Christmas with Cats – Our Helpful Guide to Keeping Your Kitties Safe for a Holly Jolly Season

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I know it isn’t true for everyone, but I agree with the famous lyrics sung by Andy Williams in 1963, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” Every year I impatiently await cooler temperatures, the comfort of coziness … and … Christmas with cats! Are you that way too?

There is just something magically special about the glow of Christmas lights on the tree, the joy of giving, and the more laid-back holiday spirit.

It’s not just us who feel this way; cats love Christmas too! Their childlike curiosity makes them excited when all the sparkly decorations, yummy food smells, and wrapped presents fill your home.

For us cat parents, that can spell disaster. Christmas trees being knocked over, lights being chewed on, toxic things being ingested, and presents being shredded — oh my! 🙀 It’s enough to bring out your inner Grinch but it can also put your cat’s life in danger.

My Christmas with cats guide is here to help save the day! In this post, I will cover the common dangers in your home to look out for and how to help prevent them from becoming a problem.

meow: it would be a sin not to pin image
How To Have A Merry Christmas With Cats + Cat Proof Christmas Tree Ideas

Christmas with cats (or pets in general) doesn't have to be stressful. Our guide offers tons of great ideas to cat proof your Christmas tree, dangers to look out for, and even some great homemade cat treat recipes! Click To Tweet

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Keeping your home cat-friendly for the holidays

It may seem like an impossible task keeping your favorite feline off the naughty list and preventing your nightmare before Christmas, but thankfully, it isn’t.

Here are a few helpful tips to remember:

small black cat with christmas lights around it

How to decorate for Christmas with cats

  • Go flameless – Real candles may smell amazing but if your cat knocks it into the floor or catches their tail on fire like my cat Sugar did, that’s not so amazing. Realistic looking flameless candles give you the glow without the “oh no!”
  • Get plants that are poisonous out of reach – Those holiday plants may be pretty but are they safe? Lilies, Amaryllis, Holly, and Mistletoe are just a few dangerous plants cats should never have access to. Check the ASPCA toxic plants list to see if any other dangers lurk in your home.
  • Trade out the tinsel – It’s shiny and oh so chewable — nearly irresistible to your fur baby. As you can imagine, plastic or metallic materials don’t do such a great job of breaking down in your cat’s digestive tract. Like the live Christmas tree needles, swallowing tinsel could result in a medical emergency or some awkwardly shiny poop and digestive distress. Either way, it’s just not worth the risk! Skip it all together, or if you’re crafty, try making these string beads instead. Just be forewarned: dangling shiny things could make the tree even more “play-worthy.”
  • Change out metal ornament hooks – Many store-bought decorations for the tree will come with those little metal wire hooks to hang your ornament.  Not all cats make these a snack, but it has happened! (Dogs are even more likely to ingest them)  Just to be on the safe side, consider exchanging the metal hooks for pet safe hooks or some twine tied tightly to the branch so it can’t be batted off.
  • Strategically place jingle bells – Call these your new “cat mischief alarm.” Tie them to different places on your tree, on various decorations around your home; anywhere your cat shouldn’t be. If you hear the bell…well… 🙂
  • Skip the snow globes – They contain antifreeze (ethylene glycol) which is highly poisonous to kitties. If you do have them, keep them where they cannot be broken or knocked over. Better safe than sorry!
  • Take your time – Cats can be sensitive to change, or at least highly curious about it. Do small amounts of decorating and then let them adjust to it.  I know many people, and families, see the event of putting up the tree, lights, and decorations on the same day as a tradition to cherish.  If possible, consider leaving your tree up for a few days without decorations to give your kitty’s curiosity a chance to be satisfied without all the extra dangers and temptations.
  • Choose your tree location wisely – Are there any corner spaces in your home where the tree could be placed so it has a ‘brace’ if it gets a little too jolly in your home? Better yet, secure the tree so it can’t fall. Realtor.com suggests, “Stand it in the corner, and wrap fishing line around the trunk and then secure each end with hooks placed on the wall or windowsill.”
  • Choose the right tree too! – Live trees smell like live trees and this can be irresistible to an animal whose instinct is to hide and hunt. If possible, switch to artificial. Size also matters. Smaller and slimmer is better when you have cats because if it should fall, a 4′ pencil tree is less likely to do harm than an 8’+ one. You could also consider a unique metal tree or a wall-hung tree like the catfriendly Christmas tree options below.

