Brenda Martin's cat, Max, once toppled a Christmas tree in his zeal to leap into it.
Max is gone now, but Brenda and her husband, John Myers, learned their lesson: Cats and Christmas trees can be a destructive force. So, in an effort to have a cat-safe Christmas tree, they began anchoring their live trees to the wall.
Their now two cats, Sugar and Spice, love to climb the Christmas trees every year and nestle in its branches to watch the lights. One Christmas, John walked in to find Spice had reached the top of the 9-foot tree.
"Sitting up there, perched like a star," Brenda says.
While it might appear to be near impossible to keep your cat (especially younger kitties) out of your Christmas tree, it is possible to alleviate the issues that might come with a curious climbing kitty.
A Cat Safe Christmas Tree
Cat behaviorist Pam Johnson-Bennett offers several ways to keep cats and Christmas trees safe this holiday season. The best bet, she says, it to place the tree in a room you can close off when no one is supervising your fur baby. That way you can simply shut the door when you're away and guarantee you won't come home to any surprises.
But if that isn't possible, her other suggestions include taking the steps Brenda and John took:
- Attach the tree to the wall or the ceiling. By anchoring it with fishing line and an eye bolt to either a wall or ceiling, you can make it much more difficult for the cat to knock the tree down.
- Invest in a heavy-duty tree stand. Find a tree stand that can manage the weight and height of a tree even if it's under attack by a climbing cat.
- Clear the area of furniture. A cat can use a nearby table, couch or bookshelf to launch herself right into your tree.
Stop the Snacking
While Brenda and John have never had a cat who likes to actually eat the tree, there are kitties out there looking for a snack. Johnson-Bennett advises spraying the branches with a bitter anti-chew spray. There are several types on the market or you can make your own by mixing citrus oil — or fresh lemon juice — with water and spraying it on the tree. Keep in mind: Some cats are more averse to certain sprays than others, so you'll have to watch to see if the spray is enough to keep your cat away. If not, try another brand.
A cat munching on the tree is not just an annoyance, but a safety issue if you have a live tree, Johnson-Bennett notes.
"The tree needles are toxic if ingested and you also don't know whether fire retardants, preservatives or any type of pesticides were sprayed on the tree," she writes.
Ingesting pine needles can cause liver damage or even death, according to cat behavior expert Marilyn Krieger. She tells Petcha that needles can puncture intestines, and an artificial tree's needles can cause an intestinal blockage.
Needles aren't the only toxic concern around a live Christmas tree. You may have poisonous holiday plants in your house, and you should be careful to make sure the cat doesn't drink from the reservoir around the live tree. Johnson-Bennett notes not only is tree sap is toxic, so are most preservatives you might add to the water, like aspirin.
How do you keep the cat out of the water? You can cover the reservoir with netting or duct tape — sticky side up — to keep her from being able to access the tree's water supply.
Wired for Trouble
Anti-chew spray should also be applied to the Christmas tree's light wires to deter chewing. Check out these other ways cat owners can protect their furry friend and still have a shining tree:
- Wrap the wires tightly around branches to limit dangling or loose pieces that can be irresistible to a cat.
- Pick steady lights — rather than twinkling or blinking lights — to lessen the chance your cat will want to play with them.
- Cover any cords leading from the tree to your outlet. Simply thread them through empty paper towel or toilet paper tubes to protect them from a frisky kitty.
- Check your cat and tree for damage. If your cat has access to your tree when no one is home, make sure to check the wires frequently for damage from teeth or claws. Always unplug the tree when no one is nearby to supervise. If you believe your cat might have chewed a live cord, check her mouth for signs of burns and look for singed hair and whiskers. If you suspect your cat has been hurt by chewing on Christmas tree lights, call your veterinarian immediately.
You can't really fault your cat for loving ornaments. You have to admit that those shiny, swaying objects look a lot like toys. Your cat doesn't know that ornament is a third-generation family heirloom. So how do you get a cat to leave your precious ornaments alone? For Brenda, it's all about placement.
"The bottom third of the tree just has unbreakable stuff or things that were cheap that we don't care if they get broken," Brenda says. It might simply be best to leave your most valued and fragile ornaments in the box until you know how your cat will react to other ornaments on the tree.
For cats and Christmas trees harmony, Johnson-Bennett's suggestions for ornaments include:
- Choosing non-breakable ornaments. Otherwise, a cat might accidentally ingest a sharp piece or step onto it, requiring a trip to the vet.
- Hanging the ornaments more toward the center of the tree rather than on lower or exterior branches where they might be too accessible to resist.
- Using green twist-ties (the kind you find in your grocery store's vegetable section) to secure ornaments to the tree. That way you can tightly secure the ornament to the branch, which will make it much harder for a cat to bat to the floor.
- Going retro. If your cat is tree-obsessed, consider decorating with simple paper ornaments and paper garland to protect your cat and your ornaments.
Whatever you do, don't let curious cats and Christmas trees put a damper on your holiday cheer. Just ask Brenda — cats and Christmas trees are what holiday memories are made of.
"They always have some new antics they're up to every year that involves the tree that always makes us laugh," she says. "It's part of our family traditions now."
Kara Murphy is a freelance writer and pet parent who lives in Erie, Pa. She has a goldendoodle named Maddie.