Curious Cats and Christmas Trees they Can't Resist

Teddie cat under the Christmas tree

Separating cats and Christmas trees can be a full time job, especially if you have a kitty that likes to eat the leaves. Holiday decorations can be a safety issue, as well as an annoyance. Let's look at some of the issues.

Christmas trees and other holiday decorations can be a lot of fun, but they can also pose risks. More than one cat has become injured or worse by holiday decorations.

The Tree and Your Cat

While many holiday decorations can pose a threat to your cat, the tree can be extremely problematic. Here are some problems you may experience.

  • Climbing - While fake trees tend to be difficult to climb, real trees are a favorite climbing spot for cats. I have, over the years, found more than one cat sitting in the branches. If your cat gets up there and the tree is not properly secured, it might end up coming down.
  • Eating leaves - Many cats like to eat plants. Real Christmas trees have a strong scent which may draw your cat to them, and the needles on the tree may be a nice snack. Some cats, however, will even eat fake trees as well, or at least chew on them. Either of these can be dangerous if swallowed.
  • Dangling ornaments and tinsel - Cats usually love to play with items that dangle. Dangling ornaments may end up as unwilling cat toys, and your cat may end up choking.

    Some ornaments are very fragile and create unsafe splinters or glass shards when broken. Tinsel and other decorations are highly dangerous if swallowed as they can tangle up in the intestines. This can be life threatening.

Keeping the cats off the tree with a barrier is nearly an impossible task. As we know, cats are great jumpers, so it's hard to keep them away. You can't reasonably lock your cats in a room somewhere, and you can't reasonably lock your tree in a room where no one sees it.

So, what to do? Below are some suggestions for both encouraging your cat to avoid the tree, and some safety precautions as well.

  • Make the tree less attractive - Fewer dangling ornaments would probably make the tree less attractive to your cat, but that may not be possible. Lots of dangling things on the easy to reach branches are to be avoided.

    Before you decorate the tree, try coating the tree, concentrating on the lower limbs with a cat repellent like Bitter Yuck.
  • Make another area more attractive - While making the tree less attractive, make another area of the house more attractive. If your cat is just seeking additional stimulation, then providing an area with a cat tree, a scratching post, and plenty of toys may go a long way.
  • Use verbal and non-verbal punishment - If you notice your cat going for the tree, a firm "no" and a noise such as hand clapping will sometimes work as a deterrent. If your cat can't resist the tree, though, this will fail.

    Some people use spray bottles as punishment to train their animals, but some cats don't take well to this treatment. If you haven't been using it since your cat was a kitten, this may backfire. I gave up on the water bottle long ago. It usually doesn't work long term, and I don't recommend it.

Safety Precautions

  • Secure the tree - Make sure you secure the tree so that if your cat climbs in it, it won't topple over.
  • Use cat repellent - As mentioned above, use a cat-safe cat repellent in and around the tree to keep your cat off of it. You can spray Bitter Yuck (which is based on rosemary) on the lower limbs to discourage chewing.

    To prevent climbing, you can also drape rosemary clippings over the branches and also around the trunk as cats generally will avoid rosemary. According to the ASPCA, rosemary is non-toxic to cats and dogs. Also, you can use lemon scents to help keep your cats away from the tree.
  • Place tinsel up high - It's highly dangerous for a cat to swallow tinsel. Place tinsel up high so as not to encourage your cat. If your cat can find a way to get to the tinsel, it may be best not to have it at all.
  • Other safety precautions - Do not use hooks to hang ornaments as they can be dangerous if swallowed. If you have a real tree, keep your cat away from the water in it. you can block access to it in different ways, and/or keep lemon and other citrus scents around it.

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