cats and christmas trees

Putting up my Christmas tree is a tradition I look forward to every year. For the past couple of years, I’ve approached this annual event with some trepidation:  after almost two decades of sharing my life with older cats, I now have three-year-old Allegra and barely adult, two-year-old Ruby. Surprisingly, neither of them has shown all that much interest in the tree.

Christmas tree hazards

I’m aware of all the hazards. Christmas trees can be deadly to cats (they could ingest pine needles, and the water cut trees are placed into usually contains pine resin, preservatives and fire retardants, all of which are toxic). Artificial trees are safer than live ones, but ingesting the needles can still cause intestinal blockages. We’ve all heard the warnings about tinsel, but does anyone really still use tinsel? My first cat, Feebee, put an end to having popcorn garlands on the tree: He discovered to his great delight that Christmas tree decorations were edible, and of course, I was much too worried about him ingesting the string to leave them on the tree after that. Ornaments present additional hazards:  glass ornaments can break, and small pieces and hooks from ornaments can be ingested. Cats might chew on twinkling lights and light cords, not to mention that they could climb the tree and topple it over.

It’s enough to make a cat owner question her sanity for even wanting to have a Christmas tree, isn’t it?

But without a tree, it just wouldn’t be Christmas for me, so, using common sense and some additional precautions, I once again took a deep breath, and put up my tree over the weekend.

Common sense precautions

I have a relatively small artificial tree that sits on a side table covered by a tablecloth that reaches all the way to the floor, creating a perfect little cat tent underneath. None of my cats have ever bothered the tree, and all have always loved this arrangement. Hiding underneath the tree and stalking toys or each other provides endless entertainment. The table is just large enough to hold the tree, and there’s not really a good angle or enough room to jump up on it, so that’s never been a problem.

When I brought out the tree for Allegra’s first Christmas with me, Allegra was a little scared of all the commotion. She puffed herself up and mounted several fierce attacks on the tree branches spread all over the living room floor. By the time I had put the tree together and set it on top of the table, she couldn’t have cared less about the tree.  It was all about the tent underneath.  It became a favorite hiding and napping spot.

cats and christmas tree safety

I was really worried the following year: it was Ruby’s first Christmas with us, and at barely a year old at the time, I had visions of this high energy kitten trying to scale the tree. Thankfully, she wasn’t all that interested in the tree, either. The tent underneath was so much more fascinating.

Every year, I make sure the tree is seated solidly in its sturdy base. I contemplated anchoring it to the wall or ceiling, but decided to wait and see what would happen once I added lights and decorations.  Since neither of the girls has ever made any attempts to even go near the tree itself, I didn’t bother. I make sure to hang breakable ornaments toward the top of the tree, and I don’t leave anything dangling from the lower branches to reduce temptation.

How has your holiday decorating changed in order to keep things safe for your cats?

62 Comments on Cats and Christmas Trees

  1. Being new to the wonderful world of kitties, last year when we adopted Anya, we didn’t even put up a tree. But now that we have both Anya and Oscar, my wife decided this year to put up a tree again. So far, so good. The cats show no interest in the tree or anything on it. Whew! I was worried at first, but (knock on wood) I think this is going to work out.

    Thanks for your ALWAYS good advice, Ingrid. And you and the girls have a wonderful Christmas season!

  2. Simple…put the tree in a corner. Tie it to nails you normally would hang your pictures from. Use fishing line or this green gardening string. Its worked for me many years. No Icicles. Put a nice but cheap tree wrap under the tree …they will love that.
    Love the blog Ingrid….keep up the great work.

  3. Mr. Henry is a rescue kitty, whom the vet thinks is around 10 years old. I was still a little hesitant about a tree the first year he came to me. I held my breath as he walked up to the tree and batted at one of the wooden ornaments I put on the lower branches, but he just looked at it for a minute and walked away. That was his one and only attempt at playing with the tree. I still keep only wooden ornaments on the bottom branches, just in case, but so far, so good!

