Avoiding Christmas Tree Cat-astrophe

I have to start by saying I love cats. I think they are incredible, smart animals and, contrary to popular belief, friendly and lovable. Not to mention, very entertaining, Nothing my cats could do would ever make me love them less. However, if you are a cat lady like me, you also understand some of the frustrations with being a cat owner. This is an example for the holidays.

A few days ago, my husband and I were excited to set up our Christmas tree and get in the holiday spirit. We take the tree out of the box, set it up and plug in the lights, just to be reminded that our cats had chewed through the lights last year (Side note: None of our cats were harmed in the making of the tree light murder). We get in the car, head to Target and pick up a new tree. We buy one that isn’t pre-lit, just in case the cats repeat last year’s pattern. This is when we thought we had outsmarted our cats (haha). Now, I should have known better than to think we could ever ‘outsmart’ our cats, but that’s just what I wanted to believe.

A few hours later, we’re basking in the glory that is our new, beautiful Christmas tree. All is right in our Winter Wonderland.... well, not for long. I wake up the next morning to find that our cats had climbed the tree, bending the artificial branches down to the ground. We were able to fix it, but the next morning I woke up to the same sight. At this point, I was frustrated. Our cats have a lot of toys, numerous cat towers and my husband and I spend plenty of quality time playing with them everyday. But of course, in true cat fashion, they have to get their paws on the new, exciting thing in the house.

My cat-related frustrations got me thinking about ways that I could keep them away from the tree. As I Google advice, a post pops up about how Christmas trees can provide cats with great enrichment. Quickly, my unrealistic expectations of a Norman Rockwell Christmas fade away and I’m looking up ways that both my cats and myself can enjoy the beauty of the holidays, while keeping them safe. Of course, safety is the number one priority when owning pets, but you can’t blame me for being a little frustrated, right? Therefore, I wanted to bring our other cat lovers the best advice I could find to keep your cats (and your tree) safe and happy this holiday season.

If you struggle with your cat knocking your tree down, the first step is to choose a location. Maybe try a room that your cat doesn’t have access to. Of course, many living rooms, where most families set up their tree, are an open space with no doors that cats are free to explore. If you can’t block off the room, find a spot where you’re willing to anchor the tree to your wall with one eyebolt and fishing line. Catbehaviorassociates.com suggests using a spot that already has a picture hanging and use that hole in the wall to avoid making new holes. Lastly, make sure your tree has a sturdy tree base that will provide some extra weight.

If your cat likes the taste of tree branches, go to your local pet store and buy an anti-chew bitter spray. If you purchased a live tree, this is very important to do, as tree needles and the preservatives sprayed on them are toxic to cats. You can also use this spray on the lights to prevent your cat from chewing those up. Speaking of lights, make sure they are wrapped tightly around the branches and avoid twinkle lights, which are more enticing to your furry friends.

To prevent your cat from drinking the water from the tree base, purchase netting or a cover to place over the base. Sticky Paws for Pets can even be used over the reservoir to keep your cat away. Again, tree sap and the preservatives used in the water to keep your tree fresh are highly toxic to your pets.

As far as decorations, ornaments are probably the most attractive part of your tree to your cat. To limit this temptation, avoid placing ornaments on the bottom branches. Be sure to buy non-breakable ornaments and secure any glass ones towards the middle of the tree. Also, avoid tinsel and garland, as your cat will most likely eat it, resulting in intestinal blockage.

Now, for the grand finale: How to keep your cat out of the Christmas tree. I found a genius product called Christmas Tree Defender that acts as a barrier around the base of your tree, keeping your pets and tree safe (I will definitely be buying this – early Christmas for me!). Using the previously mentioned ways to make your tree less enticing will also help. Be sure to also provide plenty of other places to perch and keep your cat distracted from the Christmas tree by playing with them. Lastly (this was an idea from a coworker) hang bell ornaments in your tree. This way, any time your cat begins to play with the tree, you can stop them.

If all else fails, oh well. As long as our pets are safe and happy, then a wonky Christmas tree is a small price to pay for the years of love and companionship. After all, that ‘perfect’ Rockwell Christmas is pretty overrated, don’t ya think?

Claire Grimes is the SPCA Albrecht Center’s Development Director. She is an Aiken native, but spent some college years in Charleston, interning with Charleston Animal Society. She is excited to be working in animal welfare in her hometown and is proud of the community efforts to better the lives of Aiken’s animals. Her family includes her husband, Logan, a SPCA adopted black lab, Ozzy, a SPCA adopted Siamese mix, Luna, and Claire’s first love, Anakin, a 17-pound rescued Maine Coon mix.

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