9 Expert Ways to Cat-Proof Your Christmas Tree

Veterinarians and pet experts weigh in on the best ways to keep cats out of Christmas trees.

cat under Christmas tree

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Decorating for the holidays is typically a joyful activity that invokes fond memories. But for cat owners, it can be the most stressful time of the year. As soon as the Christmas tree is dragged through the front door and the holiday garland is draped over the mantelpiece, the task of keeping your cat out of the decorations begins.

In a cat's eyes, the Christmas tree is just a big green cat tower, and the dangling garlands and delicate ornaments are simply toys to paw at. This season, you can prevent unnecessary cat-astrophes by planning ahead to keep both your Christmas tree and your feline friends out of harm's way.

We turned to veterinarians and pet experts for advice on how to cat-proof a Christmas tree. These tips will keep your cat safe from dangerous decor items (you definitely want to steer clear of tinsel) and keep them from ruining your perfectly-decorated Christmas tree.

1. Avoid Tinsel

Tinsel and angel hair are as tantalizing to cats as to humans, but with a far more severe and potentially harmful outcome. "Cats in particular might be enticed by tinsel’s toy-like appearance, but if ingested, it could get stuck to their tongue or teeth or create an obstruction in the intestines," says Elisa Allen, vice president of programs at PETA. She warns that ingesting tinsel can lead to surgery or even be fatal, so it's best to skip this particular nostalgic holiday trend.

2. Reserve Fragile Ornaments for the Tree Top

Protect your cat—and your family’s Christmas heirlooms—by putting precious ornaments as far up the tree as possible. Fragile decorations should be kept as far away from your pet's reach as possible, where they can’t be knocked off and broken. Not only does this protect your breakables, but it keeps your cat safe too. Broken glass can injure their mouths and paws, and ingested pieces of plastic or glass can lead to intestinal obstruction, Allen warns.

3. Anchor Your Christmas Tree

Cats like climbing trees to get a good view of their surroundings and find safety when they feel threatened. However, Christmas trees provide more danger than safety. "Real or fake, Christmas trees can fall over and cause serious harm to animals," Allen says. "So be sure to anchor them to a wall or ceiling with string to prevent accidents." You can add further stability and weight by using a sturdy stand or tree guard as well.

christmas tree in basket
Aniko Levai

4. Tie Your Christmas Ornaments to the Tree

The metal hooks traditionally used to hang ornaments on the tree can be dangerous for pets if they chew them. Instead, Allen suggests tying Christmas ornaments to the tree with ribbon or twine. That way, they’re also less likely to be knocked off with a quick swipe of a paw.

5. Opt for a Small Artificial Tree

The smaller the tree, the less serious any accidental injuries are likely to be. Likewise, an artificial tree reduces the risk of harm to your pet. "Real trees have sharp needles that can damage eyes or puncture skin," Allen says. "Dogs and cats sometimes like to drink tree water, which can contain fallen needles, putting animals at risk of intestinal punctures or blocks if ingested," she adds.

green, gold, and black christmas decorations
Jay Wilde

6. Resist the Urge for Fake Snow

Transforming your house into a white winter wonderland with faux snow is off the table if you’re a pet owner. ‘Fake snow is often made of chemicals that can cause fatal liver damage in cats or risk a blockage if ingested,’ advises Coryn Julien, Director of Communications at Alley Cat Allies. ‘We don’t recommend decorating with it.’

If you're set on the flocked look that's trending right now, opt for a white artificial Christmas tree instead of a green one that has flocking material on it.

7. Secure Your Christmas Lights

String lights are a Christmas staple in most households. However, Julien warns, ‘strings of lights can pose a hazard both for cats getting tangled in the strings and burning themselves by chewing the wires.’ Instead, she recommends turning to LED lights or securing your string lights with strong tape, so they aren’t dangling and tempting fate.

8. Provide Additional Deterrents

‘Providing additional enrichment in the home can also help keep cats busy in a cat-friendly way and prevent the Christmas tree from being a novel source of entertainment for them,’ says Laura Watson, registered veterinary nurse at International Cat Care.

Watson suggests scheduling short and frequent interactive play sessions with your cat to help them expend lots of energy. You can also engage their playful side by dispensing their daily meals in puzzle feeders around the home. Tiring your cat out with extra playtime will keep them from looking to your holiday decor for entertainment.

9. Create a Safe Refuge for Your Cat

If you’re playing host this Christmas, create a safe refuge in a quiet part of the house for your cat to retreat to. The sudden influx of friends and family or a stampede of young children can feel threatening and unsettling for your cat. According to Watson, good cat hideouts include cardboard boxes, tunnels, paper bags (with handles removed), and cat activity centers. Giving them a place to retreat to when they feel overwhelmed will help deter the frightened zoomies that can end in a tipped-over Christmas tree or broken ornaments.

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