Cats and Christmas Trees: Controlling the Curiosity

We all know the old adage about curiosity. This time of year, it seems nothing piques a cat’s curiosity more than that wonderful fresh tree you brought indoors. Festooned as it is with shiny, dangling “cat toys” and twinkling lights, your cat probably thinks it’s just for him! You’re no doubt trying to make it up to him for all those extra people you’ve been having over. To keep curiosity from taking its toll, PugetPets has compiled ten tips for ensuring the safety of cats and Christmas trees alike.

Cats and Christmas Trees: Safety Tips

  1. Secure your tree. Use a stand that is large enough to accommodate the size of your tree. If you have a young or particularly adventurous cat, you can also anchor your tree to the wall and/or ceiling using hooks and fishing line. Command brand hooks are a great way to do this without damaging walls. If you’re concerned about a flying attack from the fireplace mantel, this is the way to go!
  1. Cover the water. You will want to keep cats, dogs and toddlers from drinking the water you are feeding your cut tree. This is especially true if you use sugar, aspirin or tree preservative in the water. A tree skirt is often a sufficient deterrent, but if someone is stubborn about wanting to dip in, using a covered-reservoir tree stand could be necessary. You can buy one of these or make your own using aluminum foil or plastic wrap.
  1. Clear the ground. While it might seem counter-intuitive, keeping the area directly beneath your tree clear of presents and decorations can aid in reducing your cat’s curiosity factor. Cats and Christmas trees are a match made in the wild. Also in keeping with their nature as stealthy, solitary hunters, cats love the network of dim hiding places created by lots of boxes under the tree. Reducing this attraction can help keep your cat’s interest diverted from the tree itself. Finally, to keep your pretty bows intact, put presents out at the last moment or place them out of your cat’s likely reach.
  1. Hang ornaments strategically. Depending on how interested your cat is in your tree, you can either keep the lower branches clear entirely or simply hang more cat-resistant or less valuable ornaments on lower branches. Wooden or stuffed (plush) ornaments are good “bottom rung” choices. Anything glass or delicate or that includes small parts, along with ornaments you regard as family heirlooms, should be hung out of paw’s reach.
  1. Use wire ornament hangers with care. Avoid these on the bottom of your tree, as they can be sharp, cutting a curious cat’s mouth. If you must use them, use them to your advantage by closing the hooks at both ends to secure your ornaments to the tree. This way, ornaments are less likely to show up in your cat’s food bowl the next morning!
  1. Nix the tinsel. If an emergency vet visit on Christmas morning isn’t your idea of a good time, give up those stringy tinsel “icicles” or “angel hair” you grew up with. Many cats just can’t resist eating them, and they are a sure recipe for a severe intestinal blockage that can kill your cat. If you can’t say no to tinsel, use the garland variety and keep it out of your cat’s reach. This also goes for popcorn and cranberry garlands and other off-limits food ornaments, such as cookies and candy canes. These should be kept out of reach of dogs, too.
  1. Mind your lights. If your cat is especially rambunctious or one of those with an electrical cord fetish, you’ll want to keep your tree lights to the higher branches and cover the cord to prevent your cat from chewing on it. Make sure to turn off (unplug) lights when you go to sleep and whenever you are not at home. If you suspect your cord-chewer has been at work, monitor them for signs of electrocution, which include burns around the mouth or whiskers, coughing and rapid or abnormal breathing. Visit PetMD for more information about electric cord bite injury in cats.
  1. Prevent poisoning. Fir and pine resin are irritants to the mouths and digestive tracts of cats and dogs, so if your pet shows interest in eating your tree, you will have to take action to deter this behavior. For cats, giving them some cat-grass or pesticide-free lawn grass to chew on may be enough. Your cat may simply be craving some greens in her tummy to aid in hair-ball processing. A water-spritzer deterrent often works to dissuade both dogs and cats from an interest in a forbidden item. Beyond being irritating, some holiday greenery is outright toxic. Poinsettias, mistletoe and holly are all poisonous to cats, dogs and humans!
  1. Try repellents. If your cat is especially determined, you may need to try a feline repellent around your tree. Some commercial sprays are available especially for this purpose. In addition, vinegar, camphor and citronella are all reputed to deter cats, but most of us don’t want these things to be the predominant scent of the holidays. Alternatively, some suggest that orange essence is undesirable to cats. Using orange peels and orange oil under and near your tree is a safe and (to us) pleasant-smelling way to discourage the curiosity seeker. An orange-clove combination is a holiday favorite that contains two antiseptic oils your cat may find distasteful. Essential oils are available at many Seattle area retailers, including PCC, Fred Meyer and Central Market/Ballard Market. With all feline repellents, periodic reapplication will be necessary as the scents fade over time.
  1. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Cats and Christmas trees don’t have to be a recipe for disaster. Short of mimicking a famous scene in a Chevy Chase movie, most of your cat’s holiday antics will be the source of funny stories and great memories. Secure your tree, and if you’re willing to sacrifice a couple of cat-safe ornaments to the toy box or don’t mind having a bare-bottomed tree, you’ll be sure to have a happy and healthy holiday with your whole family, including its beloved feline members!

PugetPets wishes a merry “Cat-mas” to all, with cats and Christmas trees living in peace and harmony! To all our feline and canine clients and their families, we wish a warm, happy and safe holiday season, however you celebrate. For other holiday health and safety tips for your pet, check out these other holiday safety topics in our blog archives:

Food Toxins: Holiday Table Scraps

New Year’s Eve Safety: Fireworks and Microchips