Holiday Safety for Cats with Pet Safety Expert Denise Fleck

Today at PurrfectCatNames, we are honored to have Denise Fleck with us. Ms. Fleck is a pet safety expert and she will talk about Holiday Safety for Cats, just in time for the holiday season. Every pet parent and cat lover wants to feel confident they are doing all they can to keep their kitty safe and secure, and we know that there is a lot of hustle and bustle during the holiday season.

Denise Fleck has trained with eight national organizations in animal life-saving skills as well as being a long-time rescue volunteer and animal response team member however she feels her greatest education has come from being Dog Mom to Eleven and Cat Mom to one over the years!

Denise has assisted Homeland Security with their K9 Border Patrol First-Aid Program, has developed her own line of Pet First-Aid Kits and is the author of Quickfind Books’ Pet Care Series, Rescue Critters’® Pet First Aid for Kids and her own series of illustrated books for children, beginning with Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover. She is the Past President of the Volunteers of the Burbank Animal Shelter and is the recipient of the Burbank Police Department’s Volunteer of the Year Award for her work with the animals.  Denise is also a freelance writer for numerous animal publications and has received the Award of Excellence from the Cat Writers Association as well as the Maxwell Medallion from the Dog Writers Association of America.

Additionally, she teaches 3 semesters annually through the Burbank Unified School District (7 schools currently feed into this Regional Occupational Program) to high school students who are interesting in learning to care for our four-legged friends – pocket pets to farm animals!  Her expertise is in Pet Safety, First Aid & CPR, and Denise has shared these skills on CBS-TV’s The Doctors, Animal Planet’s Groomer Has It and Pit Boss, A&E’s Kirstie Alley’s Big Life and appears on the KTLA Channel 5 News in Los Angeles sharing pet tips.  Denise and her husband Paul reside in Southern California and are currently owned by two rescued Akitas…Haiku & Bonsai   Visit her website at

PurrfectCatNames: Why should cat owners/lovers be aware of holiday safety when it comes to their pet this season?

Denise Fleck: As I always say, Veterinarians are the experts, but most of us are not lucky enough to have one velcroed to our hip 24/7.  Even if you live in a house with 10 humans, the cat is going to choke or cut her paw when you are home alone and after veterinary hours, so…you must keep your eyes open to prevent emergencies, know what to do (pet first aid) at the time the injury or illness happens and before you get to the Vet, and…know where your nearest Animal Emergency Center is and what services they offer BEFORE you need their help.  During the chaotic holiday time of year, more people, decorations, tempting foods and even the human medicines to get the humans through the season are in abundance, so you are more than doubling the chance of something occurring.  Pet parents must be prepared for the worst so that they and their furry kids can enjoy many holidays to come.

PurrfectCatNames: Many people decide to get a kitten during the holiday season. What holiday safety tips would you advice them to especially be on the alert for?

Denise Fleck: First off, giving pets as gifts is a super bad idea!  People and families should chose the pet that is right for them, one who fits into their lifestyle and at a time they are capable of giving it a forever home.  If however you have decided to adopt a cat or kitten for yourself at this time of year, that is a wonderful thing!  Remember baby cats are like baby humans in that they need extra care and constant watching.  They have not learned any of life’s rules yet nor the methods for their own survival, so…

1).  Make sure you don’t upset their routine.  Keep feeding and playtimes on schedule in spite of company or other obligations, and don’t delay in cleaning out the litter box due to your extra buy schedule.

2).  As you decorate, whether it be electric cords, candles, pine trees or ribbon, realize any of these can be problematic and that your kitten should never be allowed to explore around them without supervision.

3).  Make sure your kitten has a safe refuge when company comes, music gets too loud or there is any type of commotion so that she can feel safe, and provide her with something in her quiet place to keep her out of mischief — safe toys, scratching post, kitty tree, maybe even quietly playing music or a radio to drowned out noise coming from the boisterous humans.

PurrfectCatNames: You mention that it is okay to get a kitten for yourself at this time of year if you were going to do that anyway. If someone was going to adopt in April, should they go ahead and adopt in December. What should a potential pet parent keep in mind if they want to adopt a kitten during the holidays?

