How To Protect Your Christmas Tree From Your Cat (And Vice Versa)

Because cats and Christmas trees just don’t mix.

For cat owners, decking the halls can be a challenge.

Many of our feline friends view holiday decorations as shiny new toys, with the Christmas tree as a massive scratching post all for them. And who can blame cats for their interest in the trimmings and tinsel?

When December rolls around, alterations to the home environment can be both exciting and stressful for a pet — with the tree at the center of these changes. So what can pet parents do to protect their Christmas tree from their cat?

“Many cats are intrigued by new things in the house. Because we have control over their environments, they don't generally get exposed to too many large new objects,” Dr. Elizabeth Stelow, chief of animal behavior services at the University of California, Davis, told The Dodo. “Second, many cats love to climb trees. If you've seen videos of cats really attacking their cat trees, it looks very much like a cat in a Christmas tree. They may play hide-and-seek with others, climb or scratch along the main trunk.” Add to this exciting items hanging off the branches and flashing lights and … well … essentially, we’re asking for it.

“I know lots of people who put an exercise pen around the tree to keep the cats out,” Stelow notes. Depending on your cat’s climbing abilities, and interest in the new tree, a baby gate may deter them from further exploration — or it may not.

But, no matter how adventurous your kitty, negative reinforcement isn’t the way to go. “One colleague tried to use a static (Scat) mat around her tree,” Stelow added. “It backfired because the cat was terrified of that room from then on — so punishment is a bad idea.”

Holiday plants, such as mistletoe, holly, poinsettias and even your pine tree can be mildly toxic to pets if ingested. To safely deter your cat from playing in the tree, think creatively. You know your cat’s likes and dislikes better than anyone else, and they can be used to your advantage:

Even if your cat does not show immediate interest in the tree, cover the water reservoir with a tree skirt or blanket, so your cat will be unable to drink from it. Standing tree water can be a breeding ground for bacteria and some trees are treated with chemicals that can seep into the water, which can give your kitty an upset stomach or worse.

To minimize damage to your decorations, use plastic or fabric ornaments, at least toward the bottom of the tree. “When the cat hits at them, sometimes they come off the tree and become free-ranging toys to be played with until the cat is bored or the ornament is broken,” Stelow says. “Even if the ornament stays attached to the tree, it can be batted at indefinitely.” If your cat is an expert climber, tether the tree to a hook in the ceiling with fishing wire so your cat is unable to topple it.

If all else fails, Christmas traditions may have to be altered or minimized to suit your cat overlord’s needs. “Another colleague has a tiny tree she puts in a glass enclosure,” Stelow notes. “Small trees can also go on tables or shelves that cats can't reach.”

Small trees can still make a cheery holiday statement, a statement that says, “I have cats.”