For many of us, a Christmas tree will be at the center of celebrations this holiday season, but it’s important to make sure you decorate in a way that keeps your pets safe. Read on to learn why cats are attracted to Christmas trees, what the dangers are, and how to cat-proof your tree and keep your kitty safe over the holidays.
Why are Cats Attracted to Christmas Trees?
Is your cat fascinated by your trees’ shiny baubles? Won’t stop trying to climb it? If so, you’re not alone. Cats are naturally attracted to Christmas trees for a number of reasons:
- Decorations look like cat toys. Christmas trees are usually filled with shiny tinsel, baubles and sparkly lights for them to bat, which look just like their toys.
- Cats are curious creatures. In general, cats love exploring new, unfamiliar things in their home, and will attempt to climb or clamber on the object if they can, to get a good look at it.
- Climbing is a natural instinct for cats. They love high perches, and the top of the tree is no exception. They may try to climb the tree to get a good vantage point of their nearby environment.
- The bark makes a good scratching post. Scratching feels great for cats; it relieves a natural instinct and helps to wear down their claws. If your cat doesn’t have a scratching post nearby, they may be tempted to scratch on the bark of the tree.
- The pot and soil makes a good litter tray. If your cat doesn’t love their current litter situation, they may be tempted to do their business in the tree pot. Cats with a tendency to urine mark may also be tempted to mark their territory on the new tree!
What Dangers do Christmas Trees Pose for Cats?
Even if the tree might seem like one huge toy to your kitty, there are actually a number of dangers posed by Christmas trees that owners should be aware of.
- The tree could fall over and hurt your cat. Not all cats are the most graceful of creatures when climbing, and an untethered tree could easily become unbalanced and fall over, hurting your cat. The same applies if your cat tries to use the tree as a scratching post.
- Tree decorations are dangerous. Many popular tree decorations are actually very dangerous for our pets. Tinsel, if swallowed, can get stuck in the intestines and bunch up, where it will cause a painful, life-threatening blockage and infection. A broken piece of bauble may obstruct and/or puncture the GI tract, which can also be fatal if not swiftly identified and treated. Tree lights can lead to dangerous electric shocks and/or burns if your cat chews on the wiring.
- Stagnant tree water can be toxic for cats. Water around a Christmas tree can become stagnant and bacteria can grow very quickly, which can cause serious stomach upsets for your cat. Many people also often use chemical Christmas tree ‘extender’ products in the water to keep their tree green longer, but these can also be toxic to our furry friends.
- Fallen tree needles can hurt. It’s always difficult to keep fallen needles in check around your tree, but extremely important for your pet’s safety. They’re not only a potential pain in the paw pad, but could cause internal punctures or toxicity issues if ingested.
It’s important to do everything you can to discourage your cat from climbing on, playing with, scratching or chewing your Christmas tree.
How to Cat-Proof Your Christmas Tree
Thankfully, there are a number of ways you can try to make things safer for your cat, and to discourage your cat from climbing your Christmas tree (or playing with it, scratching it, or chewing it!)
- Anchor the tree. Attach the tree to a wall so that it can’t fall over, even if your cat decides to go for an adventurous climb.
- Choose safer decorations. Do not decorate with tinsel, and ensure any baubles and other decorations are shatter-proof. Supervise your cat carefully to ensure they do not chew any wiring or lights, and secure any trailing wires out of reach.
- Prevent your pet drinking tree water. If you have a tree that needs watering, make sure there’s no access to tree water that your pet might try to drink from, and do not use any chemical Christmas tree ‘extender’ products in the water. You could put a mesh type of grate over the tree stand to prevent your cat reaching the water.
- Sweep up fallen needles regularly to protect your cat’s paws and insides.
- Make the tree less desirable. Cats dislike aluminum foil – try wrapping the pot and covering any soil with foil. If your cat is scratching the tree, try wrapping the trunk with double sided sticky tape.
- Block their access to the tree. If possible, consider blocking off their access to the tree completely with some sort of unclimbable barrier that’s too tall for them to jump over. Also try to position the tree somewhere where they can’t possibly jump onto it from another piece of furniture.
- Provide sufficient alternative enrichment for your cat. If your cat has plenty of other high perches to look down from, several scratching posts and toys available, they may be less inclined to play with the tree. You might consider spraying these alternative items with a cat pheromone spray to encourage your cat to use them. We recommend Feliway spray. You can also offer positive reinforcement (treats and affection) as rewards when your cat uses the correct toys.
- Use humane discouragement techniques. When you catch your cat climbing or playing with the tree, clap your hands loudly or use a water spray bottle to startle and distract them and discourage them from repeating this negative behavior. Just ensure you NEVER hit or otherwise physically punish your cat, as it’s inhumane and has been proved ineffective as a training method.
- Get creative! No matter how hard you try, some cats just won’t be dissuaded from climbing the Christmas tree, so you may need to reconsider the typical decoration plans. If you can’t make your tree inaccessible or unclimbable, you might consider rethinking the ‘tree’ part entirely, and having another form of decoration for the holidays.
What To Do if Your Cat Gets Hurt by the Christmas Tree
If your cat does manage to get into trouble with the tree, it’s important to seek veterinary advice as soon as possible, especially if you think they might have ingested something they shouldn’t have.
Over the holidays, Small Door members can get in touch with us 24/7 via the app if you need any advice.