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Breed & Health Resources

Cat-proofing Your Christmas Tree

By Liz Palika

cat in a Christmas tree

We’ve all seen the videos and photos online of the lovely Christmas tree toppled on the floor with a happy cat peeking from the rubble. Christmas trees are made to order for cats; they are new and unique to the household, the real trees smell good, and there are lots of dangling toys hanging from the branches.

It is possible to have a Christmas tree while sharing your household with a cat or two. It just might mean that you’ll have to change some of your traditions.

Go Artificial if Possible

The live trees attract cats more than artificial trees do. The smell of the outdoors and any critters that might have been in the tree, and the smell of the tree itself all call to your cat. Plus, once the tree is set up in your warm house, those odors intensify.

A live tree also poses some dangers to your cat. Needles, if swallowed, can cause harm to your cat’s mouth, throat, and gastrointestinal tract. Was the tree sprayed with anything at the tree farm? Insecticides, herbicides, fertilizers, or preservatives can all be toxic. The water for the tree is also a problem as any additives, as well as the tree sap, can make your cat sick.

This isn’t to say that an artificial tree is completely safe because that’s not entirely true. You will still deal with the attractions of the tree. But by going artificial you can lessen some of the attractions.

Anchor the Tree

Anchor the base of the tree with weights of some kind, or choose a weighted base for it. Weights, such as a sandbag or two, can be hidden under the tree skirt.

You can also try stringing a line from the tree to a wall to help steady it should a curious cat try to climb it. If you can place the tree in a corner of the room you can anchor to the walls on each side to secure it.

Make the Tree Inaccessible

Exercise pens (also called xpens) are great for protecting your tree. If you aren’t familiar with xpens, they are portable folding fences often used for keeping puppies safe. The xpen can be placed around the base of the tree from wall to wall.

Since the xpen isn’t particularly attractive by itself, decorate it with unbreakable Christmas decorations. Or use some holiday themed material and drape across the top of the xpen so that it’s a visual deterrent to your cat.

If your cat is determined to get to the tree, you may need to simply close off the room entirely to keep your cat away from it.

Choose Decorations Wisely

When I have foster kittens in the house, I put up only non-breakable decorations on the tree. I save my favorite ornaments, or heritage ones, as well as fragile ones for those years when I only have my adult cats and no kittens. Even if I barricade the tree the best I can, kittens are slippery little creatures and excellent escape artists.

I fasten the unbreakable ornaments to the tree with pieces of red or green craft pipe cleaners. The ornament hooks bother me; if a cat swallowed one it would be like a fishing hook. Pipe cleaners can be found in craft stores (50 pieces for about $4). I cut them in half and end up with more than I need. Don’t cut the pipe cleaners any smaller than in half because, well, you know cats. Anything can be a toy and I’m afraid too small a piece of pipe cleaner could potentially be swallowed too. Half a pipe cleaner is about six inches long and should be safer.

Using the pipe cleaner, fasten the ornament to the tree with a couple of twists. If the ornament is secure, it’s a less attractive play toy than ornaments that can fall off.

Make sure all wires for lights are tucked into the tree, and the wire to the plug should be lightly fastened somewhere so it isn’t dangling and inviting your cat to play.

Tinsel seems to be falling out of favor as decorations and I’m happy to see that. Not only is the stuff messy but it can kill your cat if it’s swallowed. It devastates the intestinal tract.

From Your Cat’s Viewpoint

As you decorate for this holiday season, look at things from your cat’s point of view. Does that dangling cord invite him to play? Does that tree or potted plant smell wonderful? Keeping your cat in mind will help you decorate safely so you, your cat, and the decorations make it through the holiday unscathed.

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