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How to Cat-Proof Your Christmas Tree

A fuzzy tan and black tabby cat reaching for a dangling star ornament with its paw.

If you’ve ever survived a holiday season with a cat, you’ve probably learned one valuable lesson: cats and Christmas trees have been mortal enemies since the beginning of time. Or, at least since we started bringing trees inside and adorning them with dangly, tantalizing ornaments.

A few broken ornaments, stuck cats, and toppled trees later, you might be ready to give up the Christmas tree idea for good. However, you can have your decorations and your felines, too. You just have to get a bit creative and cat-proof your tree.

Here’s how to keep your Christmas tree safe from cat attacks, and your cat safe from tree-related dangers this year.

Choose the Right Kind of Tree

If your cat knocks over your tree, it could get hurt. Plus, how annoying is that mess to clean up?

Your first goal should be to choose a tree that’s relatively short and bottom-heavy, so it won’t tip over easily. You can anchor it in a hefty base, or buy a sturdier artificial tree if your cat really likes to climb.

An artificial tree is also the better choice if your cat likes to chew on plants. Some trees, like the Norfolk pine, are toxic to pets, and even with nontoxic tree species, the sharp needles can mean a trip to the vet.

Avoid Toxic Decorations

In addition to trees, other types of holiday decor, like holly, mistletoe, lilies, and poinsettias, can be toxic to cats. Before you decorate with any plant, check and make sure it’s safe for your pets.

If you particularly love a plant that could be toxic for your cat, you might be tempted to place it up and out of the way, but we advise against it. Cats are mischievous, and it’s best to avoid bringing home any plants that could hurt them.

Use Shatterproof Ornaments

You can’t really blame kitty for wanting to attack your tree. After all, you’ve basically covered it with shiny cat toys, also known as ornaments.

However, those ornaments can be hazardous to your cat and family when they fall out of the tree and shatter everywhere.

Fortunately, there’s an easy fix! You can now find shatterproof ornaments at just about any store that sells holiday decorations.

With nothing breakable hanging from the tree, you’ve got one less thing to worry about. If you do want to hang some fragile ornaments, just place them as high up on the tree as you can. You can also use a bit of string or twine to tie your most precious ornaments in place.

Skip the Edibles

You should also avoid any edible decorations your cat might eat, like popcorn strings, cinnamon sticks, and candy canes.

The salt dough ornaments kids often make in elementary school are also a no-no. Although fun to make, these are very enticing to pets. While they aren’t poisonous to pets, the high level of salt isn’t good for them and they easily can ingest a toxic level of salt if they chow down.

Avoid Tinsel and Fake Snow

Tinsel is sparkly, inexpensive, and potentially deadly to cats. It’s all too easy for a playful cat to accidentally swallow some tinsel, which can result in intestinal problems, and sky-high vet bills (or worse). Fake snow is also harmful if ingested, so leave it out of your decorations if you have pets.

Place Your Tree Carefully

A tan and black tabby cat lying on a sofa with golden eyes fixed on the sparkly ornaments on a Christmas tree.

While you can cat-proof a tree in any part of your house, it will be much easier if you put your tree in a room you can keep your pets out of. For example, if you can close a door and keep your cat away from the tree at night, you’ll minimize the amount of time accidents could happen.

Try to avoid putting your tree near furniture that makes it easy for your cat to climb or jump up. If you can, keep your tree away from furniture, tall objects, and anything breakable.

Use Texture to Your Advantage

Cats don’t like walking on poky, sticky, or otherwise uncomfortable surfaces. If you line your tree skirt with pine cones, double-sided tape, or something else that’s not fun to walk on, your cat will probably avoid the tree.

Consider a Christmas Tree Defender

The Christmas Tree Defender goes around the base of your tree, creating a barrier to keep your cat away. While it won’t work perfectly against the most curious felines, it can deter lazier cats from getting into the branches and causing mayhem.