Denise Fleck: When choosing to adopt any pet during the holidays, you should consider whether or not you are willing to take a “time out” from the season.  I’m not saying you can’t enjoy festivities because sharing them with your new best friend can be awesome, but…a new pet needs time to transition into his new life and can’t do so if you are dashing about, stressed or have a constant stream of company coming and going.  It’s important for you to get off on the right paw and let the cat or kitten know that this is now their home too and that you are their special person and will always be there for them.  Remember you need to train kitty where the litter box is and what NOT to get into to keep her safe.  This takes time and patience.  Additionally, since the holidays are the time of year people tend to spend large quantities of money, do you have enough funds to provide your new feline friend with a proper bed, scratching post, toys, food, initial veterinary visit and emergency visit should the need arrive?  If you’ve answered yes to all of these basic pet parenting obligations and agree to the commitment, then by all means adopt as pets need homes for the holidays and shouldn’t have to wait in a shelter a moment longer than necessary, but…waiting for their soul mate person is better than being adopted into a home and lifestyle that is not ready for them.  When humans get too overwhelmed, pets feel our frustration and often get returned to shelters, so make sure you are ready, and that is the best time to adopt!

PurrfectCatNames: If your cat has an emergency or becomes ill during the holidays, what is the best thing to do? Some vet offices close for Christmas Day and New Year’s Day and not everyone has access to emergency care.

Denise Fleck: Don’t wish you HAD learned Pet First Aid was one of the first quotes I received from a student after taking my Pet First Aid Class and it works!   As with anything in life, don’t wait until tragedy strikes before you learn animal life-saving skills.  According to the American Animal Hospital Association, 1 out of 4 more pets would be saved if their humans had done first aid prior to getting them to veterinary care.  Knowing what to do at the time of the injury can make a difference such as in lowing body temperature, controlling bleeding, alleviating choking, inducing vomiting in the case of poisoning or actually administering rescue breathing and CPR!  But also find your nearest Animal ER (like mentioned above) and know what services they offer and how they accept payment.  Plan ahead!  Would you not provide emergency care to a human child if needed?  Some philosophy should apply to your furry child.  Obtain Pet Insurance, have an emergency credit card or open a separate bank account that you can’t draw out of unless your precious feline needs your help.

You can refer to pet safety tips on my website but my Cat First Aid & CPR Pocket Guide  helps you through those emergency situations while the Cat First Aid Kit   gives provides you with the right tool for the job until you can get kitty to veterinary care.  When you commit to bringing a cat into your heart and your home, it is your responsibility to make sure you can provide everything that cat needs for his or her lifetime.

In brief though when emergency strikes…stay calm!  Pets are very perceptive to our vibes.  Restrain your cat by shooing her into a bathroom so that she can’t hide under the bed, and control her four claws by swaddling her in a towel.  In some cases, kitty may bite if she is in pain, so have a properly fitting cat muzzle available cause if you are bitten, it becomes a human first aid incident and kitty won’t get the prompt care she needs.  Well over 50% of cat bites result in humans needing medical care as opposed to only 5% of dog bites.

If your cat has swallowed a food item that she should not have (any non-caustic poison that doesn’t burn the esophagus), after contacting your Veterinarian or  Pet Poison Control (888) , induce vomiting by administering 1 Tablespoon 3% Hydrogen Peroxide for a 10-15 lbs cat through an eye dropper or needless syringe onto the back of her tongue.  If this doesn’t cause her to vomit within 30 seconds to 5 minutes, seek immediate veterinary care.

For bleeding, apply direct pressure with a clean gauze pad until bleeding stops.  You can elevate the limb on a folded towel to assist and if bleeding is on a leg, press on the appropriate pressure point (major artery inside the specific limb — femoral or brachial).

For upset tummies, 1 teaspoon of Mylanta for a 10-15 lbs kitty and letting the stomach rest by withholding food but making sure she drinks water, should alleviate simple digestive upsets, but if blood is present in vomit or diarrhea or if these are symptoms of an illness or obstruction, seek immediate veterinary care.

Feeding 1/2 teaspoon daily of pure pumpkin puree (buy canned or rehydrate dry) often aids with fur balls, but…the best New Year’s Resolution (or even holiday gift) that you can give yourself and your cat is the gift of learning pet first aid.

PurrfectCatNames: Many families love to decorate their homes for the holidays. What decorations should you avoid if you are a cat lover/owner? Why should these decorations be avoided?

Denise Fleck: Although Poinsettias are the first plants that often come to mind as a hazard around pets, they are not as dangerous as others and usually erupt into digestive upsets.  For cats, beware of Lilies!  As few as two leaves/petals of certain types (Stargazer, Tiger, Casablanca, Asiatic and others) can cause kidney failure in cats. Holly, mistletoe, pinecones and pine needles can cause problems ranging from obstructions, intestinal perforations to vomiting, diarrhea and lethargy.  Poisoning is relative depending on the amount of poison ingested by how ever large of a pet.  Make sure cats do not drink water from live Christmas trees as the sap as well as any water additives too can be problematic.  Cut an X in a plastic lid that will fit over the water reservoir or cover with foil.  Placing “sticky tape” around your tree skirt or anything with a bumpy surface (such as an upside down floor or car mat that has those nubs cats won’t like to step on) may make your kitty take a step back.

