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Catproofing Your Tree: Tips For People With Frisky Cats

December 15, 2023

Happy Holidays! One of the joys of this special season is admiring everyone’s festive decorations. We also love receiving cards and pictures from our clients. We often get adorable snaps of our furry patients posing in front of Christmas trees. Speaking of which, for those with mischievous cats, the next few weeks may bring some extra shenanigans. Many of our feline patients have ended up on Santa’s naughty list by knocking over trees. If you’ve got a playful cat, continue reading for advice from a local Askov, MN veterinarian on keeping Fluffy away from the tree.

Should I Punish Fluffy For Climbing The Christmas Tree?

We strongly advise against punishing Fluffy for her mishaps … even if she did break that precious heirloom ornament. We understand how frustrating it can be when your beloved feline companion knocks over your Christmas tree. But it’s essential to remember the reason for your pet’s actions. Fluffy is simply following her natural instincts! Trees are crucial for cats’ survival in the wild: they serve as napping spots, lookouts, and nail care stations. Kitties are more or less instinctively driven to climb them. In fact, their claws are curved in a way that facilitates this!

Animals often get confused when punished for something they do naturally. Therefore, scolding or punishing her may only distress and frighten your pet, which may then lead to other issues, like anxiety and aggression. Instead of reprimanding her, we suggest using more gentle methods. Try focusing on rewarding good behavior. You can also work on redirecting your kitty’s playful energy towards more suitable outlets … like that new smart chipmunk toy you bought her.

Is It Even Possible To Teach My Kitty To Leave My Christmas Tree Alone?

Yes and no.

Usually, it’s the cat who trains the human, not the other way around. Fluffy is a master of meowpulation, and often cajoles, charms, and sometimes even bullies her humans into providing food, cuddles, and playtime on demand. 

Although your furry buddy may act like an adorable, meowing dictator, you are really in control. There is a trick to this. You want to make Fluffy believe that good behavior is her idea. (We’ll get to that in a bit.)

What Dangers Do Christmas Trees Pose For Kitties?

Although the tree isn’t exactly cat-friendly, it probably isn’t the biggest hazard in your home. There’s no shortage of those! For instance, the average household contains over 400 chemicals, most of which are poisonous to cats. Other things that are dangerous in your home include small and sharp items, unsafe plants, wires and cords, and candles. Ask your Askov, MN veterinarian for more information.

That said, there are some safety concerns with the tree that people owned by kitties should be aware of. Many ornaments pose choking and strangulation risks. Anything small or sharp is also unsafe. Strings and ropy items, such as tinsel, strings, and lights, can pose choking and strangulation hazards, and are extremely dangerous to ingest. With real trees, the water can be unsafe, as it can contain leached chemicals, such as pesticides or fertilizer. Fluffy might also injure herself bringing it down, especially if it falls on her. (A National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation-like scenario of a kitty causing a house fire is unlikely, but not outside the realm of possibility.)

What Can I Do To Keep Fluffy Out Of The Christmas Tree?

The best way to make Fluffy avoid the tree is to make her want to avoid it. That can be tricky.

When your furry friend goes near the tree, try making various loud noises. Some options would be banging pots, shaking change in a jar, setting off an alarm on your phone, stomping your foot, blasting an air horn, or even activating that singing snowman doll. (While squirting water may work, it could harm the tree and gifts and/or damage any plugged-in lights.) The goal is to startle or irritate your pet without actually scaring or harming her. Afterward, your little buddy will probably retreat to her favorite corner for a while to ponder the pros and cons of indoor tree-climbing.

Is There Anything I Can Do To Make My Cat Lose Interest In The Christmas Tree?

While you cannot make Fluffy lose interest in the tree, you can make it less interesting for her.

Here are a few suggestions:

Be Careful When Decorating: Decorate the lower third of the tree as sparsely as possible. Don’t place too many ornaments within paws’ reach. The only things on the lower branches should be dull, unbreakable items, like a fabric reindeer or a little silver bell. Put sharp, shiny, or fragile ornaments on the top half of the tree.

Limit Access: Block Fluffy’s access to the tree by placing it in a corner or away from things she might use as a launchpad, such as sofas, desks, and chairs.

Fake It: Real trees are beautiful, and they certainly smell wonderful, but they’re also expensive, cumbersome, and wasteful. You may want to consider switching to an artificial tree. Fluffy won’t have much luck climbing wire trunks and branches! Plus, you won’t have to worry about her drinking the water. (Bonus: you can also reuse the tree, which will save you money in the long run.)

Apply Scent Deterrents: Keep in mind that you may need to reapply scent deterrents. (Also, some of our furry friends just ignore them.)