Repel with Citrus and Other Deterrents

If you can’t barricade your tree, you can make it less appealing to your cat if you add some citrus. Most cats don’t like the smell, so mist your tree with a citrus spray, or hang dried oranges or orange peels on the lower branches to create a natural cat repellent.

You can also try apple cider vinegar, or some cat deterrent spray to make your cat less interested. If you don’t want to spray something all over your tree, you can also use this clever compressed air deterrent. The can has a little motion sensor on top that releases startling hiss of air when your cat triggers it. Just position the can so when the cat tries to climb up into the tree they get a warning hiss.

Decorate the Tree Alone

You can invite other people to help you trim your tree, of course, but don’t let your cat in the room while you do.

All those dangling objects and strings look just like cat toys, so your cat will assume you’re inviting him to play with you. Your cat is less likely to see the tree as a toy if they never see it waving and spinning around as you’re working.

You might also want to leave the tree up for a day or two before you add any decorations. This will allow your cat some time to safely investigate the tree before it’s adorned with cat toys, er, ornaments. Once they’ve decided the tree is a new but boring thing, they may not revisit it later when the ornaments are hung with care.

Offer Alternative Toys

Your cat will also be less likely to see your tree as a toy if she has plenty of other things to play with.

Consider picking up a few new cat toys and add a dash of catnip to make them even more attractive. If your cat likes to climb, a new cat tower, scratching post, or other designated play area should keep her occupied. Need some ideas? Check out our cat gift guide.

Most cats are more invested in play when you’re around, so devote a little time each day to playing with her. Plus, if your cat’s worn out from a play session, she’ll be less likely to target your tree.

Jingle Alert

If you hang some ornaments with bells on the lowest branches of your tree, you’ll immediately hear them jingle if your cat starts climbing or otherwise messing with the tree.

Don’t have any noisy ornaments? No worries, you can grab a big pack of jingle bells for dirt cheap. Just hang them with ornament hooks or ribbon and you’re in business. Festive and effective!

Light Up with Care

Christmas lights are a classic tree decoration. However, if your cat plays aggressively or likes to chew on cords, you could end up with a problem.

Protect your cat from electrocution with a floor cord cover, or use tape to attach loose cords to the floor. You can also wipe down the cords with bitter apple spray—a totally nontoxic but yucky tasting chew-deterrent made from apple skin extract.

Always unplug your lights when you’re not using them. If a wire starts to fray, replace the lights altogether. If your cat really can’t leave the cords alone, you should probably skip the lights this year.

Cover the Tree’s Water Resovoir

If you use plain water for your Christmas tree, it probably won’t really your pet if he drinks it—although the oils of fir, spruce, and pine trees can be very irritating to pets if ingested. Still, a stagnant container of sap water isn’t exactly an ideal water source.

Use the tree skirt or another covering to hide the tree water from your cat.

When All Else Fails, Hang ’em High

Finally, if you’re innovative and have the right space for it, a ceiling-mounted tree might be your best solution for a cat-proof Christmas.

This method is a cool, modern way to decorate. Plus, it saves floor space, which is a bonus if you live in a small home or apartment. And you can hang the tree high enough to foil even the most determined of kitties.

Vickerman 22032 - 6' x 61" American Upside Down Hanging Tree Half 315 Warm White LED Lights Christmas Tree (A117426LED)

When it comes to winning the Christmas tree war with your cat, take the high ground... by hanging it from the ceiling!

The holidays are busy and stressful enough without having to deter a curious cat. However, if you take these few extra steps to cat-proof your tree, it’ll pay off when you don’t step on broken ornaments or have to pay an emergency vet bill.

Elyse Hauser Elyse Hauser
Elyse Hauser is a freelance and creative writer from the Pacific Northwest, and an MFA student at the University of New Orleans Creative Writing Workshop. She specializes in lifestyle writing and creative nonfiction. Read Full Bio »
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