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Help! How do I Keep My Cat Out of the Christmas Tree?

Posted December 09, 2014 in Cat Behavior

Getting ready for the holidays and about to put your Christmas tree up? Keep in mind that the tree makes a tempting target for many curious cats. Here are some tips on how to pet-proof your Christmas tree.

Cat in Christmas treeConsider the type of tree to buy
When it comes to buying a Christmas tree, I prefer and love real trees. After all, they fill our house with the holiday smells of evergreen. However, keep in mind that if you have cats, real trees are much more tempting. Not only are real trees fragrant and the pine needles more fun to chew on (thankfully, rarely poisonous) but the tree trunk is perfect for scratching and climbing. Consider an artificial tree (after all, less trees are cut down and thrown away, right?). If you do get a real tree, avoid one that is very tall, as a tall tree would be more likely to topple.

Placement of the Christmas tree
Looking for the right spot to put your Christmas tree? Make sure you have plenty of free space on all sides of the tree so your cat doesn’t have a launching point (i.e., jumping off point) to attack the tree! Ideally, place it in an area with an equal amount of free space as the height of the tree (i.e., if the tree is 8 feet tall, consider leaving an 8 foot berth around it).

Securing the Crhistmas tree
Make sure you use a sturdy base to secure the trunk. While these bases are ugly, it beats having your tree topple over. (Simply wrap the base with felt or a tree skirt to hide it.) Also, consider securing the tree from the top (to a ceiling hook) for additional bracing and support.

Pet-proofing the Christmas tree
Here are a few ways to pet-proof your Christmas tree:

  • When watering your real tree, consider wrapping the base with plastic wrap so your cat doesn’t drink the fertilizer or chemicals. (Don’t worry, these are rarely poisonous but can cause gastrointestinal upset.)
  • If you have a real tree, wrap the base of the trunk with aluminum foil. As cats hate the crinkling sound and texture of foil, they are less likely to scratch on the tree trunk. Also, by wrapping the tree trunk with foil you hopefully prevent the initial climb.
  • Avoid dangling ornaments on the bottom 5th of the tree; place ornaments high up on the tree and make sure they are well secured (try twisty ties or zip ties to secure ornaments).
  • Never use tinsel in a household with cats. While tinsel isn’t poisonous, when accidentally swallowed by cats, it can get stuck around the base of the tongue or in the stomach, and result in a life-threatening linear foreign body. This can require expensive surgery to fix, so avoid this holiday emergency by not using any tinsel on your tree this year.
  • If you have a young, curious kitten, make sure to hide the electrical cords for the Christmas lights as best you can. When accidentally bitten, they can result in severe burns in the mouth and even rare fluid accumulation within the lungs (e.g., noncardiogenic pulmonary edema). Hide cords, and consider spraying them with Bitter Apple to prevent chewing. Also, make sure to turn off the Christmas lights and unplug the cords when cats are unsupervised.

When in doubt, avoid a holiday emergency trip to the veterinarian and keep your household safe during this holiday!

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

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Justine has more than 18 years of experience in the veterinary industry and is a board-certified emergency critical care veterinary specialist and toxicologist as well as the CEO and founder of Vetgirl. She is also a founding member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team.