Cats and Christmas Trees: 10 Ways to Maximize Safety & Minimize Mayhem


Ah, the holidays — the cheerful carols, endless plates of festive cookies and brightly colored packages underneath the Christmas tree. Ahh, right, there’s the tree. Those of us who share our homes with felines know “the tree” is not just “the tree.” It’s a giant scratching post with branches for climbing, a water bowl and an endless supply of dangling toys! In other words, some cats see a Christmas tree as the ultimate cat toy. Look what Santa brought me! The trouble with Christmas trees is that they present some serious threats to our kitties. Here are a few suggestions for keeping your Holly Jolly Christmas safe and fun for both two- and four-legged family members.

1. Act as if your Christmas tree is no big deal

Climbing the tree is just one of the many dangers / mishaps when it comes to cats and Christmas trees. Photography ©tilo | Thinkstock.

Cats are naturally curious, so bringing a tree into your home won’t go unnoticed. Before adding all the fun, dangly objects, why not let it stand au naturel for a day or two? Once the newness wears off, your kitty may not be so inclined to do some holiday swatting.

2. Make your Christmas tree unappealing to your cat

It’s fairly safe to assume that kitty probably won’t want to relive an unpleasant experience. If she has a penchant for biting pine needles or chewing branches, you may want to try a bitter spray (found at most pet stores and online) as a deterrent. Needles, if ingested, can cause dangerous — and sometimes deadly — intestinal blockages. Although live trees more easily shed their needles, the ones from artificial trees can prove just as bad.

Another way to keep kitty away from the tree is to place foil or double-sided tape on top of the skirt. These are both textures that many cats avoid, and they could act as effective deterrents.

3. Don’t give cats access to Christmas tree water

When it comes to cats and Christmas trees, some kitties are attracted to the water reservoir of live trees. They think it’s a watering hole placed there especially for them! The trouble is, the water could contain additives and fertilizer, which can be toxic to cats. Even if the tree is fertilizer free, harmful bacteria might grow in the reservoir. Foil to the rescue again! As a safeguard, wrap a sheet of foil around open areas of the container. 

4. Cut down on some of the dangers by choosing a Christmas tree that’s artificial

There’s no temptation with Christmas tree water when you have an artificial tree. Although live trees more easily shed their needles, the ones from artificial trees can prove just as dangerous, as do the lights and ornaments that adorn both. Additionally, most modern Christmas trees are made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which is toxic to animals and humans alike.

5. Stop your cat from knocking the Christmas tree over

Kittens and cats with wild spirits have been known to take down entire Christmas trees. If your cat manages to topple your tree — or simply as a preventive measure — consider tethering the tree to the wall and/or ceiling. It may seem like a drastic move, but it will keep your tree vertical.

6. Avoid mishaps with cats and Christmas tree lights

To avoid electrocution, always unplug your tree lights when you go to bed or while you’re away from home. Sharp kitty teeth and live electrical cords do not mix. If your cat is a chronic cord-chewer, skip the lights altogether.

7. Nix the use of tinsel

Many of us grew up draping tinsel from the branches of our holiday trees. Tinsel — or angel hair — is a major hazard when it comes to cats and Christmas trees since it may cause fatal intestinal obstructions. Leave it off your decoration to-dos.

8. Cat-proof your Christmas tree ornaments

A kitten playing with a glass ornament on a Christmas tree.

Got breakable or keepsake ornaments? Keep them out of your cat’s reach! Photography ©suemack | Thinkstock.

Hang your heirloom ornaments at the top of the tree and keep the sturdier ones toward the bottom — or simply avoid hanging anything on the lower tree branches. If your kitty manages to knock a breakable bauble onto the floor, she could wind up eating or stepping on the broken pieces. Why not simply avoid this potential danger?

9. Provide your cat with a distraction from the Christmas tree

If your kitty is truly crazy for the Christmas tree, simple distractions could be an easy solution. Save special toys for the holidays or even introduce a few new boxes. We hear cats have a thing for boxes.

Daniel Quagliozzi, Cat Behavior Consultant at Go, Cat, Go! says, “The basic point is surrender to the fact that you have brought in something any cat would be excited about, and adjust accordingly or redirect your cat into more compelling activities, like food puzzles.”

10. Make your Christmas tree difficult for your cats to reach

You may find yourself building a barricade around the tree, Les Miz-style — except with baby gates. This may or may not keep your cat away from their target. You know your cat better than anyone else, so build away if that feels like an appropriate solution.

If kitty is completely determined to get her paws on the tree, bypassing all foil sheets and barricades, perhaps a door needs to stand between the cat and the tree. Or, maybe it’s time to skip a tree and hang a wreath on the front door instead.

Tell us: How do you feel about cats and Christmas trees? How do your cats react to them? What horror stories do you have? What are your tips for cats and Christmas tree safety?

Thumbnail: Photography ©Anna-av | Thinkstock. 

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