Cat Proofed Christmas

Is your cat smitten by your Christmas tree, so intrigued that she clambers onto it, knocking needles, decorations and tinsel everywhere? Or perhaps she has even come close to knocking over the entire tree?

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1. Start off smart by considering the type of tree you’ll use. Real Christmas trees are potentially more dangerous to your cat than artificial ones. This is because the needles on a real tree are sharp and can pierce or puncture the skin of an overly curious cat, while the pine needles themselves are irritating to mildly toxic if chewed (depending on the species of tree used). However, a chewed artificial tree isn’t going to be that healthy either, so balance the choice of tree type with how you intend to keep the tree safe from your cat using the remaining steps.

  • Consider the size of the tree. A small tree will be safer than a larger tree because there is less of it to crash down if things go horribly wrong. For a kitten, a tabletop tree might be a suitable choice until she grows up and stops being so playful.
  • If you do choose a real tree, also choose a water container for the tree that is completely inaccessible to the cat. If she tries to drink from it, she risks poisoning.
  • For small kittens, wrap tinfoil around the trunk. They don’t like putting their nails into it and it will keep them from climbing the tree.

2. Select a strong and unwavering base for holding the tree. Always err on the side of caution when selecting a tree base and get one that is guaranteed to stay firmly in place if the tree is knocked. This is as important for the safety of children as it is for pets. Ask your retailer for advice on the options provided in-store.

  • Even an artificial tree should have a firm and solid base.
  • Use a tree skirt to hide all ugly but practical safety fixes at the base of the tree (including electrical items, see below).
  • As well as a solid base, anchor the tree to the wall or ceiling to help prevent it from toppling over should your cat land in the tree or pull on it.

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3. Choose a safe location for the tree. There should be plenty of room around the tree so that it isn’t too near climbing items. If there are tempting shelves or furniture pieces to act as launchpads for kitty, she’s very likely to avail herself of them and jump onto the tree. Keep the tree in a clear space that makes jumping either difficult or unlikely.

  • If possible, select a placement for the tree that allows you to shut the door at night or when nobody is about, in order to keep the cats away from the tree. Obviously this isn’t always possible or even doable but if it is an option, make use of it.
  • If the tree is shorter than 6 feet (180cm), you might find it handy to use duct tape to tape the legs of the holder to a piece of wide plywood and put the whole tree on a short but very sturdy table. This keeps the tree above the level of the cat and the cat won’t be as interested. Of course, you still need to ensure that the tree is nowhere near any launching points for an opportunistic jump.

4. Consider not decorating the tree initially. The rationale behind this is to provide adjustment time to the tree, as well as a possible lesson for your cat in leaving the tree well alone. Fill a spray bottle with water and hang on to it. It is a good idea to set the tree in place, then let her in to investigate but hover in the background with the spray bottle, just in case. If your cat shows any signs of wanting to leap at or on the tree, a light spritz of water on her back and a stern “NO!” will get the point across. This should deter her from trying it again and should be enough to teach her that the Christmas tree is not her playground.

  • If you’re still concerned prior to decorating the tree, spray it with a product called Apple Bitter. This will deter her without leaving a noticeable odor to human noses. Or, you might try a citrus spray, as cats are repelled by citrus odor too.
  • If it’s a plastic tree, a small amount of Citronella oil shaken into a bottle of water and misted on to the tree makes it smell unpleasant to the cat but fresh and citrus-like to you.
  • You could also place orange peels under the tree to make your cat less likely to go near it. (Cats also dislike the smell of rotten apples but then you probably won’t like that smell much either!)
  • Spray some pine cones with Citronella and pile them around the base of the tree. Cats do not walk on pine cones! (Pine cones also have the same effect in the base of your houseplants.)

5. Decorate the tree with your cat firmly out of the way. It’s hard enough fiddling with trees, decorations and breakable ornaments without also having felines running up past you and pelting at the objects as you’re gingerly hanging them up. Your cat will assume this is a game you intend for her to play, so it’s just easiest to keep her out of the way until everything has been set up.

