Christmas is coming soon and everyone is so excited. To make the holiday even more spectacular, you found the perfect Christmas tree. You set it up, carefully decorate it and then stand back to bask in the beauty of the twinkling lights and delicate ornaments handed down from generation to generation. Your happiness may quickly turn to panic though as you notice your cat sauntering over to the tree with a look of total joy. He thinks you’re the absolute best cat parent in the whole world because you just created the max in environmental enrichment. You set up the ultimate CAT TREE!
What Not to Do When Trying to Deter Your Cat From the Christmas Tree
I’ve seen people attempt to keep their cats away from the Christmas tree by creating an aluminum foil moat or encircling it in a folding dog X-Pen. Although many cats may not enjoy walking over aluminum foil, they’ll think nothing of it when it’s the only barrier between them and the impossible-to-resist tree of their dreams. X-pen fences may keep a small dog from bothering your tree but it will only slow your determined cat down by seconds before you see his happy head poking out from between the branches.
The other thing I notice cat parents do is to set up electronic deterrents around the tree. Whether it’s a sound-generating device or a shock mat, you might very well keep your cat away from the tree but you’ll also distress him which could lead to secondary behavioral issues. I especially hate these devices in multipet environments. The sound-generating device can upset a cat or dog who isn’t even the one attempting to approach the tree. With either deterrent device, it may cause a cat to redirect his frustration and react negatively by lashing out at a companion cat. There’s no place in your home for either of these devices.
Keeping the Christmas Tree Upright
Your plan starts with choosing the best location for the tree. You may decide the best option is a room in which the cat will not have access or a room that can be closed off when needed. If not, place the tree near something to which you can anchor it. For example, if there’s a large picture on the wall, remove it and put the tree in that spot. Secure the tree to the wall with fishing line and an eyebolt. This will make it more difficult for the cat to knock the tree down. When Christmas is over you can put the picture back. Any extra holes you had to put in the wall will be hidden by the picture after Christmas.
If you have hanging plants, you can also use the same technique if you have an eye-bolt in the ceiling. Secure the top of the tree to a wire or fishing line and then attach that to the plant hook. This way, the tree is anchored to the floor by the tree base but has extra security by being attached by a wire to the ceiling hook.
If the above doesn’t seem sturdy enough you can add extra support by securing the tree toward the bottom as well. Attach wire or cord near the baseboard. You’ll just have to cover the small hole with a piece of furniture afterward.
I’d also recommend you invest in a heavy-duty tree stand. Pick one that can easily manage the weight and height of the tree even if a determined feline attempts to scale it.
When choosing a location for the tree, a corner is a safer choice. Look around though and make sure there isn’t a table or piece of furniture too close that your cat might use as a springboard to launch himself onto the tree.
Cat-Safe Tree Branches
Before decorating, deter your cat from nibbling on branches by spraying a bitter anti-chew product on the tree. This is especially important if you have a live tree because you certainly don’t want your cat chewing on the needles. The tree needles are toxic if ingested and you also don’t know whether fire retardants, preservatives or any type of pesticides were sprayed on the tree.
Prevent Your Cat From Drinking Water From the Tree Reservoir
If you have a live tree, cover the water reservoir to prevent your cat from drinking there. Tree sap is toxic and so are any tree preservatives you may add in the water. Aspirin is something that people commonly use in the water to keep the tree fresh and that’s highly toxic to cats. Use netting or Sticky Paws for Plants over the reservoir. If you use Sticky Paws, place the strips in a criss-cross pattern so you can still water the tree but the cat won’t be able to get his face in there. Some tree stands have covers that go around the reservoir as well.
Artificial Trees May Provide Less Cat Appeal
Although I absolutely love the scent of a real live Christmas tree, we have had nothing but artificial ones in our house from the time we brought home our first cat and dog. Although there’s still a risk of choking or toxins being released in the body if a cat ingests part of an artificial tree branch, the chances are much less that he’d be interested enough to do so. You can also coat the branches with a bitter anti-chew product to make it even less appealing. If you buy a tree with shiny artificial branches your cat may be more enticed by the light reflection so when shopping, opt for the artificial trees made to look like live ones.
