Cats vs The Christmas Tree

If you are a cat lover, there is nothing more heart-warming than to see your cats basking in the glow of the Christmas tree’s twinkling lights, blinking serenely until they fall asleep. 

But daytime may be another story. A tree in the house brings out all their hunting instincts. Fragrant branches and shiny objects must be explored. So cat owners have to get crafty when Christmas time comes around. 

First of all, use a wide, sturdy tree stand to help keep the Christmas tree from toppling over. Preferably use a tree stand with an obscured or partially enclosed water well, or else cover the well with heavy aluminum foil to keep your cat from investigating. Standing water may build up tree pesticides, mold and bacteria. Don’t put in any water additives, including aspirin and NSAIDs, and forgo the spray snow, which is also called flocking. Aspirin and NSAIDs are deadly, and the others will make kitty very sick.

Avoid putting the tree near any furniture, stairs or mantels that can be used to leap from one to the other. Cats like to climb as high as possible, so they will be focused on the tree as their Matterhorn to conquer. One suggestion online is to put the Christmas tree in the corner of a room where it would be flanked by two walls, and thus less likely to come crashing down.

If your cat is nibbling needles, which can cause eye scratches, tissue punctures and inability to swallow or digest them, you may want to consider spraying your tree with ‘yucky’ tasting, bitter anti-chewing spray found at pet supply stores. 

Cats are naturally attracted to electrical cords and anything that has a snaking motion, but they can get burned or electrocuted if they bite into a live cord, so it’s important to encase the cords in plastic coverings. They go by names such as Critter Cord and Chewsafe. Hardware stores also sell more cord conduits for the floor and plastic container boxes to keep excess cord contained. Plastic connector boxes are especially helpful to cover the junction where two cords plug together. Those couplings are attractive to chewers. If nothing else, use duct tape lengthwise over the cords to tape them down flat and camouflage them. 

It is recommended to decorate and light only on the upper parts of the tree unless you want to do a lot of picking up. Some experts suggest letting the cats play in the tree before decorating it, until they get bored. 

Things to avoid while decorating the tree are tinsel, crystal, glass picture frames or ornaments, sparkles, sequins, or glitter that would catch your cat’s attention. Don’t put any food types on the tree such as candy, salt dough ornaments, and popcorn-cranberry garlands. Or feathers.  

It’s extremely important never to use tinsel or lengths of twine, yarn, skinny ribbon or thread to decorate the tree, the household or any gifts. Because their tongues have Velcro-like barbs, once they lick something linear like this, they can’t spit it back out. As they struggle to remove it, they ingest more, and the situation quickly becomes a life-threatening emergency.  

Cats are going to want to scratch the tree. Online searches suggest keeping pine cones soaked in apple cider vinegar, or orange peels at the base of the tree to ward off your furry friends. One big reason why you don’t want cats at the base of the tree is because of their tendency to mark their territory. Some people wrap the lower trunk in foil to discourage this behavior.

Gifts may look beautiful under the tree, but they are a playground for cats to try to take them apart. Packages should be wrapped durably, with wide ribbon or perhaps just a bow. Please make sure that all gifts that have any food or candy (especially chocolates, cocoa mix, coffee, raisins, xylitol – an substitute sweetener that is deadly to pets even in small amounts, mints, nuts, or bread dough) are kept in a high, enclosed storage area. Wrapped empty boxes can be placed under the tree to fill things out and make the scene pretty, yet safe for pets.

Try putting plastic ornaments on low outer branches on just one side of the Christmas tree so your cats can bat them around and enjoy holiday fun with the rest of their family, without disturbing your decorations.

Heron’s Crossing provides end-of-life care for pets in the Metro Atlanta area. In-home appointments with compassionate vets are available. If you’d prefer a home-like setting away from your home, our Decatur office is also available by appointment.