  4. Many years ago, our family included two wonderful cats, Hypatia and Buddy. One Christmas we took a chance on a (live) tree. I tried keeping tinsel on the upper branches only, but Hypatia got to it no matter what I did. Took tinsel off. Buddy was always cautious, but when he decided he didn’t like something, he let you know it. He picked a strategic spot, under the tree, and on the tree skirt. Yup. Peed all over it. Took skirt off. Took tree down. This year, we have seven kitties. There will be no tree. The “baby” of our bunch, Omega, is 1 1/2 years old, and he is a hell-raiser. He is fearless and will face any obstacle or danger. He also destroys everything in sight, which gave rise to his nickname “the AntiChrist”. There will be no trees.

  5. Last year, our daughters kitten came along on the visit for the holidays. The day after Christmas she climbed up the tree and so the tree came down. This year, we purchased a small tree (this cat now lives with us) that sits on a table. As soon as the tree was set up she climbs up onto the table and jumps through the branches. It has been knocked over many times in the last couple of days. We can’t keep her off f it. So, this year no tree decorations. We have decorated a wreath and hung it on the wall behind the tree.

  6. I have a male, castrated cat no more than 7 months old. I was not allowed to set up my artificial christmas tree as he rummaged through it, bit of fake needle branches, tipping the tree over and over and over again, scratching me in the process.

    Now I set up the tree on my balcony and closed the door. When he inadvertitly slips through my feet when I open the door, he’s in the tree in five seconds doing what he does best: Creating havoc on it…

    I love my cat but he can be a real hassle sometimes 🙂

    • Putting the tree on the balcony is a great idea, Lars. You can still enjoy the tree, and it’s safe from your little door darter (well, at least, most of the time!) 🙂

  7. Of all the kitties we’ve shared our home with, we’ve never had much in the way of Christmas Tree shenanigans, other than the occasional ornament batted around. Until our latest addition 2 years ago – IV. (“Ivy”) We were warned early on he’d be a “big boy” but having always had males we didn’t pay much heed. By the time he was about 1 1/2 years old he topped out at around 22lbs. And then it was Christmas, his first with us. And a tree.

    I never imagined a cat could literally bend the metal supports on a fake tree until IV came along. He would crawl up into the first layer or branches and either attempt to use them as a ladder to get higher, or simply spread his manly girth out & nap. Within a week, the entire bottom portion of the tree was touching floor. We never even decorated it for fear of the entire thing toppling over.

    Maybe this year we’ll have better luck, he’s lost a few pounds & is down to a svelte 19 lbs or so but he’s still as maniacal as ever. Hopefully this link is publicly viewable:

    • I had the same thing happen with my kitten last year. He was barely 1 1/2 last christmas and quiet light and slender. He bent both the bottom and middle sections of the tree so badly I had to throw the whole thing away. Can anyone recommend a tree that is sturdy enough to hold a cats weight?

      • This is so long into the future as a reply (haha) but i just used a hammer to hit the supports and bend them back into place.

  8. I have 4 young cats that I rescued at a week old and bottle fed. Last Christmas was horrible. I had 5 month old kittens climbing inside of the tree and causing caos. This year I was desparate to have a tree, it is artificial, and keep it standing, with ornaments. Well I sprinkled an entire bottle of Orange Extract on the lower branches, and on the tree skirt. Smells wonderful and amazingly enough, it’s been almost two weeks and my ornaments are left alone and my naughty felines are leaving the tree alone. 🙂

    • I’m glad the orange extract is working for you, Terry. I can’t imagine having 4 five-month-old kittens with a Christmas tree – it must have been quite the scene!