If you love a fun DIY and don’t mind a completely non-traditional approach, take a look at these 29 Alternative Christmas Tree Ideas from Backyard Boss.

white and black cat beside christmas tree with string lights

Is it safe to have a real Christmas tree with cats?

Maybe. According to Veterinarian Katie Grzyb, “The most common type of trees that are used for the holidays are fir, spruce, and pine. The needles from these trees are all mildly toxic to cats if they eat them.”

While it’s true your cat would have to eat a lot of those needles to have a poisonous effect, there are still some real dangers. For example, the sharpness of those needles can lead to a bowel obstruction or even puncture kitty’s intestines, stomach, and/or esophagus. This would be a medical emergency.

When possible, consider a type of live tree that doesn’t drop so many needles such as a Nordmann Fir, Noble Fir or Lodge Pole Pine.

One of the biggest risks to your cat’s health with real Christmas trees is the water basin. The sap, oils, fertilizers, and bacteria found in the water can cause severe tummy upset at a minimum and severe poisoning at worst. Be sure to cover the water basin completely with a tree skirt or enclosure so your cat cannot get access.

There’s no doubt about it; artificial trees are considered safer for homes with pets, but if a live tree is a must in your home – please take all the precautions to keep everyone safe through the holidays. Contact the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Hotline if you have concerns or suspect your pet has been poisoned.

mother with children with kittens near christmas tree

Effective Cat Proof Christmas Tree Ideas

If you’ve been around cats any amount of time in your life, you’ve already discovered how unique each of their personalities are. Cats at Christmas time are no different; some can’t resist the urge to climb a tree like it’s a Mount Everest challenge while others are content to lie under the tree basking in the glorious glow of twinkling lights.

All hope is not lost if you have a kitty prone to mishaps and mayhem, though! Here are some cat proof Christmas tree ideas that might keep your days merry & bright!

Take away temptations

When we want our cats to do the right thing, we need to not be doing the wrong things. Here are a few things to avoid if you don’t want an irresistible tree:

  • Out of sight, out of mind (usually) – Hang valuable, breakable, shiny, sparkly, reflective, and dangling ornaments, higher up on the tree.  Consider eye level for your cat from the ground looking up.  If something is dangling and reflecting light, their hunt/play instinct says it’s go-time. If glass ornaments are a must, keep them safely tucked deeper inside branches higher up, tightly secured to the branch.
  • Mmmm, that present smells yummy! – Cats have a sense of smell up to 16 times stronger than humans, so believe me, they know what’s in that box! Years ago my husband gave his parents a gift for their cat to put under the tree.  It was all neatly wrapped and ready to be enjoyed on Christmas Day but kitty was impatient! 😀 All of a sudden they heard commotion under the tree while the cat ripped into that gift! It was a catnip-infused toy and he wanted it NOW! Moral of the story: If you don’t want to draw your cat to the Christmas tree or to eat something toxic, don’t put any gifts under there that contain catnip, food or candy.
  • Are those lights for me? – Did you know that electrocution is the #1 electrical injury for household pets?  Please don’t let this happen! If your pet is prone to chewing on wires, consider using a cord protector.  It could literally save a life!  Also be sure to secure loose hanging Christmas lights by rewrapping them to the branch or using electrical tape to secure them to the trunk. Turning your tree off when you’re not in the room or are away can also reduce the risk of electrocution.
  • Give them something safe to climb instead – You know by now, cats love to be up high. That’s one of the reasons your tree looks so tempting. Enforce that the tree is not okay but give them something to climb instead and reward them for doing it. Consider wall shelves or a cat tree in the same room. We have these and our cats adore them!

Use their strong sense of smell for your benefit

curious cat sitting on bed near breakfast bowl

In general, many cats hate certain smells. Classic examples are citrus, rosemary, thyme, cinnamon, banana, pine, and mint. While this won’t work for all cats, you can try creating a “scent barrier” that repels your cat from the tree area naturally. Here’s how:

🐾 Place fresh orange or lemon peels in a plastic bag with holes poked in it around the base of your tree. Refresh the peels if this stops being effective.

