Some cat owners dread holiday decorations. As spectacular as the Christmas tree lights and dangling ornaments are, they represent the family's need to constantly look for naughty cats near the tree. Sometimes a cat's habit of climbing the Christmas tree can be silly and nothing more. But other times, pine needles and accidents can seriously hurt your cat. That said, you should take every possible precaution to keep your little buddy safe.
How to cat-proof your Christmas tree this year: Barriers surrounding the tree's base (like a tree skirt), wise tree placement (away from "launching points"), the use of a repellant spray on the pine needles, and offering toys to divert the cat's attention are all excellent ways to protect your tree this year.
Depending on how stubborn your cat is, you may need to combine a few of these techniques. Keep reading to decide which approach is best for you.
How to Protect a Christmas Tree from Cats
There are lots of ways to keep your cat out of this year's tree. Some are more tedious than others, but all are well worth it if it means you won't be cleaning pine needles up off the floor. Besides, some of the most clever - yet effective - approaches to monitoring the tree entail just a few design tweaks.
For instance, some pet parents suggest that you should place unbreakable ornaments toward the bottom of the tree. That way, you won't lose them to inevitable swatting and swiping. At the same time, you can place these durable ornaments close to some with bells. When your cat gets a little too close, you'll be alerted with the ringing. Then, you can charge in with your spray bottle at the ready.
Another popular choice is to select an artificial tree over a real one. There are a few benefits to this: First, this may help reduce the chances of your cat spraying on the tree, according to some cat owners who believe the strong pine smell kicks their cat's marking behavior into gear. (Unfortunately, some cat owners have climbers and sprayers, a double-whammy.)
Plus, artificial trees eliminate the potential danger of exposure to toxins or harmful chemicals in the fertilizer or other substances in the reservoir. Additionally, fake Christmas tree needles are not as rigid as those on a real tree, reducing the injury risk for your kitty.
Tips for a Cat-Safe Christmas Tree
Of course, even with a fake tree or strategically placed ornaments, your cat will probably still be attracted to the shiny lights, tinsel, and ribbon. So, you'll need to take a few more precautions to ensure your fur-baby's safety.
The guidelines below, courtesy of the University of Colorado Denver, will help you cat-proof a Christmas tree:
- Be mindful of your tree placement. Keep it away from "launch pads" or furniture that your cat can jump off of onto the tree. This includes couches, shelves, and similar items.
- Secure lights and their cables to walls and use cable protectors. Don't let your cat get a hold of the wire! Whether you're present or away, you don't want to give your kitty the chance to get itself shocked by chewing into the cables or tangled from playing with them.
- Offer toys and a scratching post to distract from the tree. Sometimes discouraging your cat from unwanted behavior isn't enough. You might have to offer something better. This can be a fun chase toy or a cat tree to scratch and climb. Both are good if they get the cat away from the tree!
Cat-Proofing the Christmas Tree
Even if your kitty somehow manages to dodge or overcome the complications imposed by the preservatives' ingredients, they're still at risk of bacterial exposure. Stagnant Christmas tree water provides the ideal breeding conditions for various types of harmful bacteria that can lead to:
To ensure your cat's safety during the Christmas festivities, you may want to invest in a pet playpen to keep around the tree's base and strategically cover the water pan with foil (lots of cats hate foil).
Placing scent stations around the tree can help encourage the cat to keep its distance as well. Common smells that our feline friends don't particularly appreciate include citrus, lavender, and peppermint. Additionally, some cat owners suggest that you spray the tree's needles with a deterrent spray. Still, even that won't work on a cat that insists on getting into trouble.
For extra persistent kitties, you might want to take a multi-faceted prevention approach with any of the following cat-proofing techniques:
- Make loud noises when your cat approaches the tree (e.g., shake a can of coins - this works surprisingly well for cats and dogs - or clap your hands loudly)
- Secure the tree to the wall, so it doesn't fall over if your cat decides to climb it
- Store your presents elsewhere, in case those are attracting your cat
- Secure and tuck away any cords that are connected to the tree
As a last resort, cats that refuse to stay away from the Christmas tree may only be deterred by a Scat Mat, which induces a static shock when stepped on. Place this at the base of the tree, and your kitty will get the message the next time it attempts to climb.
(Please make sure to get the adjustable static shock design. Avoid the prickle or spike mats! You don't want to hurt your cat, just deter it.)
As you know, cats are adaptive little buggers. That said, none of these methods are guaranteed to work if your kitty decides it's obsessed with the tree this year. Still, that doesn't mean you have to give up your holiday decorations just because your cat can't control itself.
If you can't get your cat to stop climbing the tree, some cat owners suggest a simple solution: Put the tree somewhere your cat can't access it. For example, some people say they'll set up their tree in the loft and not allow cats to go into that part of the home. You might also want to place your ornaments on high branches only. This will discourage your cat from swatting at and stealing decorations.
Why are Cats Attracted to Christmas Trees?
A few things could be attracting your cat to the Christmas tree. It may not necessarily be the tree itself, but the shiny decorations, the unusual smell, or even the presents you're storing at the bottom. That said, you should get to know your cat's interests and habits before you bring a tree in for the season. The prior knowledge will help you choose which is the best prevention method to keep the decorations intact.