  9. I love Christmas trees and cannot imagine a Christmas without one. I have 4 cats, 15, 9, 3 and 1.5. The only cat that caused problems was the 9 yo one, but that was a long time ago, only his first 3 Christmases and all he did was take down the bottom branch ornaments to play with them. And those were always little plush bears. The two younger ones couldn’t care less about the tree. I think in part it is because they have boxes with toys and toys all over the house. They always have something to play with. And they chase each other around the house.

  10. My cat eats the tree and gets squirted with water. Works a little. I love how she slinks low to the ground and peers over her shoulder to see if anyone sees her. haha!

  11. My new kitty is very interested in the tree…none of our other cats cared about it. Its artificial and she likes to eat it. We spray her with water or clap real loud when she does it. It seems to wirk but we still catch her sometimes. She walks real slow and low to the ground and looks over her shoulder. She SO knows she’s being bad. LOL!

  12. Ingrid, I love the pic of the torties! I have always had older cats but this year I have a kitten for the first time. Well, the kitten (Vince)/xmas tree combo has been quite exciting I can tell you. So far, only two ornaments have broken and the tree has only gone down once, but Vince has had to be retrieved from inside the tree a half dozen times. Some days he ignores it like the plague and other days, it’s like the first night it went up. I removed all my glass ornaments after the first one broke, and hopefully Vince has gotten his fill after the tree fell on him. I really like the suggestion of tying it to the wall. That had never occurred to me! I have enjoyed reading all the comments. Merry Christmas!

    • They’re my girls, Allegra and Ruby, Holly! Let me know if tying the tree to the wall works to thwart Vince’s tree climbing efforts (or at least, stops your tree from toppling over!).

  13. This year has been better than the last 2 years. I had to get rid of all of the glass ornaments, I also bought a fake tree with the lights attached to cut down on the risk of tripping or getting caught. So far, they have knocked down maybe 4 or 5 ornaments. Last year, they knocked the tree down on the couch and I ended up taking the tree apart. I also make sure not to buy toys with tinsel or feathers on it.

  14. My older cat Kylie has never bothered the tree much. But Tiger our 7 month old climbs up in the tree and knocks down the ornaments. I got tired of it so I just took the tree down and moved it where the cats can’t bother it.

  15. We get a live tree every year and I’m never bothered it. Pop breaks more ornaments than I do. The cat that came before me used to drink the water but he never was sick from it. He’d push the tree shirt aside no matter how it was wrapped. No tinsel was ever used. I look forward to a live tree in my house. I hope the one this year comes with a bird.

  16. your tree is just beautiful!
    Ohhh what great memories you just gave me!
    My ex husband was Catholic and I ALWAYS put a tree up for Christmas and decorated like crazy! My friends used to tease me saying that i decorated more than them!
    Every day that i would come home from work i would find our tree on the floor. My beloved Bobo used to treat it like a pinata….I would put it back up and the next day…BOOM! I never had the heart to yell at him. He thought it was a giant cat toy!
    I also used to hang candy canes from our banister…Bobo used to go down the steps one by one swatting the candy canes off as he went by.
    What a character he was. Thank you for evoking those memories1

    • I’m glad this brought some fond memories, Caren. I’m still laughing at Bobo treating your tree like a giant pinata! The image of him swatting at the candy canes is pretty funny, too.

  17. Chanukah is all about the candles. But we’re so worried that an energetic kitty (read: Faraday) might catch himself on FIRE even if they are up and out of the way (ha- no such thing!).

    Though we don’t like artificial “candlelight” we’re doing it – just for our peace of mind!

    • I haven’t used real candles in years – I’m way too paranoid. I agree, the battery operated ones don’t provide quite the same ambiance, but the peace of mind is worth the sacrifice.

  18. I well remember some years ago when I had a live tree and thought I had things under control with my kitty HaagenDazs. Day after Christmas he ran around for over a week with a long piece of silver tinsel dangling and flying in the wind out of his butt. The more he ran the more it caught the air and scared him. He screeched like it was killing him when I tried to pull it out. It finally found a final resting place in the litter box wrapped around a big cat poo! No more live trees!

