At Christmas, many cat lovers struggle with keeping their cat away from their tree and decor so here are some tips that have worked for us in our cat-filled household and that will hopefully work for you too!
The most important thing is keep your cats safe. Tinsel, plastic, wires, pine needles, berries, glass etc can all be very dangerous if your cat eats or plays with them so please always remember that! Consider a cat like a small child that’s mobile but too young to understand how dangerous something can be.
Choose your decor carefully. I don’t use any glass ornaments or tinsel anywhere in my house, and all the ornaments I use are shatter-proof. When we had a real tree I vacuumed the needles under it daily (more on real vs artificial trees below). I don’t typically decorate with anything small enough to be carried off and swallowed. I generally stay away from flocked items (including trees) as they often contain toxic chemicals dangerous to pets (and humans honestly). I don’t use any real plants or berries that could be ingested. I have no lit candles anywhere without supervision. I don’t drape garlands, instead I wind them around railings. I try not to let anything ‘dangle’ as that can invite them to play with it. And I’m just generally very careful about where I place certain types of decoration that might be more tempting to our curious cats.
ELEVATE YOUR CHRISTMAS TREE.
Cats are significantly less interested in Christmas trees if the lowest branches are above their head height. Our solution is that we designed and built this Christmas Tree Stand the first year we moved into this house and you guys… IT WORKED!!!! Naturally, it didn’t completely stop the cats from being interested in the tree but it went a very long way towards deterring their attention away from the tree (even a real tree). In combination with that, I also used my same Cat Training Methods that I used to teach our cats not to go on our food counters to teach them not to jump up on the box and for the most part this did a really great job of keeping the cats away from the tree. The first year, they did occasionally jump up onto the top of the box, but I’d quickly correct them and none of them ever climbed the tree. If you’re attentive and you correctly them the first time they do it (so they don’t build a history of learning that it’s sometimes ok), they’re more likely to understand that this spot is off limits, rather than if you let them do it several times before correcting them. But basically, find creative ways of elevating your tree in a very secure manner. You can do this by building a box like we did, or using a really big barrel is another way I’ve seen done beautifully. Unfortunately, simply using a tree collar isn’t enough because it’s not high enough. It needs to be minimum 2 feet tall with a wide base so that it can’t be tipped over.
(Side note: simply putting your tree on a table is not the answer because your cat can jump up to the table, and then the situation is actually no different than having the tree on the floor except now the tree has farther to fall. Instead it’s best to elevate your tree with a box/surround around the base.)
ARTIFICIAL CHRISTMAS TREE.
The safest and my most highly recommended Christmas trees to have around cats are artificial trees with no flocking. Flocking contains chemicals toxic to pets and I personally just stay away from it in general.
With artifical trees, pretty much any brand will do, just make sure that they don’t shed any plastic (or other) materials that your cat might ingest. I suggest shaking the tree out as you assemble it, just in case.
There are several drawbacks to real trees around cats: 1) They smell good. They smell like the outdoors and have lots of enticing scents on them that will attract your cat’s attention. 2) They shed pine needles which can be quite dangerous to your cat if ingested. 3) The result of them smelling good and attracting your cat to them and also you having to constantly clean up around them is that they can be much more work for you. Artificial trees however have no enticing smells and they don’t generally shed much (maybe a few bits during set up but that’s it). But a combination of an artificial non-nature-smelling non-shedding unflocked tree that’s elevated with a box is a recipe for success when it comes to Christmas & Cats.
DON’T DECORATE IN FRONT OF YOUR CAT.
This is a rule I have all year around, not just at Christmas time, that I never ever decorate when the cats are around. In fact, I don’t even touch or adjust my decor when the cats are around. My solution is to simply put them in their cat room, but if you don’t have one, then consider putting your cat in a bedroom or some other safe and cozy room where they can hang out while you make changes to your house (be sure they have access to a litter box, food, and water in any room you enclose them in). The reason for not decorating in front of cats is that cats are curious by nature and they’re going to be interested in anything you’re interested in. If you start “playing” with your decor (because that’s how they will interpret it), then they’re going to do the same too. But if you decorate while they’re in another room, and then don’t do anything to draw attention to your new decor, they’re much less likely to be interested in it.
DISTRACT THEM WITH NEW TOYS.
At the same time as you put up your tree, it’s a good idea to set up a new and entertaining toy for your cat somewhere away from the tree. This provides them with another focus point that hopefully will distract their attention away from the tree. You don’t have to spend money on toys for this to work — even just a new cardboard box will be enough to give them something they’re allowed to play with to focus on.
ALLOW THEM TO SNIFF.
Cats like to take inventory of everything in their living space (i.e. your house) so once they notice your tree, they are absolutely going to want to investigate and you should let them do this. Let them give the tree base a complete sniff-down, but don’t do anything to attract their attention towards it – don’t jingle ornaments or shake a branch at them… just pretend the tree is completely uninteresting and ordinary. If they try to batt at or play with the tree, verbally correct them and make sure they listen. Once they’ve sniffed down the tree, it’s likely they’ll start ignoring it if you’ve been following the other tips like elevating it.
DON’T PLACE ANY BIG ORNAMENTS AT THE BASE OF THE TREE.
This is pretty self explanatory but basically if you dangle an ornament at the base of the tree like a toy, then it’s inevitable that they’re going to try to play with it. So just don’t.
NO PRESENTS UNDER THE TREE.
In our house, we don’t put presents under the tree until Christmas Eve because the ribbons, tissue paper, wrapping etc are just too tempting for curious kitties and adding these new “toys” (as they see it) under the tree, just encourages them to gather near the tree which is the opposite of what you want.
What do we do with our wrapped presents then? I display them all around our home as Christmas decor! It’s a win-win situation because presents that I would have wrapped anyway get to double as decor I can style our home with. Just be careful that if they have ribbon on them (which cats can be attracted to playing with and can be dangerous for them without supervision) that you’re displaying them somewhere elevated (I often display them on our open shelving or bookshelves where they’re out of reach).
NOISE AND CHAOS.
Cats are very sensitive creatures and the hustle, bustle, noise, and chaos of holiday celebrations can be extremely scary and stressful for them. During all holidays or parties (year round), I strongly recommend calmly placing your cat(s) in a quiet, closed room they feel safe and comfortable in that has food, water, and litter box access and where they will not be disturbed. Anytime anyone other than my parents visits our house, I always put our cats away in their cat room. It is very important to do this also at times when there are fireworks going on etc. Holidays can be hectic and you don’t want your pet to accidentally get lost or run away in the confusion so try to be very aware of the fact that they don’t understand our human holidays and parties and as the humans who brought this chaos and change into their home, it is our job to make them feel safe during them. Also, if you have guests interacting with your pets (especially children who might not know any better), be sure that they understand how to be gentle, calm, and kind. You are your pets’ guardian and it is your responsibility to make sure they’re treated well by your guests.
Side note: please never give a cat or kitten (or any pet) as a Christmas gift, or as any other type of gift. A cat is a big commitment who can easily live for up to 20 years so unless you are personally committing to their care and well-being for the rest of their lives, never ever ever buy any pet as a present for anyone!
TAKE PRECAUTIONS FOR WHEN YOU’RE NOT AROUND.
Whenever you leave the house and also at night, I strongly recommend putting your cats away in their cat room or any safe, comfortable room that has food, water, and a litter box. This prevents them from getting into any trouble when you’re away or sleeping. We actually do this all year around regardless of holidays.
I hope these tips help you have a safe and happy Christmas with your cat(s)!
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