When I set out to plan this guide, I found myself asking: why do cats attack Christmas trees? I felt that answering this question would help me to understand how I can redirect or dissuade the behavior of my cats.
Cats love pouncing on things.
No matter how domesticated they are, cats are predatory creatures, and they manifest this in the following ways:
- They pounce.
- They sneak.
- They swat at things.
- They scratch at things.
- They ambush.
- They bite at each other and trees.
- They run around like crazy.
- They climb trees.
Cats like climbing to high places in their natural environment and trees provide some of the tallest perches. The desire to climb trees comes naturally.
And what do we do each Christmas season?
We bring trees into our homes and deck them out in bright lights, dangling ornaments, and materials out of which a lot of cat toys are made. No wonder they attack our trees.
But how do we subvert this behavior?
Well, it starts with the type of tree you use.
If you're a long-time cat owner, you've probably heard that cats and Christmas trees don't mix well. While this isn't entirely wrong there are some important things you need to know about having trees, real or fake, in your home with your cat.
For Real Trees
Unfortunately real trees can be mildly toxic to cats. Fir trees, spruce trees, and pine trees all produce oils that cause irritation in your cat's mouth and stomach. Cats can also eat these needles which can cause internal damage if swallowed. And you don't want to spend the holidays trying to feed pills to your cat.
Cats can be attracted to the scent that your tree produces. Ever seen your cat eat some live flowers? They eat them because they're attracted to the smell and the same applies to trees. If it smells nice, it smells like a snack to them.
Fake trees have the benefit of not producing the oils and sap that can be toxic to cats but the artificial needles can cause harm if ingested, depending on what the materials are made out of.
What To Look Out For When Tree Shopping
- Opt for a shorter tree, one that won't provide a tall point of surveillance for your cat.
- Try and find a tree that has a tall trunk, one where the branches start higher up to avoid the low-hanging pine branches.
- Find one that has low needle-drop like the Nordman Fir, Noble Fir, and Lodge Pole Pine.
- Keep the trunk of your tree inside of water to help minimize needle drop (but make sure you cover the water!).
Keep these things in mind while tree shopping and you won't be pining the loss of your cat or your tree.
When introducing your tree to your home, there are a few things you can do to make sure it's as cat-ready as it can be.
- First of all, you should shake the tree before bringing it into the house. This will help to dislodge any needles that inevitably become loose in the transportation process.
- Second of all and most importantly, you're going to want a strong base for your tree, and here's why.
In the event that your cat runs the length of your apartment to launch itself missile-like at your tree, a strong and unyielding base is going to mean the difference between you sweeping up the shambles of your holiday spirit (RIP my 2017 Christmas tree) and having your tree remain standing.
As you're buying your tree make sure you look for a sturdy base. You'll need one that offers more support than standard plastic ones that perch your tree between four meager prongs and offer no support. Your cat-apulting feline will be sure to knock these over.
Let's say you have the perfect Nordman Fir and you're ready to move it into its temporary spot in your home. But where should your tree go? What's the best location for your tree and your cat?
Location, location, location.
You're going to want your tree away from shelves and other pieces of furniture that they can easily jump from. Ideally (and this doesn't apply to many of us) you're going to want your tree in a room that you can close off by shutting the door.
If this isn't an option, try putting your tree in a corner and keep it away from other pieces of furniture.
Think of it this way: You can always move furniture back after the holiday season.
Alright, here comes the challenging part of having a Christmas tree and a cat: the decorating. You may as well be painting a bullseye on your tree while decorating but these steps can help you minimize the potential chaos and damage.
How To Decorate Your Tree
- Leave your tree bare for a while so your cats can get used to the new object in the house. I've found success with leaving it up a full week before adding decorations.
- Keep your cat in another room while you decorate. There's bound to be some intrigue when they discover the ornaments and the lights but having the cats see the still decorations will minimize their interest.
- Tinsel is one of those ideal decorations for many of us but tinsel can be dangerous to cats. Eaten tinsel can lead to internal damage, in the worst cases, so it's best to leave it off.
- Leave the bottom section of your tree bare. Keeping your shinest ornaments up top is a good way to keep them and your tree protected.
- Attach your ornaments securely. Hooks have often been used to secure ornaments but hooks can easily be knocked from a tree with an errant paw swipe. Instead of hooks, tie them to your tree using string. Make sure you trim the ends!
Bonus tip: Invest in some cheap, discount store toys that will help distract them from the tree.
Now that your tree has been set up and decorated and you feel like you need extra protection from your cat, there are always scents that will help to deter your cat.
Pet stores often carry pet repellent spray but I haven't had much luck with these.
I have, however, had really good luck with anything that is citrus scented. Here's how you can make your own spray:
Homemade Cat Deterring Spray
- Fill a small spray bottle with water.
- Drop a few drops of citrus oil into water (I did a dozen or so drops).
- Shake and spritz the bottom of your tree.
If all else fails...
At the end of the day, your cat may still be attracted to the glittering beacon that is your Christmas tree and they may attach it. If this is the case, remember to exercise some patience and remember that you love your furry friend.
If you're feeling like a cool electronics-based alternative to your traditional Christmas tree this year, check out our exploration of the Raspberry Pi 3D Xmas Tree Kit from The Pi Hut.