A cat playing with a Christmas tree ornament.
A cat playing with a Christmas tree ornament. Photography ©Anna-av | Thinkstock.

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

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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

A ginger cat climbing a Christmas tree.
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?

This piece was originally published in 2017.

Thumbnail: Photography ©Anna-av | Thinkstock. 

Read more about cats and holiday safety on Catster.com:

21 thoughts on “Cats and Christmas Trees: 10 Ways to Maximize Safety & Minimize Mayhem”

  1. Pingback: Cats and Christmas Trees – Delia's Home

  2. Cat trees are very useful for both felines and their owners because they provide the cat with a place to climb, scratch and play, and help you save your furniture from the claws of your pet.

  3. It’s probably late to suggest this but … We have used this approach since 1969 and have not had problems. We have generally been living with ‘let’s swing from the rafters’ Siamese or really unusually large Ragdolls. One was even a tree climber. (Getting her out of the tree in the front yard was interesting on those occasions that she managed to get out. Another story for another day.)

    So:

    A small tree firmly attached to something as heavy as or heavier than the cat. (One was a climber – sigh.)

    I made simple fabric bows and attached them with wooden laundry pins. (The pins were as tastefully hidden as possible. Good luck.)

    I crocheted ‘ornaments’ and we tied them on because the strings from the ornaments were already there.

    One really interesting thing that we saw was that, to a degree, the older, Christmas-experienced cats set the tone for Christmas tree, etc. behavior.

    Also, there are smells that cats do not like. A short swipe of certain cat-safe, cat-obnoxious smells may be tough for everyone the first day but, because our noses seem to be less smell sensative to sogme odors, it works. The smell is apparent to cats and humans at the beginning and wears off for the humans but not so much for the cats.

    No lights until bored-cat adulthood sets in. The ‘plug the lights in when you are in the room and pull them out when you’re not’ sounds like a winning approach. (Wonderful what cats teach us.)

    We have had the occasional die hard individual. All of them survived without vet intervention.

    Good luck and happy holidays.

  4. Domino was eight years old the first time he ever saw a bona ride Christmas tree. Needless to say, he was less than impressed. It had the lights and the colored ornaments. Our Christmas tree is only three feet tall and sits in the center of our dining table. The tree itself is artificial. Domino is twelve years old now and in his four years experience with Christmas trees, he hasn’t so much as sniffed the tree skirt. He sees me bring it out (still in the box) and unpack it. I think he’s more afraid of the tree because he witnesses the transformation of box to decor.

  5. I quit trying to put up a real tree! Bargain Catalog Outlet.com had a six foot Key Lime Green and Red Pop-Up Christmas Tree on Clearance two years ago I purchased and have used for two years. This tree takes ten minutes to put up. You place two poles together and put the plastic feet at the base of this tree. Next you lift up the green circles and attach the tree to the top of the pole. The tree comes with balls and clear lights already attached. I have added extra red balls and candy canes to this tree for an unbreakable tree. My two Persian cats can sit under this tree and look at it from the living room. This is the only tree so far my cats have not tried to chew or knock down!

  6. I’ve actually decorated the bottom of our tree with my fuzzy buddy’s favorite play ornaments and pieces of dangly paracord. It keeps him engaged and he hasn’t even come close to pulling the tree down……………yet!

  7. I don’t have a big tree, but rather, tabletop trees on several different pieces of furniture. I have given the cats their very own tree, about four feet high and it sits right on the floor. It’s covered with cat toys and cat-friendly unbreakable ornaments. They can snag an ornament for playtime, or they can just lay under it on the tree skirt, which they do frequently. The light string burned out and I haven’t had the chance to replace it, so no lights this year. But in the past, they’ve never tried to chew the cord. The tree makes the holidays fun for them too, and keeps them off the nice stuff!

  8. We have had five to six indoor kitties at a time, and we always have a real tree with lights and ornaments, since 1983. I have broken ornaments when decorating or un-decorating the tree, but kitties have not broken any. Our tree is a fresh cut Balsam fir that we bring in the week after Thanksgiving and it stays up until mid January. We leave it up for 3 days totally undecorated, then the lights go on for another 2-3 days. By this time, the kitties are bored with the tree. Then the ornaments go on, with cat-safe, unbreakable ornaments on the bottom branches. They will sit and look, but do not try to climb the tree or pull it down. We cover the stand so that they cannot drink the water, and protect the cord so that they cannot chew it. We omit tinsel or any strings or ribbons, even on presents….The dogs are another story, as one year our dog “marked” the tree!

  9. Or just go with a Nativity scene. My last cat never bothered mine. Of course, it’s a cat nativity scene–only sheep are the non-cat figures! Tripod would look at it and sniff it, but left it alone. Once I managed–with the help of many treats–to pose her with it for my Christmas card one year! It was cute!

  10. My one cat drives me insane at Christmas! We’ve tied the artificial tree to the wall and even one year, suspended it from the ceiling! Bags with tissue paper intrigue him to the point of his pulling all the tissue paper out of the bags and laying in with the gifts. I finally got “cat smart” and GAVE him his own Christmas bag–complete with tissue paper. Now he is content to become part of the festivities–and leave the rest of the presents alone–as well as the tree! We play heavily and use his “catnip spray” on all of his “kitty condos,” toys and his feather boa teasers (his favorites) which really helps as well. I can understand why some animal lovers turn to haters during the holiday. You just have to think like an animal to understand why the human festivities seem to strange to them–and pose new play opportunities with things that they are attracted to.

  11. I use a 32 inch, fiber-optic tree that is secured to an antique six-legged table with bunchy cords. No ornaments. The only thing attached to it is a start at the top which for some reason, my youngest never bothers. Maybe next year he’ll be old enough to leave ornaments alone.

  12. Christmas trees are also often grown with multiple sprayings of pesticides (which are neurotoxins, leading to brain damage and nervous system issues). You don’t want your cat drinking that water or eating any of it!

  13. We finally got an artificial tree. Were tired of the cats playing with the water and trying to climb the tree. Worked for 4 days until our biggest Maine Coon leaped inside the tree – he actually bent one of the heavy metal branches – hoping we can repair it when we take down the tree. Luckily, we only use unbreakable ornaments.

  14. No tinsel IS common sense when people realize their cats need to be protected from choking hazards as if they were human toddlers but I still see shiny strands of it on numerous cat toys that some people might assume are safe because they are for sale.

  15. I’ve had many cats over the years but when I had 2 brother kittens they played in the tree and one was almost choked. I had to cut the light strings to get him out. Same year the two of them ran over my table centerpiece with expensive antique Christmas votives pulling them off the table in a $500 playdate from hell.

  16. Pingback: Cats and Christmas Trees: 10 Ways to Maximize Safety & Minimize Mayhem | mycatfirst.com

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