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Here’s How to Keep Cats Away from the Christmas Tree This Season

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The holidays are almost here! You have the house decked out in lights and decorations. You’re settling onto the couch with a cup of hot chocolate, ready to enjoy your favorite movie. And you hear it: the unmistakable sound of SOMEONE exploring the tree. That’s an ornament crashing to the floor. You rush to the tree and see eyes peeping out at you and hear a cheery, meow. ‘How to keep cats away from the Christmas tree’ tops internet searches every holiday season. If you’ve reached your wit’s end, don’t worry. We have some solutions for you.

Cat Logic

To calm your concern: your fluffy feline isn’t mimicking the Grinch. The desire to explore the Christmas tree has nothing to do with ruining the holiday spirit. It’s much simpler than that. The tree represents something new in their territory, and they feel a compulsion to check it out.

Cats climb trees to survey their territories. It’s an instinct that goes back to before they moved into our homes. The high vantage point provided safety and let them scope out their next meal. That tree perch granted control over their domain (and we know cats are fuzzy control freaks).

Christmas trees trigger that ancient climbing instinct. Your cat probably isn’t looking for food, but the chance to survey their realm from a new perspective? It’s too hard to resist.

“Most cats are very curious about Christmas trees and see them as an exciting new opportunity. Christmas trees are tall, present a lot of climbing, hiding, and scratching spaces and are incredibly enticing to feline friends.”

Cristin Coll, CFTBS, CAFTP, Owner of The Cat Counselor

Christmas Tree Dangers

Working on how to keep cats out of the Christmas tree isn’t just a matter of soothing your holiday aggravation, though. Our beautiful holiday centerpieces present many potential hazards to cats. Without proper care, that Christmas tree can land our cats in the hospital. And NO ONE wants to spend the holidays in the hospital.

You may or may not recognize these threats when you fret over keeping your cat out of the Christmas tree:

  • Pine oil and sap are toxic to cats
  • Chewing on the tree’s needles can damage your cat’s mouth (whether real OR artificial)
  • Electrical cords present the risk of electrocution when chewed
  • Ribbon, tinsel, and string are the biggest culprits for linear foreign bodies
  • Broken ornaments may cause cuts to paws or mouths
  • Cats might be graceful, but falls happen
  • If your tree falls ON your cat, they may end up with severe injuries

Defeating the Cat Brain

Cats are clever. They outthink us. The shining lights, dancing ornaments, and glimmering garlands call to them. Then your plans on how to keep your cats out of the Christmas tree become an annual battle. The internet features pictures of trees enclosed in crates, hanging from ceilings, barricaded with vacuum cleaners, or even relegated to images on the wall. People get desperate. Considering our youngest cat destroyed our first tree, we know the frustration. It’s impressive (frightening?) the amount of damage one eight-pound cat can wreak on a poor defenseless tree.

Before you go to extremes – or give up entirely – take a deep breath. You CAN figure out how to keep cats out of the Christmas tree. You’ll need to think like your cat and do a little work, but success IS possible. Your tree will be safe, and your cat will stay safe.

How to Keep Cats Out of the Christmas Tree: Prep Work

Before you dive into your holiday decorating full-force, think a few things through. Taking your time will produce better results, and you’ll likely keep your cat out of the Christmas tree. Consider the following as you get started:

  1. Keep “launch pads” AWAY from the tree. If your cat has easy jump access to the tree, you make the task easy. Move couches and boxes out of the way.
  2. Wrap the base of the tree and the water reservoir in aluminum foil. Cats don’t like the texture, and you’ll keep them out of that water. (The additives are usually toxic)
  3. Cover the cord in a pet-proof cord protector or spray it with a cat repellant.
  4. DON’T decorate the tree for several days. Let your cat have time to inspect it and get used to its presence in the room WITHOUT the enticement of decorations. (We did this last year, and it made a HUGE difference in keeping our cat out of the Christmas tree)
  5. Set up a patch of cat grass or catnip in the room, but AWAY from the tree. It’ll encourage your cat to go THERE instead.

How to Keep Cats Out of the Christmas Tree: Anti-Cat Decorations

You have the tree set up and ready to go. Keeping up with watering the tree regularly prevents those dangerous needles from dropping. However, you have to decorate the tree eventually, right? If you want to work on how to keep cats out of the Christmas tree, you CAN add some subtle decorations that will turn them AWAY. They won’t even detract from the holiday spirit.

  • Jingle bells make fantastic warning systems. Attach them to the lower branches of the tree. If your cat brushes them, you’ll hear and can intervene. (Bells won’t even look strange)
  • Cats disapprove of different scents. You can soak a pinecone in one of the following and place it around the base of the tree:
    • Apple cider vinegar
    • Bitter apple
    • Citronella
    • Vick’s
  • Orange rinds are high in d-Limonene. The essential oil ISN’T safe for cats, but if you place the rinds in a mesh bag and hang them around the bottom branches, your cats will avoid the unpleasant smell while staying safe.

How to Keep Cats Out of the Christmas Tree: General Safety

Keeping cats out of Christmas trees feels exhausting. Non-pet people come up with plenty of suggestions. (For instance – switching from a real tree to an artificial tree. Let me assure you that doesn’t make one bit of difference) You don’t want to lose a precious ornament, but you also want your cat to stay safe.

So look into securing the tree to the wall or ceiling. If you’ve ever had a tree topple onto YOU, you know how heavy they are. Imagine that weight coming down on your cat. Injuries can result. If you have a determined climber, you may need to resign yourself to a table-top tree for safety. You’ll still celebrate the holiday, but on a smaller scale.

NEVER use tinsel. Tinsel ALWAYS translates to linear foreign bodies. Cats can’t resist the shiny, string-like texture. You’re better off skipping it. No matter how you keep cats out of Christmas trees, tinsel tends to get throughout the house, and it’s not worth the risk.

Cats and Holidays

You don’t want to spend your entire holiday trying to keep your cat out of the Christmas tree. It gets exhausting (believe me). You may need to resort to keeping a spray bottle or can of coins on-hand to startle them as they get close. Or you might need to supply an electronic cat toy, so your cat’s too tired to explore the tree. Regular playtime also works well as a distraction.

Cats love trees – especially shiny, beautiful Christmas trees. With a little ingenuity, though, you CAN keep cats out of Christmas trees. And then you can get back to that mug of cocoa and your Hallmark holiday movie.

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Andria Kennedy

Andria Kennedy

Andria Kennedy worked as a Licensed Veterinary Technician for 10 years, focusing on Emergency/ICU and later Cardiology, as well as volunteering at both the Philadelphia Zoo and Virginia Living Museum for over six years. She's now a freelance writer, but she gravitates toward writing projects with a focus on animals (once an animal-lover, always an animal-lover). She lives in Virginia with her husband, three cats (one "works" as her personal assistant), and a Greyhound who thinks she's a big cat — all of them rescues.

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