Generally, though, the main things that may be vulnerable to a curious cat include:
- Christmas lights
- Shiny, glass ornaments
- Tinsel (it's best to keep this off your tree altogether; pet health experts warn that this material can cause choking and digestive problems!)
Remember that decorated trees don't exclusively draw feline attention. Sometimes, it's enough to have a brand-new giant plant in the house to pique your kitty's interest. That said, even cats that aren't typically attracted to shiny things are liable to get into trouble with Christmas trees. So, it's best to know your options in advance, no matter what your cat's temperament or tendencies.
Plus, all cats are vulnerable to the risks of ingesting pine needles, no matter how much they love to climb or swat at shiny things. And it's not just an issue of a tummy ache. Swallowing these exposes your cat to the risk of a punctured organ if it happens to go down the wrong way.
Apart from this, there might also be some hazardous substances in the Christmas tree stand that you need to watch out for. In addition to fertilizers, the water reservoir might have sugars, preservatives, fungicides, and other funky liquids floating around. Please make sure these things aren't in your tree's water mixture before you bring it into the house.
Are Christmas Trees Toxic to Cats?
You should have a handful of toxins on your radar this holiday season. For one, the Christmas tree's sap can be poisonous, even when consumed in small amounts via chewing on the branches and needles.
This is why it's risky to let your cat have its way with the tree. It could hide away in the branches and sneak a few nibbles, potentially getting itself sick without you ever knowing (until it's too late).
Further, the National Capital Poison Center says that commercial Christmas tree preservatives often include the following ingredients:
- Fertilizer: Cats that ingest a large amount of fertilizer are susceptible to bloat, which can have lethal consequences. Luckily, pets rarely drink enough preservatives to cause this condition. However, it is still important to recognize this as a possibility.
- Sugar: Your kitty does not have the physiological capabilities to digest food in the same way humans do. Although they can consume sugar without immediate repercussions, this substance can have negative, long-term impacts on their health.
- Fungicides: Fertilizers often come along with many different additives to keep pests away and prevent microbial growth, and fungicide is just one of the many. This is bad news for the kitty. Research has shown that fungicide consumption can lead to acute or chronic poisoning in household pets.
Fortunately, most cats that sneak a few laps of this solution wind up just fine. Still, your cat can suffer from vomiting and other gastrointestinal complications after exposure. For this reason, most experts recommend that you use plain old tap water to maintain your Christmas tree. This way, you can keep both the tree and your number one fur-baby happy and healthy.
Other Holiday Plants to Keep Away from the Cat
Christmas trees aren't the only holiday decorations cats should avoid. Other plants that could be toxic to cats include:
- Amaryllis: You'll most likely recognize these for their gorgeous red flowers. Despite their beauty, the plants' bulb and leaves contain compounds that are toxic to domestic animals. If your cat eats this, they may suffer from gastrointestinal problems, restlessness, seizures, and low blood pressure, among other symptoms.
- Christmas cactus: Cats may succumb to toxicosis after eating parts of this plant. The following symptoms* are the most common, but don't worry - they typically go away after a few hours:
- Digestive problems: vomiting, partial or total loss of appetite, diarrhea (you may find blood in the vomit or diarrhea)
- Excessive salivation
- Holly: This plant's sharp, pointy leaves cause physical damage to your cat's mouth. Plus, the chemical composition can inflict significant harm as well. Many toxic substances are in holly, many of which can cause alarming behaviors like lip-smacking and head-shaking.
*Cats exposed to Christmas cactus may also suffer from ataxia. This is a severe impediment to the nervous system, especially in movement. If your cat develops ataxia, there may be long-lasting consequences to their nervous system health. If you see your cat dragging its toes on the ground or appearing dizzy and unstable as they walk, take it to the vet immediately.
For more on potentially harmful holiday plants like mistletoe, poinsettias, and rosemary, see this overview by Today's Veterinary Practice.
Keep the Cat Off This Year's Tree
Living with cats during Christmas can be tough. For some, it's such a headache that they avoid their dream trees just to save themselves the trouble or opt out of having a tree entirely. It's a real bummer. But it doesn't have to be that way. With a few tweaks to your decorating decisions this year, you can have your tree and your kitty, too.
It's as easy as this: Be careful about where you place the tree. You don't want to set it too close to any launch points, so your cat can't leap onto the branches. Make smart choices in the ornament placement, leaving the tougher, noisier ones at the bottom to prevent broken ornaments and alert you if a furball gets too close to the goods. Of course, other tree protection methods include spraying repellent on the leaves and securing everything to the walls to keep it all in place.
About the Author
My name is Jazmin "Sunny" Murphy, and I am a science communicator and web content writer. Since 2015, I've been producing scientific content that is written in plain English. My love for life science has influenced my professional and academic aspirations since I was a kid. I hold a Bachelor of Science in Zoology and 21 units of a Master's education in Environmental Policy & Management (concentration: Fish and Wildlife Management). You can learn more about me and my science writing and reporting work at my website, Black Flower Writing Services.