Are Christmas Trees Safe For My Cat?

Because you know they'll try to eat it 🎄😸

cat and christmas tree

Of course you love looking at your perfectly decorated Christmas tree — but your cat might prefer eating it.

So you've probably wondered just how safe that Christmas tree really is, especially if your cat seems eager to take a bite.

The Dodo spoke to Dr. Paul Cunningham, a senior emergency clinician at BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital in Michigan, to find out if Christmas trees are toxic to cats.

Are Christmas trees safe for cats?


As pretty as your Christmas tree is, it can be dangerous to your cat if he eats some of it.

“Live Christmas trees are not toxic to any animal brushing past them,” Dr. Cunningham told The Dodo. “Rather, the ingestion of branches, needles or water in the tree stand can cause illness.”

Here’s why Christmas trees can be bad for cats.

Tree chemicals and sap


Christmas trees contain chemicals called terpenes, such as pinene, which are toxic to cats. These chemicals are what give pine trees their classic Christmas-y smell.

“Most varieties of trees (whether pines or firs) contain these toxic terpenes,” Dr. Cunningham said.

When cats eat part of a Christmas tree or sap, they can show symptoms such as:

  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Lack of appetite
  • Muscle weakness
  • Drooling
  • Unusual breathing

Needles


Pine needles have been known to puncture the intestinal lining because they’re so pointy, leading to internal injury when ingested.

Water


Christmas trees need water to stay fresh throughout the season, and you probably add some preservatives to the water so your tree lasts longer, too. But if your cat drinks some of the chemical-filled water, he could get sick.

Pine needles and sap can also get into the water, which can cause problems if your cat takes a drink.

And if you don’t change the tree water frequently, it can develop bacteria that can be harmful to your cat, too.

“Standing water can also grow harmful bacteria or mold that can cause digestive distress if ingested,” Dr. Cunningham said.

Fertilizers


Some trees may be treated with fertilizers, pesticides and preservatives before you buy them, which can be poisonous to cats.

Are fake Christmas trees toxic to cats?


Fake trees can be safer for cats than live trees.

“Generally speaking, fake Christmas trees pose less risks than live pine trees,” Dr. Cunningham said.

But that doesn’t mean that they’re totally risk-free.

If your cat does manage to take a chunk out of your fake tree, the plastic could cause choking, an obstruction in your cat’s digestive tract or poisoning.

But the chance of that happening is probably pretty low because your cat would have to spend some time gnawing on the tree to eat a piece big enough to pose a risk.

How to keep your cat safe around your Christmas tree


Just because Christmas trees can be harmful to cats doesn’t mean that you can’t have one in your house. You just need to be on alert in case you do have a cat who’s determined to chomp away on those pine needles.

“While the risks are limited, it's best to be informed and cautious around the holidays,” Dr. Cunningham said.

According to Dr. Cunningham, it’s important to take measures to prevent chewing on tree parts or drinking tree stand water. Here are some things you can try.

Cover the tree water


To prevent your cat from drinking out of the tree water, cover the base with a tree skirt or buy a covered base.

And just in case, you can also use fresh water with nothing added to it and change the water daily — so if your cat does sneak a sip, he’ll be OK.

Block off the tree area


To keep your cat away from your tree, block off the area. You can get this highly rated gate from Amazon for $88.96.

Clean up


Clean up any pine needles that fall around your tree so your cat can’t eat them and get sick. It’s a good idea to throw out your tree before it starts shedding tons of needles at the end of the season, too.

Use a deterrent


You can place a spray deterrent near your Christmas tree to keep your cat away. Spray deterrents release a burst of air when your cat gets close to an area where you don’t want him to go to teach him that area is off limits.

Dr. Cunningham suggests using a SSSCAT motion-sensored air canister. “It uses an unscented jet of air to keep pets away from any desired area in the home,” Dr. Cunningham said.

You can get it from Amazon for $42.95.

Anchor your tree


Cats like to climb and jump on things, and having a tree in the house is a major temptation for your cat.

Make sure you have a sturdy base for your tree (so it doesn’t fall on you or your cat) and that it’s not close to anything fragile that can break if the tree falls on it. You might also want to opt for cat-safe ornaments.

You should also put the tree somewhere that your cat doesn’t usually climb (and not next to his cat tree).

And while it’s important to know that your cat shouldn’t have a Christmas tree as a snack (cat grass is actually a way better alternative for plant-eating cats), Dr. Cunningham said you’re more likely to run into issues with tree lights and decorations. To help make sure your bases are covered in those areas also, here are some more holiday safety tips for keeping your cat healthy and happy this holiday season.

While the likelihood of your cat eating enough of your Christmas tree to get really sick isn’t that high, it’s important to know the risks so you can be prepared. And if your cat’s mischievous, you might want to consider blocking off his access to the tree anyway so you don’t have any incidents — like these cats.

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