Follow our 13-step guide to avoid a Christmas tree cat-astrophe
Cats and Christmas trees are a dangerous combination. Pine needles can cause stomach upsets as well as cuts to the paws and mouth and, in severe cases, even perforation of the intestines. Real and artificial trees — and the baubles and decorations that hang from them — are also a huge temptation as a plaything.
Some of the most viewed pet videos on social media have involved cats clambering around in Christmas trees — sabotaging the decorations. However, as our emergency vets will testify, it’s not a laughing matter. While Christmas trees aren’t one of the leading causes of cat emergencies over the festive season, they do present a risk.
Our vets and vet nurses have seen some terrible cases involving cats swallowing or chewing tinsel, fairy lights and other decorations. These can cause intestinal blockages which are very serious.
1. Choose your tree carefully
Real trees are potentially more dangerous than artificial versions primarily because their needles can cause injury — especially if chewed or swallowed.
On top of that, the needles are also mildly toxic and when they start falling off towards the end of the festive season they can become a temptation for cats to eat.
If you’re set on a real tree, opt for a small one — the higher the tree, the more likely it is your cat will want to climb to the top, potentially causing chaos and injury. There are varieties of Christmas tree available which have low needle- drop, such as the Nordman Fir, Noble Fir and Lodge Pole Pine. You should also make sure you keep the tree trunk in water to further reduce needle-drop. Just remember stagnant water can be harmful if ingested so always cover it up.
2. It's all about the base
If you want to avoid a cat-astrophe — in other words, your tree falling over with your cat in amongst the branches — place it in a solid, wide and unwavering base. Depending on its size, it’s also worth fixing the tree to the wall or ceiling.
3. Location, location, location
Location, location, location — it’s the mantra of estate agents the world over. But it’s also critical for cat owners intent on putting up a Christmas tree.
Avoid areas with shelves, settees and other furniture nearby as your cat will potentially use these as a launchpad to dive into it. Ideally, you should also keep your tree in a room that you can close off when you’re out or asleep. Placing the tree in the corner of the room can reduce access and improve stability if the tree is rocked.
4. Leave your tree bare for a while
It’s worth putting your tree up bare for a few days. This will give your cat the opportunity to explore, investigate and, ultimately, get used to it — without decorations and tinsel catching her eye.
Some people like to line the trunk of their tree with tin foil to deter their cat from climbing. Use this with caution as the noise from rustling tin foil has recently been shown to exacerbate seizures in susceptible cats.
5. Keep your cat away while decorating
As every self-respecting cat owner knows — cats are curious. If you decorate your tree with your cat in the room it’s highly unlikely she’ll be able to resist the urge to get involved.
Your best bet is to keep her elsewhere while the decorating is being done — otherwise she might assume the decorations are toys and that you’re inviting her to play.
6. Avoid using tinsel
Tinsel is dangerous to cats. If they eat it, it can cause severe damage to their internal organs, leading to potentially fatal injures.
In one recent case, a cat called Ginge had to undergo lifesaving surgery after vets found 3ft of tinsel inside him. Astonishingly, it been stuck there for three weeks. His owner said she’d seen Ginge steal the decoration but hadn’t thought anything of it until he kept being sick.
7. Don't tempt your pet with chocolate
Chocolate is highly toxic. It contains a stimulant called theobromine that can lead to heart failure and seizures if ingested. Don’t hang chocolate treats on your tree and never leave chocolate bars or gifts containing chocolate lying underneath it.
8. Decorations to steer clear of
Cats are attracted to shiny baubles that glow and dangle so these should be avoided. Glass or breakable ornaments are also a recipe for disaster because they tend to splinter into shards when chewed. If swallowed, these can cause irritation, perforation or even blockages.
Other things to avoid are decorations with little metal hooks, festive plants such as holly and mistletoe, salt dough ornaments, and artificial snow as it can contain potentially dangerous chemicals.
Finally, steer clear of snow globes. These have been known to contain antifreeze which is highly toxic to cats.
9. Decorations to consider
There are plenty shatterproof Christmas ornaments out there and you could also try using simple wood, felt, and paper decorations. Silk baubles are another safe alternative.
10. Keep it all up high
If possible, place the decorations you do decide to use in the upper two-thirds of the tree. Some cats won’t show an interest in anything that’s outwith their reach. Others, unfortunately, will try to climb up the tree regardless of what you do.
11. Tie up your baubles
As an extra precaution try tying the ornaments to your tree — just remember to make sure they’re secure.
12. Be careful with fairy lights and electrical cables
Cats have been known to give themselves a nasty shock by chewing through the wires of fairy lights. To avoid this make sure you place the lights high up the tree.
You should also use an extension cord that shuts off automatically when damaged, and tape any loose wires to the floor. Also, unplug the lights when you’re out or asleep.
13. Are there any products to help me?
Some cat owners have been known to coat their tree with citrus oil extract and strong smelling sprays such as bitter apple. However, some of these can be toxic to cats so be careful. There are other products on the market that have been specifically designed to prevent cats from climbing Christmas trees but their safety and reliability is not known.