🐾 You can also create a DIY spray to keep cats away from Christmas tree. Just be careful with essential oils; they can be toxic for cats.

🐾 Another method you could try is spritzing this cat deterrent spray on fabric ornaments around the bottom of the tree. We think it’s fun to use cute cat ornaments for this purpose.

🐾 Or, if you have an old t-shirt or two you don’t mind parting with, shred them up and give them a good soaking with the spray deterrent. Place those around the tree area and see if your catkin gets the message to steer clear!

🐾 Scented pinecones – Use these in your houseplant pots to prevent digging or use them as a barrier around your Christmas tree. Make them even more effective by spraying with apple cider vinegar (cats hate the smell!) or treat them with one of the cat deterrent sprays mentioned above. 👆

Note: This method of using a scent deterrent also works for houseplants or furniture. After our curious cattens nearly destroyed our houseplants, we began rubbing a few drops of Rosemary oil onto our fingers and then rubbing it onto the rims of pots and plant leaves. Works like a charm – they stay safe and so do our plants!

orange tabby cat lying on grass

Pawsome hacks for the little feets

Those toebeans are not only adorable; they’re also very sensitive. If your cat isn’t phased by smell, you could try deterring them with these pretty pawsome tricks.

  • Put aluminum foil around the base of your tree – If your cat isn’t an Olympic-style jumper right into the tree but would rather climb up the center from the ground, aluminum foil might work for you.  It’s a strange but true fact; cats hate the sight, sound, and texture of the stuff! Apply a layer around the base, middle trunk, and on the surrounding floor.  Just in case you have the no-fear kind of tom or tabby, our next suggestion might work even better.
  • Double-sided cat training tape – Some cats may eventually overcome their suspicion of the foil, but sticky paws is not something kitties can usually handle. It’s a brilliant cat deterrent; in fact, we recommended it in our post on how to keep cats from scratching your furniture.  It also works for countertops and other surfaces. Application is simple; just put it anywhere you want to train kitty not to be. Try different places until you find what works best in your home.
  • Try scat mats – Cats do not like walking on uneven surfaces very much, and they definitely don’t like that prickly sensation. That’s how scat mats work. The little spikes are uncomfortable (but not painful) to those little paws. They interlock like Legos and allow you to cover a large area. It’s not 100% cat-proof but it has worked for many pet parents. Could be worth a try?

When all else fails…physical barriers

It may sound crazy, but many pet parents have resorted to some more extreme measures to protect their beloved Christmas tree and keep the kiddos safe.

Take the irresistibly adorable tuxedo, Mo, and his gang, for a purrfect example! His pawrents resorted to placing a tall fence around their tree for the last 5 years, and so far, it’s working!

We all know cats can jump pretty high so it’s no guarantee that a fence will stop them unless it’s a skyscraper one! Just look at how little Wolf almost made it in the video above 🙂

It’s possible that a large 48″ pet fence might work. A few reviewers said they bought that very fence to stop their kitty and it did. I know that’s not for everyone, but I’m all about offering possible solutions here, so … why not share it? If you need one taller, it’s possible your local hardware store might have some ideas.

Fence too extreme? What about a barrier ON the tree?

🐾 🐾 The Christmas Tree Defender is another unique product that has worked for a lot of cat parents struggling to keep their cat out of the tree. This works for climbers (up the trunk or branches ) instead of “launchers” (jumping to the tree).

How it works: 4 plastic pieces snap together to form a circular barrier around your entire tree. As your little one tries to climb the tree, they hit this barrier and can’t keep going up, reducing the chance of your tree coming down! Just keep in mind any decorations below the defender are still easy access.

Other possible solutions

One of the suggestions cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy has for Christmas with cats survival is using the SSSCAT motion-activated air puffer under or near the tree. How this little device works is by detecting your cat’s presence by motion. When it does, it releases a quick puff of air that startles your cat enough to say, “Hey, this spot isn’t safe for us! Gotta go!”

Ideally, your cat will begin to associate being near the tree with a sound and sensation it doesn’t like. Negative associations for cats are very strong so they will likely avoid that activity, person or place in the future. In this case, it’s your favorite tree.

A lot of cat parents use this to train their feline to stay off of countertops or other dangerous places in the home as well. When the device works, it works very well.

