bodies in need of emergency surgical removal.  It is also not unusual for a cat to drink the water from the Christmas tree.  Usually, drinking the water does not lead to any signs of illness, but it should be avoided and contacting the company or animal poison control regarding any accidental ingestion of tree water preservatives should be considered.  Also, if there is bacterial or fungal contamination of the water, a pet may develop severe gastrointestinal upset and systemic illness.  Also, do not forget the Christmas tree lights!  Some cats may try to chew the string of lights and can get electrocuted!

            Poinsettias can lead to signs of illness if large amounts are ingested.  The typical symptom of cats is vomiting.  With supportive care, the recovery is usually quick and there are usually no long term effects.  Ingestion of the Christmas cactus may lead to mild gastrointestinal upset, but it is treatable with supportive care.  Mistletoe is more dangerous than the poinsettia or Christmas cactus.  Besides causing gastrointestinal upset, ingestion of mistletoe can cause abnormal function of the heart.  Also, if there are artificial berries on the plant, ingestion can lead to a foreign body obstruction needing surgical removal.

            The American Holly plant contains toxic compounds in all parts of the plant.  Ingesting holly can lead to gastrointestinal irritation and depression.  The amaryllis plant is also toxic to cats, with the bulb of the plant being the most toxic part.  Cats that ingest the amaryllis plant can show signs of drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, dizziness, tremors, seizures, and low blood pressure may also occur.

            Other toxins that you may not have considered are the liquid potpourri and ice melts.  If you have purchased liquid potpourri for the holidays, you will need to watch your cat closely for oral, skin, or eye damage that can result from ingestion.  Ice melts that are brought in on shoes can be ingested and lead to electrolyte abnormalities and vomiting. 

            Last but not least, we must remember to watch the silica gel packs that are commonly found in shoe boxes, electronics, medications, and some foods.  It is not unusual to have these around during gift opening time.  Most of the ingestions will cause a mild gastrointestinal upset.  However, if a large amount is ingested, diarrhea could occur and/or the intact packet could lead to intestinal obstruction. 

            After reading this article, hopefully you will be more aware of the items to avoid if you are the lucky owner of a curious cat!  Not only will it be a Merry Christmas for you, but also for your furry friend!