    • Poor HaagenDazs! You were lucky that the piece of tinsel eventually came out on its own.

      For everyone who is still using tinsel – and you shouldn’t with cats! – NEVER try to pull tinsel out yourself. Since you have no way of knowing how long the piece of tinsel might be, you could cause some serious damage if the end you can’t see is wrapped around the cat’s intestines.

  19. We used a toy remote control car to “guard” our trees from all our cats. When the cats first approached the tree, we work “wiggle” the car towards them, which they didn’t like, and as long as the car was kept there, they wouldn’t go near the tree at all. Works like a charm! Much cheaper than those motion detector can cat alarms.

    • What a brilliant idea, Cindy! What I especially love about it is that because the car was remote controlled, they didn’t associate the “punishment” with you.

  20. haha try doing it with a ferret. Mine climbs to the top, I freak out and worry about her falling, rush over, she makes happy noises. Apparently seeing me panic is fun. The tree is the perfect opportunity to make me panic.

  21. In eight years of having an artificial tree and three cats, we’ve had no serious problems. One kitten climbed about half way up, did no harm, and delighted us when we spotted his little face among the ornaments. This year the oldest managed to unplug the lights during decorating, wanting to play, too, I suspect. He got the attention he desired, then left everything alone. We hang unbreakable ornaments and individual sleigh bells on the lower branches; the cats occasionally ring the bells, then run for the hills. No tinsel, no edible decorations. Maybe we’re just lucky!

  22. Our 3 older cats, other than sniffing the branches and sleeping under the tree, have always left our tree alone. This year, however, we have two 7 month old rescues that are little trouble makers. They seem to get into everything, and even though they have two huge cat trees, and boxes of toys they seem to get into EVERYTHING. They have torn up rugs, shower curtains, ear buds, you name it. I have had to spray bitter spray on almost everything we own. We have really had to kitten proof our home. We are really debating getting a tree at all this year. Safety of the kittens comes first. However, I wouldn’t have it any other way, We LOVE the trouble makers. :o)

    • Kitten proofing your house is an adventure, isn’t it, Stacie? When I adopted Allegra at the age of seven months two years ago, I hadn’t had a kitten in almost 20 years. I’d forgotten about their energy, and the trouble they can get themselves into, and I only had one!

  23. I have less to worry about with the tree and more to worry about the presents. My older tabby used to chew on the bows and then get sick and vomit from the dye. Now we can’t put any bows on gifts until we’re ready to take them out the door or open them. It’s a small price to pay to ensure I don’t have a huge vet bill right before the holidays.

    • I can’t keep presents under my tree anymore, Summer. Allegra chews the ribbon and the edges of the wrapped gifts. I don’t even use ribbons and bows on gifts I give to others anymore. Since Allegra always wants to “help” me wrap, I’m way too paranoid that she might sneak a piece of ribbon when I’m not looking. I try to make up for the lack of bows and ribbons with pretty paper. 🙂

  24. Never had a problem with cats and the tree, they would sleep under it and leave the tree alone, never touched the water, they’d play with the train instead, laying accross the track so the train would de-rail, now this year we have two 12 week two 8 week and one six week rescue kittens we’ve given forever homes to, these terrors love the tree, first year we’ve gone for an artificial tree, put all my beloved thin glass decorations away, bought new glass looking non breakable decorations and no tinsel, no icicles either,
    as for our rescue cats who live outside, they love all the decorations, Rose and Grace sleep in the rear of Santas train amongst the gifts, Garfield loves to lay on the blow ups,

  25. Tinsels were banned from my house a long time ago with Tiger the Cat, eventhough I had put some just at the top of the tree. Tiger just decided that no matter what, he was going to get them and climb all the way up to the angel and the whole tree collapsed. In a way, it was a very good incentive for him not to ever ever go near a Christmas tree again, and we just had to get new ornaments, most of them unbreakable.
    It was just funny to see him going to the living around around Christmas and walking as far away as he could from the tree!
    Tiger passed away some years ago, and these days none of my cats show any interest in the tree or the water or anything. The dogs’ bowl of water is much more fun to play with!
    We also do a Christmas village with snow etc.., and that village is loved by Caramel. He goes to hide behind mountains, and makes a mess out of the freshly fallen snow or so they say on the bags! Will post a picture of Caramel in the North Pole Village on FB.

