Follow these vet-approved tips to keep your cat and your tree safe during the holidays.

By Lauren Levine Corriher
June 24, 2021
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The holidays are an exciting time, filled with festivities, good food, and beautiful decorations. In fact, you're probably counting down the days until you can bring this year's Christmas tree home. But if you have cats that will be there waiting for the tree's arrival, your holiday décor can quickly become a source of stress. You know that the cat versus Christmas tree battle can be an endless one that reemerges year after year. Here are some vet-approved tips for keeping both your cat and your tree safe this holiday season, so all can remain merry and bright.

First, know that there are a few reasons why your favorite feline loves your Christmas tree.

"Cats are inherently inquisitive animals, and bringing something new into the home is automatically going to spark their interest," says Lauren Cline, DVM of Queen City Animal Hospital in Charlotte, NC. "A lot of cats love the smell of plants, so bringing a fresh tree into the home will also get their attention. Cats love to climb and perch where they're elevated, so having a tree in the home allows for this, too."

With that in mind, Dr. Cline adds that not every cat is going to take an interest in your Christmas tree. "The majority of cats are going to be interested in anything new in the home and will check it out at least once, but only a subset of cats will want to explore and climb in the tree," she says.

If your cat falls into that "can't leave the tree alone" subset, what can you do about it?

Close-Up Of Ginger Cat By Christmas Tree
Credit: Megan O'Gorman / EyeEm / Getty Images

Choose an Artificial Tree

Dr. Cline says that artificial trees tend to be less enticing to cats, as there's no pine scent wafting off the branches. If your four-legged friend still seems intent on exploring the tree, Dr. Cline suggests decorating only the top half, so there aren't ornaments dangling at your cat's eye level just begging to be made into toys.

Use Scents To Deter Interest

"Cats typically don't like the smell of citrus, so keeping orange or lemon peels in the area or getting a citrus-scented spray can be helpful," says Dr. Cline. She also notes that spraying pine cones with apple cider vinegar and keeping them at the base of the tree can work as a deterrent. 

Be Consistent with the Rules

If you make it a point to keep your cat out of the tree, but other family members chuckle and watch in amusement as the cat tries to reach the angel at the top, don't be surprised when your pet is confused about what appropriate tree behavior looks like.

"The key is being consistent and making sure everyone in the home is on board," Dr. Cline says.

You should also place your tree strategically. Try to keep it in an area where your cat can't launch off the couch or a table directly into the branches.

If you notice your cat starting to play in the tree, Dr. Cline recommends removing him immediately. If the cat continues to return to the tree, she suggests keeping a can of coins nearby to shake. 

"Cats often don't like loud noises, so keeping something nearby to shake can distract them," she explains. 

Though these measures can help, Dr. Cline says the most effective way to keep your cat away from your tree is to make it a point to deter them right off the bat. 

"Once they climb the tree, it's likely that they'll want to continue to explore," she says. 

Yes, the Tree Really Can Be Harmful to Your Pet

You may feel bad about removing your cat from the tree time after time, but it's in your pet's best interest to do so. Besides the frustration of broken ornaments, Christmas trees pose serious health risks for your cat. These include:

  • Risk of bowel obstruction: As pretty as that tinsel draped around your tree might look, it can become extremely dangerous if your cat swallows it. Dr. Cline says cats that ingest tinsel are at risk of bowel obstruction. For this reason, you might choose to avoid tinsel or other string-like decorations if you have cats in the home.
  • Risk of electrocution: Cats that go exploring in the tree are at risk of strangulation or possible electrocution as they play with strands of lights. 

To keep your cat safe and your tree in pristine condition, it's important to take preventative action to encourage your kitty to steer clear of the holiday décor in favor of other, safer toys.