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Can Cats Eat Pine Needles? What You Need to Know!

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By Nicole Cosgrove

Pine Needle

The holiday season is a magical and wonderful time of year that most families love to decorate and prepare for. For many cat owners, however, it can leave them a bit more stressed. It’s no secret that cats and Christmas trees do not mesh well. Our feline friends are notorious for their Christmas tree antics.

A question among cat owners, specifically those that decorate with real pine trees, is whether cats can eat pine needles? This is also important to know for those that have cats in areas that have pine forests or yards with pines as well.

The answer is a simple, no, but let’s investigate the reasoning.

The Dangers of Pine Needles

The pine needle is the leaf of a pine tree. This needle-shaped leaf is found in all species of the Pinaceae family, and its arrangement is very recognizable. It’s no wonder why many real Christmas trees are made from pine; even the artificial trees are made to mimic their design. Not only are they beautiful, but they are also easy to decorate.

Pine needs pose a significant threat to our companion animals. If you have a pine tree in your home or yard, or you are thinking of purchasing a real Christmas tree made of pine, you must understand the risks and alternatives available.

Pine Needle
Image Credit: Pixabay

Pine Oil is Toxic

The oils in pine trees are toxic and can be very harmful to your cat. The toxicity from the organic compound phenol, which is found in pine oil and some other natural oils, can cause liver damage, liver failure and can be fatal if left untreated.

Why Is Phenol Toxic to Cats?

Phenol is a compound that is absorbed rapidly through ingestion or contact with the skin and is then metabolized by the liver. Cats lack an enzyme called glucuronyl transferase, which is needed to break down the phenol. Because of this, exposure to anything containing phenol can cause damage to the liver, liver failure, and even death.

sick cat cuddled in blanket
Image Credit: Germanova Antonina, Shutterstock

Symptoms of Phenol Poisoning

If you fear your cat has been exposed to a toxic substance such as phenol, contact your veterinarian immediately. Time is of the essence when your pet is exposed to a toxic substance and the situation should be treated as an emergency.

Signs and symptoms of phenol poisoning include:
  • Lack of coordination
  • Drooling
  • Tremors
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Pawing at the face
  • Facial tics
  • Facial drooping
  • Increased redness of the lips, gums, or any mucous membranes

Pine Needles Can Cause Physical Harm

Pine needles are narrow and sharp, if ingested they can cause serious harm to any companion animals. The sharp points can pierce and damage internal organs if swallowed. If you suspect your cat has swallowed a pine needle, get in contact with your veterinarian immediately for further advice on how to handle the situation.

Many cats are tempted to play with the branches that house flashy ornaments and lights and may chew on the needles, which is cause for concern. Pine needles can also cause injury to their paws if stepped on.

Pine Needle
Image Credit: Pixabay

Is Pine Litter Safe for My Cat?

Cat owners reading this may take a step back and wonder if the pine cat litter they are using is safe if pine can be so toxic. The good news for those that use pine litter is that the toxic oil is destroyed during the manufacturing process.

Pine litter is made from dehydrated pine fibers, and while there has been skepticism, it has been regarded as safe for use since that process eliminates the toxic part of the pine. Pine litter is free of synthetic fragrances and chemical additives and is regarded as a healthy alternative to traditional clay litter.

Alternatives to Pine Trees

If you are a cat owner on the hunt for a Christmas tree, pine is not going to be the safest choice. The good news is that other types of trees available are non-toxic. For those interested in real trees, fir and spruce tend to be a more popular choice among pet owners. Artificial trees are growing in popularity and make for a great non-toxic option.

Do keep in mind that even the non-toxic choices pose dangers to our mischievous feline friends. You must ensure that any loose needles (real or artificial) are not always ingested and picked up. Cats also like to knock trees over with their antics so you will want to ensure your tree is secure and safe from an excitable, playful cat rocket.

Pine Trees in the Yard

If you live in an area that is heavy in pine trees, there is no need to panic. Cats typically are not drawn to the scent of pine and outdoor cats are not likely to get into too much trouble this way. The reason for concern with indoor trees is that they are new and exciting and playful cats like to explore new things.

The best rule of thumb regarding outdoor kitties is to ensure you know their environment well and contact your veterinarian immediately if you notice them displaying any unusual symptoms.

Pine Needle
Image Credit: Pixabay

Conclusion

Cats cannot eat pine needles. These sharp needles have the potential to damage organs, especially the stomach and intestines. Pine oil also contains a toxic compound known as phenol that can cause liver damage, liver failure, and even death if significant exposure has occurred.

There are many alternatives for Christmas trees that keep your cat safe from any of the harmful effects of pine. If you ever suspect your cat has swallowed a pine needle or has been exposed to pine oil, it is pertinent that you contact your veterinarian immediately.


Featured Image Credit: Pixabay

Further reading

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