Ribbons, bows, yarn and tinsel as well as cranberry and popcorn garlands on your tree or packages can entice any feline.  The strings not only can cause choking and blockages but can wrap around kitty’s tongue while the other end gets pulled by intestinal contractions.

Boxes and paper bags are generally a safe play toy for your furry friends but just be extra safe in checking these items before you toss them as kitty could be hanging out in one!

PurrfectCatNames: In our home we always hang wooden or soft (stuffed) ornaments on the bottom branches of the Christmas tree so if the cat plays with them and they fall off; there is little risk of them breaking and causing harm to our favorite feline. Do you have any advice about Christmas trees – decorating, putting them securely into stands, real vs. fake, watering the tree, etc.?

Denise Fleck: Yes to giving kitty something to play with on the low branches.  The key is to know your cat, and if she can be appeased with soft ornaments, catnip toys and other safe playthings on the bottom branches, by all means do so, but…if this is only going to lead to her further exploring UP the tree, just keep her away altogether by discouraging her from hanging out by the tree — think about it…you’ve just provided your feline family with a great climbing perch.  If they topple it, lights, breakable ornaments and cat go crashing to the floor.  As a precaution, secure tree to a wall or a cup hook in the ceiling with pretty ribbon or invisible fishing wire so that at the least, it won’t fall if kitty goes for a climb.  Citrus smell often keeps cats at bay, so if this works, oranges, lemons and grapefruits under the tree may help.  Placing a decorative child gate (think pretty white pickets) around the base may prevent your cat from getting too near and keep her safe through the season.

PurrfectCatNames: The holidays are often a time when people are indulgent. They eat and drink in excess – and sometimes they give their cat or pet little tidbits from the table. Are there any holiday treats that are a “no no?”

Denise Fleck: A little boiled or broiled white meat chicken or turkey is usually not a bad idea, although you may be surprised to learn that more and more cats have allergies to chicken and fish of all things!  The key is moderation and staying away from dark meats, cooked fats and skins, gravies and anything slathered with oils, butter or salt.  If you slip a little turkey into kitty’s bowl it’s one thing, but remind Uncle Bob, Cousin Charlie, Grandma, your sister-in-law and the kid down the street not to also do the same.  Pancreatitis can result which means your cat will need to spend the holidays in Intensive Care at your local Animal ER!  Pets can eat fat, bone, and grizzle from animals caught in the wild but once we cook fat it becomes grease; cooked bones splinter so stick to their diet and give them safe treats.  Cooked carrot slices, broccoli or string beans (without the salt and butter) can be a nice change; dehydrate liver or fish or make another cat treat yourself so that you know what is in it and have kitty grass available.  Cats are oblate carnivores meaning they should not be vegetarians, yet even the lion in the wild eats some grass with his meal.

Don’t not let kitty lick up spills or out of wine or cocktail glasses.  A small amount of alcohol for a small creature can result in serious symptoms.  Grapes or raisins, chocolate or caffeine products all pose dangers to our feline friends as do nuts and too much dairy (including cheeses).  So supervise bowls of nuts and candies — especially if the candies are in wrappers and the cellophane too could be consumed.

PurrfectCatNames: During the holidays we often entertain guests in our homes, not every guest knows how to interact with a cat – and sometimes a cat finds a lot of people (like a holiday party) a bit overwhelming. Any advice for holiday safety for your cat on dealing with people during the holidays?

Denise Fleck: Dedicate playtime just for you and your cat(s) BEFORE company arrives, and then let the kitties retreat to a quiet back bedroom with safe toys of their own to play with.  Know how your cat reacts to people and noise, and if you feel she can make a brief appearance, by all means, but remind children not to bother kitty while she is eating and not to pull her ears or tail.  If kitty’s ears and whiskers go back, it’s time for socializing to cease.  There are various interactive toys on the market to keep your cat busy while safe in a separate room, so investigate and keep her stress-free.  A cat in a room full of company can easily escape out an opened door or window so give guests a few rules about keeping kitty’s home secure.

PurrfectCatNames: Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you would like to mention?

Denise Fleck: In addition to knowing where your Animal ER is, learning Pet First Aid and having a tool kit (aka Pet First Aid Kit) for your cat, every week perform a Head-to-Tail Check-up of your cat.  Feel for lumps and bumps, notice the condition of the skin and coat, make sure no unusual smells or discharges are coming from any body part.  Really get to know your cat because if you learn what is normal for her, you can more quickly determine when something is not quite right and get her the help she may desperately need.

Thank you Ms. Fleck, for visiting with us at and sharing with us such important and helpful information about cat safety for the holiday season!

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