For so many of us, a Christmas tree brings so much joy, but for cat owners, it can also be incredibly frustrating when your feline won’t leave the tree alone. Not only can your cat destroy your holiday decor and your tree, he can also get injured. So we asked a veterinarian, a cat behaviorist and other experts for their best tips to keep cats out of Christmas tree.
Why cats can’t keep their paws off Christmas trees
“For cats, a tree inside the house is like an amusement park suddenly appearing in their living space,” says cat trainer and behaviorist Albert Colominas, founder of Outdoor Bengal. “It’s filled with shiny objects, lights, and textures that are irresistibly intriguing.”
So compelling is this indoor kitty amusement park that “the only foolproof way to make a cat-safe Christmas tree is to keep it out of reach of your cat,” says Jo Myers, DVM, a veterinarian at Vetster, a pet telehealth company. “You may be able to accomplish this by keeping the doors to the room the tree is in closed, by hanging the tree upside from the ceiling or by placing a small tree in a cabinet or unreachable shelf.”
When these admittedly draconian measures aren’t in your plans, it’s time to try other fixes. Read on to see the best ways to prevent some of the most annoying behaviors that pop up when it comes to cats and Christmas trees.
How to keep cats from climbing the tree
“Christmas trees — with all their branches and vertical space to climb — can be irresistible for many cats,” confirms Jae Kennedy of Two Crazy Cat Ladies. “For persistently curious cats, we want to provide exciting alternatives as well as safe deterrents.”
1. Create something even better
A great place to start? Place a cat tree near your Christmas tree to encourage your feline to climb that instead.
“It’s important that the alternative is as engaging as the Christmas tree itself – think of it as offering a more interesting, cat-friendly option,” says Colominas. “You can enhance its appeal by adding toys or catnip.”
Also important: Reward your cat with a treat or toy when he opts for his cat-friendly tree instead of your holiday decoration. “Cats respond well to positive reinforcement,” notes Colominas. “When your cat chooses the cat tree over the Christmas tree you can use a clicker to mark the behavior. Clicking and rewarding is my favorite training method, and it will help reinforce this behavior.”
2. Try an aluminum foil apron
Sometimes your cat’s curiosity and climbing instinct just can’t be contained (especially with kittens), which means you might have to opt for a deterrent instead. “Placing a sheet of aluminum foil around the base branches will keep kitties from climbing because (most) cats don’t like the feel of it,” shares Kennedy. Whiskers will want to avoid stepping on the slick sheets to get in your tree and look elsewhere to prowl. (Click through for more brilliant uses for aluminum foil.)
Watch this foil trick in action in the Two Crazy Cat Ladies’ video below:
How to keep cats from drinking tree water
If you have a live Christmas tree, you may find your cat trying to slurp up the water in your tree stand when she gets thirsty. The good news? “In general, Christmas tree water is safe — even if it’s treated with a preservative,” says Dr. Myers. “Only in the rare event that it becomes contaminated with bacteria or other substances is it likely to make your cat sick. Don’t allow your cat to drink from the Christmas tree water if it develops a rotten smell or seems slimy.”
Even so, Myers says it’s best to discourage your cat from drinking out of the tree stand just to be safe. (Plus, your tree is more likely to dry out and become a hazard if it isn’t properly hydrated!)
To do that, consider creating a “grid” by putting tape in a crisscross pattern over the tree stand. Your cat won’t be able to get past the tape to slurp up the water, but you’ll be able to add water as needed. “Another way to keep cats from drinking the Christmas tree water is to cut a piece of cardboard to fit around the tree stump and cover the water in the tree stand’s reservoir,” shares Kennedy. “You may also want to secure the cardboard cover with tape as an extra safeguard.”
Finally, you can block your cat’s access to the stand by securing a cat tunnel around the base of the tree (Buy on Amazon, $39.99).
See how Foster the Felines made this work in the video below:
How to keep cats from eating a Christmas tree
Even if your kitty isn’t a climber, they may have another annoying habit when it comes to your Christmas tree: eating it.
Thankfully, this isn’t a cause for concern in most cases. “Most healthy cats can tolerate ingesting a few pine needles without any problems,” assures Dr. Myers. “If your cat happens to make a feast out of them, they may experience a mild, temporary upset stomach. It’s also possible that your cat may gag and throw up while trying to swallow longer needles, much the same as they do with blades of grass.”
If your cat does vomit up some needles, Dr. Myers says you shouldn’t be alarmed if he’s acting fine otherwise, as vomiting is just the body’s way of eliminating an irritating substance. (For severe vomiting or diarrhea lasts more than 24 hours, however, you’ll want to contact your veterinarian.)
But if your cat is persistent in his munching, you can keep him away by making the tree taste less appealing. “Using a bitter apple spray on the branches (test it first to ensure it doesn’t damage the tree) can deter your cat,” says Colominas. (Buy on Amazon, $11.98).
Kennedy says you can also opt for a citrus or mint deterrent spray. The strong scents are unpleasant for cat noses, but will add a nice holiday aroma to your house for you! (Bonus: This can help stop cats from climbing the tree too.)
One thing that is a hazard for cats to eat: tinsel and other stringy ornaments. “Even though a strip of tinsel is skinny, it only takes a few inches to cause an intestinal obstruction,” says Dr. Myers. Skip the tinsel and consider avoiding ribbons, as those can potentially cause similar digestive issues for cats. Make sure you keep light strands out of reach from the cat as well — chewing on the cord is rare for cats, but it could potentially be very harmful.
How to keep cats away from ornaments
All of those baubles and garland can be intriguing to a playful kitty! If Mittens gets a little too excited, you could end up with broken ornaments or an even larger decoration disaster.
The easiest fix: Use unbreakable ornaments. “They come in different colors and are beautiful!” says Kennedy. “The cats love to bat them off and play with them, but no disasters happen.”
For more fragile decorations, consider hanging them on a smaller second tree that your cat doesn’t have access to. Another fix: Using ties or clips instead of traditional hooks to secure them to the tree’s branches so they can’t easily be knocked off.
“Securing the tree with weights is also recommended if your cat is prone to playing with your Christmas tree’s decorations,” says Colominas. “You can use a fishing line to anchor the top of the tree to the wall or ceiling, making it more stable.”
Finally, adding enrichment items like boxes or scratchers around the tree can keep your sweetie entertained and away from your valuables. Naturally, one-on-one play sessions can be beneficial too. “Increased playtime can help expend some of that curious energy,” adds Colominas.
For more on feline behavior: