Holiday Stress and Cats: Tips to Keep Your Kitty Calm at Every Age


Ah, holiday stress and cats! Christmas 1992 was when I learned I really didn’t know much about cat-proofing during the holidays. One evening, my 1-year-old Cornish Rex, Jordan, climbed halfway up our small Christmas tree, grabbed the garland in his mouth, and leaped out of the tree onto the floor. The tree, complete with all my delicate glass ornaments, followed Jordan halfway across the room until he let go of the garland and ran out of the room.

I might have sat there for a moment in disbelief before I went to make sure Jordan was okay. (He was — and was busy acting casual about it, as cats do.) Then I set the tree upright, swept up the broken ornaments, removed the garland, and securely attached the tree to the nearest wall. I also talked to Jordan’s breeder and my vet about other ways to “holiday-proof” my house.

I still use some of those tips with my current feline companions, 7-year-old Jack and 3-year-old Phillip. To get more good cat parenting advice, I asked Jacqueline Munera, a certified cat behavior consultant with the Companion Animal Sciences Institute, what cat owners can expect from their pets during the holidays. She said a cat or kitten’s behavior usually stems from the animal’s overall personality and temperament.

Holiday Stress and Kittens

Cats and holiday lights are dangerous at any age. Photography by turlakova / Shutterstock.

Expect your kitten to be naturally curious about all the decorating and events that come with the holidays. In fact, a kitten will find things to get into that you might not expect. Such a behavior might be chewing on the needles of the tree.

“Cat grass is very important [during the holidays] for kitties of all age groups, and it can help keep cats from chewing on Christmas trees,” Munera said. She also advised researching the toxicity of any holiday plants you want to display around the house, including poinsettias.

Don’t worry: If your kitten avoids the holiday decorations, she might be a little overwhelmed by the changes in her environment. Try to reassure her, and let her go at her own pace.

Be concerned: Lethargic behavior, vomiting or diarrhea might be a sign that your kitten has eaten something she shouldn’t have, such as rich holiday foods left unattended. Take her to the vet as soon as possible.

Holiday Stress and Adult Cats

A man looks at his holiday list while wrapping gifts.

Cats and wrapping gifts don’t mix, either. Photography by Paranamir / Shutterstock.

Your adult cat still might be into things almost as much as kittens, Munera said: “They might actually enjoy being very involved if it is the tradition for them.”

At my house during the holidays, Jack tends to ignore all the holiday decorations, but Phillip thinks I’ve set up a playground just for him. He bats the ornaments off the bottom branches of the tree (we have soft, stuffed ornaments to place there for just this reason).

He also pulls all the bows off all the gifts and hides them behind the pillows on the couch. He doesn’t climb the tree — thank goodness! — but he definitely loves to nap underneath it, hidden among the gifts.

Don’t worry: Save your most treasured ornaments by putting them on the top branches and leaving the bottom branches bare. Put “safe” ornaments near the bottom so your cat can play with them and enjoy the tree without damaging something you love.

Be concerned: Curling ribbon or other string-like decorations (like tinsel) can become impacted in your cat’s stomach or intestines. If you suspect your cat has ingested something like this, take him to the vet as soon as possible.

Holiday Stress and Senior Cats

A cat in a Christmas Santa hat sitting with an ornament.

Senior cats might greet the holidays with a calmer attitude. Photography by Irina Kozorog / Shutterstock.

After his first few Christmases in our home, Jordan settled down into a quiet holiday routine. In the last few years of his life, he really seemed to enjoy the visitors and the elevated amount of hubbub around the house.

Munera said this might be related to a senior cat losing a bit of his hearing and vision.

“Some of these declines can be a blessing,” she explained. “For example, a cat who was uncomfortable with loud holiday music or loud visitors might no longer be able to hear them very clearly and will be less stressed.”

An older cat also might not be interested in climbing the tree or jumping up to investigate a holiday buffet table simply because of physical limitations, Munera said.

Don’t worry: If your senior cat retreats to a quiet place away from the holiday excitement, let him have his alone time. Just as physical decline could make celebrations less stressful, some cognitive changes might make the heightened activity level a bit overwhelming for an older cat.

Be concerned: If holiday visitors who insist on interacting with your senior cat seem to make him nervous, give him a place to relax in a quiet room, and ask your guests to respect his wish to hide.

About the author: A lifelong cat owner, Stacy N. Hackett writes frequently about cats, cat breeds, and a range of pet-related topics. A big source of inspiration for her writing comes from her two cats: Jack, a 6-year-old red tabby domestic shorthair, and Phillip, a 2-year-old gray-and-white domestic shorthair. Both cats were adopted from local pet store adoption events, and both bring a lot of personality and love to a household that also contains two teenagers. Stacy also is “stepmom” to a wonderful Cocker Spaniel/ Labrador Retriever mix named Maggie, as well as two brown tabby domestic shorthairs named Katie and Leroy.

Editor’s note: Have you seen the new Catster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting area of your vet’s office? Click here to subscribe to Catster and get the bimonthly magazine delivered to your home. 

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