Fluffy’s Obsession With Christmas Trees: Why Does She Love Them?

In the wild, cats use trees for lookouts, napping, and nail care, as well as escaping from weather, flooding, and sometimes even other animals. These things are all crucial for survival reasons, so it’s not hard to understand why our feline pals naturally gravitate towards trees. Plus, many kitties are attracted to shiny things. When you put up that pretty tree, your furry pal will think you just gave her her own private tree, and even decorated it with shiny new cat toys for her. (That will score you some purrs.) 

Can I Prevent My Cat From Knocking Down My Tree?

The things we’ve mentioned above should help, but may not be quite enough to deter a very determined feline. If your pet is super frisky, you may want to reinforce your tree. You can attach the top of the tree to the wall or ceiling with clear fishing line. It won’t show, but will provide enough extra support. We also recommend getting trees with sturdy bases for people with kitties.

Bribery also works well when it comes to managing your cat’s behavior. Offer your furry companion some of her presents early and set aside time for daily play sessions. The key is to engage her in activities that will help release her energy, like chasing a catnip mouse or playing with a laser pointer. You want Fluffy to burn off those kitty zoomies. We all know what happens when cats get tired: naps! 

It’s worth mentioning that cat towers are a great alternative to real trees for cats. If your feline buddy doesn’t have one, consider either making or purchasing her one as a gift this holiday season.

Our Advice on Catproofing Your Tree in 2024

Why do cats have a natural instinct to climb Christmas trees?

Cats possess a natural instinct to climb due to their ancestral behaviors, where trees played a crucial role in survival by offering lookouts for hunting, safe resting spots, and protection from predators. This instinctual drive is why cats are attracted to Christmas trees. The structure of a tree, combined with the allure of hanging ornaments, mimics the enticing features of a natural environment, compelling them to explore and climb. Essentially, the Christmas tree presents an irresistible challenge that taps into their innate climbing tendencies and curiosity.

Are there any specific types of ornaments or decorations that are more cat-friendly?

Yes, for cat-friendly holiday decorations, opt for ornaments that are dull, unbreakable, and securely attached to the tree to prevent them from being easily knocked off or ingested. Fabric ornaments, wooden figures, and felt decorations are safer choices for homes with cats. Avoid using tinsel, ribbons, or string, as these can pose choking or intestinal blockage hazards if ingested. Additionally, place delicate and potentially dangerous ornaments higher up on the tree, out of your cat’s reach, to minimize risks and keep your festive season safe and joyful for all family members.

Can training techniques be employed to teach a cat to avoid the Christmas tree?

Training techniques can be employed to discourage a cat from approaching the Christmas tree, though success varies. Utilize positive reinforcement by rewarding your cat for ignoring the tree or engaging in alternative activities. Deterrents, such as making a loud noise when they approach the tree, can also be effective by creating a negative association. Additionally, providing appealing alternatives like cat towers or toys can redirect their attention. Remember, consistency and patience are key, as cats learn through repeated experience and positive reinforcement rather than punishment.

Are there any health concerns associated with cats ingesting pine needles or sap from real trees?

Yes, ingesting pine needles or sap from real Christmas trees can pose health risks to cats. Pine needles can cause oral irritation, vomiting, diarrhea, and potentially lead to gastrointestinal obstruction if ingested in significant amounts. The sap may also irritate their mouth and digestive tract. Additionally, water from the tree stand may contain fertilizers or bacteria, posing a risk if consumed. It’s advisable to monitor your cat closely around real trees and consider using a barrier to prevent access. For any concerns or signs of illness, please visit us at our clinic in Askov, MN, for a consultation.

What should you do if your cat exhibits persistent interest in the Christmas tree despite your best efforts?

If your cat continues to show persistent interest in the Christmas tree despite efforts to deter them, consider further modifying the environment and your approach. Increase enrichment opportunities elsewhere, such as more playtime, new toys, or a cat tree placed away from the Christmas tree. Use safe, cat-specific deterrents around the tree area, like scent repellents or a pet-safe indoor fence. Consistently redirect their attention when they approach the tree. If behavior persists, consult a veterinarian or animal behaviorist for additional strategies tailored to your cat’s specific needs.

Conclusion: Fluffy’s holiday shenanigans are cute, frustrating, and a bit dangerous. Fortunately, decorating your tree with a little forethought, keeping your furry pal occupied, and using a few careful but effective training tactics, may help keep it upright. Seasons’ Greetings from everyone at Twin Pines Veterinary Clinic, your Askov, MN animal clinic. Feel free to contact us anytime!