Tree Lighting Cat Safety Tips
Coat tree light wires with a bitter anti-chew cream to reduce the risk of getting chewed. Coat the wires before placing them on the tree. I recommend wearing disposable gloves when handling the wires. This way, you don’t have to worry about accidentally getting the nasty tasting product on your fingers and then touching your mouth before you have a chance to wash your hands. The gloves act as a reminder that you’re handling icky-tasting stuff.
When placing the lights on the tree, wrap them tightly around branches to limit any dangling wires. This will make it less enticing to your cat.
Choose lights that are steady and not twinkling to reduce the chances of enticing your cat into playing with them.
Don’t leave tree lights on all night or when you’re not at home. It’s best to completely unplug the tree lights when not in use.
Cover the electrical light cords leading from the tree to the outlet. Use pre-slit tubing to prevent your cat from gaining access to the electrical cord itself.
Routinely check any exposed electrical cord for signs of teeth marks or breaks in rubber covering. Additionally, routinely examine your cat, especially if he’s a kitten or has shown interest in the tree. Check his mouth for signs of burns. Look for singed hair or whiskers. Watch his behavior as well in case you notice a lack of appetite, change in breathing, needing to stand up in order to breathe, coughing or anything that doesn’t seem right. If you suspect your cat has been chewing on the Christmas tree lights, get to the veterinarian or veterinary emergency clinic immediately. Some internal damage may have occurred that isn’t visually obvious to you (such as pulmonary edema).
Ornaments and Decorations
These shiny, swaying objects can seem like toys just begging to be swatted at by a cat. Your best bet is to choose non-breakable ornaments. Breakable ornaments pose a double risk because small pieces can be ingested and your cat may also injure a paw stepping on sharp pieces. If you do want to put some delicate or breakable ones on the tree, save them for next year or the year after that when you have learned whether your cat has developed a decreased interest in Christmas decorations. When (or if) that time comes, secure any breakable ornaments tightly to the middle of branches and not hanging at the very edge. To limit temptation, don’t put ornaments on the very bottom branches.
Edible decorations such as strings of popcorn, cookie ornaments, cranberries, etc., are beautiful to look at but dangerous for your cat. These types of decorations are just too hard for a pet to resist with all those tempting aromas coming from the tree.
Be careful about using metal ornament hooks because they can easily fall from the tree with the ornament if the cat swipes hard enough. If your cat is very determined to play with ornaments, use green twist-ties so you can tightly secure the ornament to the branch. No matter how much swatting the cat does, the chances of the ornament staying put are much better.
If you have a kitten or a hard-core tree-climbing cat, consider making this the year you decorate with totally unappealing decorations (from a cat’s point of view). Paper ornaments, paper garland and wooden tree decorations can look beautiful, nostalgic and will probably be of little interest to a cat.
Tinsel and Garland aren’t Cat Friendly
Don’t use tinsel at all. It’s lightweight, easily falls from the tree and can cause intestinal blockage if swallowed by your cat. If you use garland, spray it with a bitter anti-chew product before placing it around the tree and secure it around branches so it can’t easily be pulled off.
Offer Your Cat Something Better to Do
Cats just want to have fun and now that you’ve done all this preventative work, the other half of the job involves giving your cat something better to do. I know it’s a busy time of year and it might even be the time you often skip a few play sessions with your cat but he really needs them now. Engage in interactive play sessions at least twice a day to help your cat work off that energy and hopefully tone down his fascination with the Christmas tree. In-between play sessions, give your cat some early Christmas presents in the form of fun puzzle feeders or other environmental enrichment toys. Even a few paper bag tunnels with safe toys inside may interest your cat enough to stay away from the tree.
Since cats love to climb, make sure your Christmas tree isn’t the only climbing option in the house. If you don’t already have a sturdy cat tree, I would certainly suggest you do a little early Christmas shopping and invest in one.
As Cats Mature
Typically, it’s the kittens and younger cats who show an interest in Christmas trees so hopefully, you’ll be able to ease up on this type of Fort Knox security tree prep after the first year or two. Some cats, though, never give up on the challenge.
Need More Information?
For more specific information on cat behavior and training refer to the books by best-selling author Pam Johnson-Bennett. Pam’s books are available at book stores everyone as well as through your favorite online book retailer. You can also purchase Pam’s books through our website.