  • While decorating, if your cat is about, resist the urge to tease her with decorations as you’re adding them. Doing so will only encourage her to see the glittery items as toys and things to swat at anytime she pleases.

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6. Choose ornaments less likely to be attractive to your cats. Some ornaments will prove irresistible because they sparkle, glow, dangle and shimmer. On the other hand, blander, less shiny or flat matte objects which don’t dangle much will have less allure for your cat. Felt, paper and plain decorations might be the best choice. And avoid anything that dangles a lot, jumps about or spins.

  • Never put catnip stuffed items on the tree. That’s just asking for it.
  • Consider not having certain decorations at all. Tinsel is potentially hazardous for cats who chew it and swallow it and it is not recommended for households with cats; it can cause choking or other internal problems if swallowed, such as intestinal blockage. So can ribbons and other items with length that dangle from the tree. Artificial snow is toxic and should not be used when you have pets and small children. Christmas is stressful and expensive enough without the emergency surgery necessary to save your cat’s life if sharp-edged tinsel slices through the intestinal wall or causes a blockage.
  • It is recommended that you don’t use real candles on a tree when you have pets. Things can all too easily go wrong with a quick swipe of the paw and flames upon flammable items as a result.
  • If you like decorating the tree with food, be careful what you add. Chocolate of any kind is toxic for cats and the odor may be tempting to them if hung from the tree. Lots of sweets aren’t healthy either.

7. Place decorations that are especially delicate, enticing or dangerous high up the tree, in the top two-thirds of the tree. Your cat is less likely to reach for higher parts of the tree (provided you’ve ensured there are no leaping ledges or spots nearby), which will help to keep these items safe. Tinsel, if used at all, should be placed up high as it is likely to be dragged off by a curious cat and as already noted, it can be very harmful if ingested, including getting caught in the stomach and intestines. Some people choose to not even decorate the lower third of the tree at all. That way, there is nothing of interest at cat’s eye level.

  • Some cats cannot help themselves and will climb up high whatever you do. If your cat is like this, then avoid having any delicate or potentially dangerous items on the tree at all.

8. Attach ornaments onto the tree securely so that they cannot be simply pelted or lifted off. Use metal hooks that clamp to the tree and avoid using string, rubber bands or anything else dangly to attach the ornaments with. When you’ve attached the decorations, give them a tug to check that the method of attaching that you’ve used is adequate and requires dexterous strength to remove.

  • Hang ornaments by using quality wire ornament hangers. Use a pair of pliers to clamp the hook part around the branch so that it doesn’t dangle and cannot be simply pulled off.

9. Be careful with electrical wires and lighting. A Christmas tree is complete when its lights are on but the wires can prove too much of a temptation to a curious kitty. Be sure to tape down excess wire and to make it too hard for the cat to reach the power point and cord join. Do not leave any wires dangling – wrap wire around the base or tree rather than having it dangling anywhere. It can also be helpful to cover exposed wires in wire covers or piping to prevent the cat from chewing them.

  • Cords can also be coated in “Bitter Apple”.
  • Plug the tree lights into a short indoor extension cord and tape the plug into the socket with electrical tape. Simply unplug the lights from the extension cord to turn off.
  • Consider using cords that shut off if damaged.
  • Always turn off Christmas tree lights when there is no responsible adult in the room to keep an eye on them.

10. Relax now. You’ve done all you can to secure the tree and to make it a safe experience for your cat. Some cats will climb into the tree whatever you do and provided you’ve made it safe, it’s best to reach a place of acceptance about this and go with the flow. Decide to make it your cat’s Christmas and decide that you are not going to get frustrated trying to outsmart your cat this Christmas. Provided you’ve secured the tree to keep it from toppling and properly clamped ornaments to the branches, you will be able to cope if your cat does hop into the tree. And if that happens, be ready to take pictures of your cat sleeping in the Christmas tree branches – and smile.

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