There is one thing to keep in mind, however. Some cat behaviorists disagree with the use of such tactics because they believe it will worsen cat anxiety, leading to other troublesome behaviors. If you have an already anxious fur-child, this may not be the best choice.

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How to help cat anxiety during the holidays

There may be a more relaxed feeling in the air but our to-do lists are often longer than usual. We may have more people coming over, there are lots of changes in the home, our schedules change; all of these things can lead to a more anxious pet.

Cats, in general, aren’t big fans of sudden change. It can cause real stress.

An increase in destructive behaviors or aggressiveness, weight and sleeping changes, sudden refusal to use the litter box — these (and more) are often symptoms of feline anxiety. Please see our post, “How To Calm Cat Anxiety,” for more signs and symptoms + what you can do to help.

woman sitting on ground petting cat

Make their holiday extra special

As cat parents, we may have to say ‘no’ a lot to keep our kiddos safe and that’s okay, even if we do feel guilty sometimes. Thankfully, there is plenty we can say ‘yes’ too instead!

In fact, cats respond best to a do this/not that approach. What this simply means is if you say the tree is off limits, have something nearby they can play with and redirect their attention to it. Reward them for good behavior with their favorite treat, toy, or cuddle session.

Cats are not hard to train but you do have to be consistent. The more time you spend playing with their toys, the less likely they are to see your keepsake ornament as their next victim! Remember, the more time you spend in play, the less energy they have to ruin Christmas Day!

This holiday season, make your Christmas with cats extra special by spoiling them just a little more!

Here are a few fun ideas for inspiration. 🙂

Build them their own Christmas tree…

If you love a good DIY, these might be for you!

Or, bribe them for good behavior with their own Christmas toys, beds & scratchers!


Homemade with love for your cat

All those delicious desserts sure smell nice! While there are some human foods cats can eat, many are on the off-limits list.

Take a look at these tasty treats for your favorite fur-baby this Christmas.

Could it be a new family tradition?

Conclusion

Christmas with cats doesn’t have to be stressful. It can be the joy-filled season it was intended to be if we keep a few important things in mind.

I know this post has been long, but I wanted to provide as many solutions as possible. There is no such thing as a one-size fits all approach to cat training because no two cats are identical.

What I can say is the methods mentioned here have worked for us, our friends, and other cat parents across the globe. I hope they work for you and your furry family too!

Need a smile today? BoredPanda collected 40 ways pet parents tried to protect their tree from a crazy four-legged kiddo too! They understand the dilemma, obviously!

  • Has your Christmas tree been a crime scene because of pets?
  • Have you found any methods that worked to keep them away?
  • Have you tried any of these? Did they work?

Let’s discuss! I’d really love to hear from you in the comments below.

If you try any of these solutions, will you let me know how it works for your family? I’d love to hear and share your story too! 🎄

Until next time….

Love & Healing Purrs,

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christmas with cats: what to avoid, how to decorate & more!

Resources:

Ultimate Guide to Cat-Proofing your Christmas Tree; Vets-now.com

Keep Your Pet Safe with these 10 Holiday Hazards; SPCA


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3 Comments

  1. Great tips on keeping your kitties as safe as can be. It’s our responsibility to make sure they are safe.

    Have a fabulous day and week, Holly. ♥

    1. Thank you, Sandee ❤️ There’s a lot to take consideration of during the holiday season when you have pets, but better safe than sorry!

      Sending love to you and your family. Wishing each of you a very Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

  2. SO much great info here! I had no idea snow globes contained antifreeze! I’m especially glad I don’t have any of those lying around.

    We do have a real Christmas tree every year, and thankfully (and surprisingly) none of my 7 cats climb it. They like to play underneath it, so I have to keep ornaments off the bottom of the tree. And I have to fix the tree skirt placement every day… haha. But otherwise, they leave it alone. It’s a Christmas miracle!

    This year, we did opt for a tree that doesn’t drop pokey little needles though… I think it’s some kind of cypress? Because last year, one of my cats ate a needle from the tree, and it got stuck in his throat. He was coughing for days. Not good!

    Anyway, thanks for all the great info! And the cat treat recipes 🙂 Hope you and your family have a Merry Christmas!

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