    • I’d love to see a photo of Caramel in his North Pole Village, Dominique! I just hope he doesn’t eat the “freshly fallen snow” – I’m not sure what it’s made out of, but I’m guessing whatever it is probably isn’t safe for cats.

  26. One of ideas for our tree and safety of our fur babies is to leave the tree behind a door when we aren’t home. We open the door at night when we are watching TV. The tree can be easily seen as would any activity by curious kitties. We are armed with a spray bottle but the mere sound of the spray bottle being picked up makes them a. think about doing whatever it is later or b. running.

    We no longer use tinsel. We do not decorate the bottom of the tree. The tree’s branches are tightly together and the tree is screwed into the wall. The tree stand is nailed to a wooden board. It’s original use was to make the area level for our trains. We do not put a Nativity set on the floor any longer. Kitties like to nibble on Wise Men it seems. 🙂

  27. Last year was my first Christmas with cats. At the time, I had three, ranging in age from 8 months to just under 2 years old. People told me “Don’t worry, the cats won’t bother the tree”.

    Armed with plenty of aluminum foil and citrus spray, I put up my tree with a few strings of lights and several of my less-cherished ornaments. Early Christmas morning, as other families were opening gifts, I was carrying what was left of my tree out to the garbage.

    I could not keep them out of the tree. They knocked it over several times and chewed through the light cords. They could not have cared less about the citrus spray and they thought that the aluminum foil was quite fun.

    This year I’m considering something in a nice wrought iron. 🙂

  28. I have lived with cats since I was a child, and I can remember a large number of minor and not-so-minor accidents involving the Christmas tree. Natural and artificial ones. A big tabby climbed and came down with the whole tree. One of them ate and threw up pine needles more than once. Many of them going around the living room chasing ornaments. It is not esay to take out a cat when is hidden among the branches. We stopped doing the tree some years ago when my black boy arrived home, even the base of the tree collapsed under movement. I could not control them regarding the tree.
    On the other hand, we had a collection of nativities, that we display all over the house, and eventhough the boys show interest, and go around checking them, and sometimes sit elegantly among them. Not one of the pieces have been broken. So we keep on expanding the nativity collection.

  29. I haven’t used glass ornaments, electric lights or tinsel in over 20 years just because of the cats. They really don’t pay much attention to my artificial tree, though I did have one who liked to chew on the branches. I always got the Fancy Feast yearly ornaments. One year their ornament was a GLASS tree topper. The next year they said they weren’t going to do ornaments because demand was down. I wrote them a long email saying that demand was down because the ornament offered was not something most dedicated cat owners would buy. I’m still baffled at how a company which supposedly studies cats and their habits could do something so stupid. I think they got an earful from others because the ornaments came back, though this year they’ve had another fiasco in their attempts at social distribution.However, no more glass ornaments have been offered.

  30. I used to love draping my tree in those metallic icicles. Raleigh would never bother them, but her long plume of a tail would carry them all over the house. Once I adopted Coco, who would chew everything, no more icicles. The first Christmas I had Calypso she was probably around 2 years old and nicknamed “wacko girl” so I did tie the tree to the wall with fishing line, but she never tried to climb it so this year I dispensed with the fishing line. They both like to play underneath it. I put ornaments on the lower part of the tree that are made of cloth or wood, and enjoy watching them bat at the ornaments and knock them down. My good ornaments are at the top of the tree.

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