How to Cat-Proof Your Christmas Tree

December is here! I spent my weekend putting up decorations, including the Christmas tree! As a household with three cats, something I have to consider is how to cat-proof my tree so we ALL can enjoy the holidays together. Here’s a few handy tips to help keep your Christmas (and your cat’s!) as safe as possible:

1. Consider what type of tree you will use.

  • Consider the size of the tree. A small tree will be safer than a larger tree because there is less tree to crash down if things do go wrong. For a kitten, a small tabletop tree might be a good choice until it grows up and is less playful and inquisitive.
  • If you choose a real tree, also choose a water container that is completely inaccessible to the cat. Preservatives, pesticides, fertilizers and other agents, like aspirin, are commonly used in tree water to help keep the tree fresh. These can have harmful or even deadly consequences for cats and dogs (and children) who drink the water.
  • For small kittens, try wrapping tinfoil around the trunk. They don’t like putting their nails into it and it will help 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 heavy-duty and guaranteed to stay firmly in place if the tree is knocked. This will help prevent it from falling if your cat does choose to climb.
  • 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).
  • In addition to 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. You can use heavy duty fishing line to do this.

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 use them to jump onto the tree. Keep the tree in an open space that makes jumping either difficult or unlikely.
  • If possible, select a place 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, but if it is an option, it can be very helpful.

4. Consider not decorating the tree initially.

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 Bitter Apple. This will deter her without leaving a noticeable odor to human noses.
  • You can also try a citrus spray, as cats are also repelled by citrus odor. If it’s a fake 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 can 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 you probably won’t like that smell much either!)
  • You can also try spraying some pine cones with Citronella and pile them around the base of the tree.

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 dealing with cats batting at them while you’re hanging them. 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.

6. Choose ornaments less likely to be attractive to your cats.

Some ornaments will prove irresistible because they sparkle, glow, dangle and shimmer. 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. (Personally, I have to avoid anything with feathers, as my Bengal LOVES them and will climb anything to get them!)

  • Tinsel 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.
  • We strongly recommend that you do not use real candles on a tree when you have pets. Things can all too easily go wrong with a quick swipe of the paw. Christmas trees are very flammable, so it’s better to avoid that risk altogether!

7. Place decorations that are especially delicate, enticing or dangerous high up, 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. 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 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. These items look like toys to your cats, and may encourage them to bat at ornaments. When you’ve attached the decorations, give them a tug to check that they are secure. 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.