Christmas trees are part of the winter holiday season for many of us. But although Christmas trees are fun for us, they can be dangerous for our cats. As we get ready to start decorating for Christmas, Dr. Jamie Richardson, Medical Chief of Staff at Small Door Veterinary helps us understand some of the ways Christmas trees can be dangerous for cats.
Christmas tree water
The water at the base of your Christmas tree isn’t the same as the water in your cat’s water bowl.
“Water around a Christmas tree can become stagnant and bacteria can grow very quickly, which can cause serious stomach upsets for your cat,” says Dr. Richardson, adding that “if possible, avoid having a tree that needs watering, or water it in small amounts each day.”
If you do want a real tree though, to make sure that it stays properly hydrated while protecting your cat, put a mesh type of grate over the tree stand to prevent your cat from reaching the water. Finally, while many stores sell additives that you can put in the water to preserve the life of your tree, these additives can be especially dangerous for our cats.
“Do not use any chemical Christmas tree ‘extender’ products in the water, as these can also be toxic to cats,” cautions Dr. Richardson.
It can be cute to see pictures or video of cats and kittens climbing Christmas trees, but it’s very dangerous.
“Cats are often tempted to climb Christmas trees, as they love high perches. However, an untethered tree could easily fall over, hurting them. The same applies if the cat is tempted to use the tree as a scratching post,” explains Dr. Richardson.
If your tree is located in an area of your home that the cats can access, it’s important to securely anchor your Christmas tree to a wall so that if your cat does get into the tree the tree won’t fall.
In general, it’s a good idea to supervise your cat anytime they are near the tree to prevent climbing. If your cat appears interested in the tree, try distracting with toys and/or treats to redirect their attention away.
Bringing a live tree into the house is likely to get the attention of your cat. Because cats often explore the world with their mouths, some cats may try to nibble on trees. However, Christmas trees are not safe for cats to eat. Although your cat is unlikely to ingest a lot of tree, many cats are tempted to nibble on Christmas tree branches and pine needles “While chewing on the bark may not necessarily cause much harm, pine needles could cause issues if ingested” advises Dr. Richardson.
Twinkling lights and other festive decorations are key components of decorating Christmas trees but they can pose some serious health and safety risks to our cats. Christmas decorations that are shiny and crinkly are especially attractive to cats who can easily mistake the holiday decor as a cat toy, Dr. Richardson warns
Christmas tree decorations you want to be especially careful about include:
- Tinsel, if swallowed, can get stuck in the intestines and bunch up, where it will cause a painful, life-threatening blockage and infection.
- A broken piece of bauble may obstruct and/or puncture the GI tract, which can also be fatal if not swiftly identified and treated.
- Tree lights can lead to dangerous electric shocks and/or burns if your cat chews on the wiring.
It’s best to completely avoid using tinsel on your tree because the risk of blockages are so high. When selecting other ornaments, pick ones made of plastic or other shatter-proof materials.
Distract the cat!
While decorating your tree, think about how you can naturally discourage your cat from investigating the tree. Make sure that your cat has access to enriching toys and furniture such as cat trees. Dr. Richardson encourages that cat guardians may want to try spraying cat perches/cat trees and toys with a cat pheromone spray, as it may help to encourage your cat to use them and ignore the tree.
“No matter how hard you try, some cats just won’t be dissuaded from climbing the Christmas tree, so you may need to reconsider the typical decoration plans,” cautions Dr. Richardson. If you know you have a cat that just won’t leave the tree alone, an option to consider is to set your Christmas tree up in an area of your house where your cat can’t access or to shift to having a different kind of Christmas tree-like tabletop ceramic trees or other decor that don’t pose risks to your cat.
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