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Cat Proof Holidays: 10 Holiday Safety Tips

How to Protect Cats from Plants, Candles and Christmas Trees

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Cat with lamp

Seren doesn't climb the Christmas tree, but does enjoy napping under lights (like this one). I remove the lights from the bottom of the tree.

Photo Credit: © Amy Shojai, CABC

Homes become pet playgrounds at this time of year so you need to cat proof holidays. Cats delight in un-decking the halls, climbing the tree (or watering it!), eating decorations, and otherwise wreaking havoc. The result is a Christmas that's anything but merry.

Plants and Cat Behaviors

  • Cats rarely eat plants, but they do claw them and then lick/groom away the residue. So beware of poisonous holiday plants and floral arrangements that include lilies. Many varieties-including Tiger, Asian, Japanese Show, Stargazer and the Casa Blanca-can cause kidney failure in cats. Holly and live mistletoe cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and lethargy if ingested by your pet. Poinsettias are NOT deadly but can cause nausea and/or mild vomiting.
  • Instead, silk or plastic holiday plants make an equally showy statement without the poison potential.

Candles and Cat Behaviors

  • Candles look lovely but prove irresistible especially for kittens. Cats paw-test everything to see what it is, or meet it head-on to sniff and explore. Singed paws and whiskers prove painful to the pet, and are a fire hazard for your entire family should Fluffy knock over the Menorah.
  • Instead, electric candles are available for decorating purposes. If you must have the real thing, ensure pets are safely out of the way and candles out of paw-reach. Be sure the fireplace screen is secured against curious cats, too.

Christmas Trees and Cat Behavior

  • Tree attraction is natural. Kitty thinks you've bought her a new climbing perch, complete with cat toys that swing, sparkle, and invite paw-pats and biting. Cats love heights and the Christmas tree challenges them to climb-and knock the whole thing down. Some cats take "aim" at the tree just as they would your outside shrubs and baptize the greenery. Cat play includes using teeth and claws to target twinkling lights and dangling ornaments.
  • Instead, smaller trees can be set on table tops, inside of baby play pens, or in a room protected by a baby gate. Situate breakable and dangerous decorations on the top of the tree out of reach of inquisitive pets.
  • Create a Cat Christmas Tree for your cat's enjoyment. Attach guy-wires or twine to protect topple-prone trees from the cat's airborne assault. Just make sure the ornaments are kitty safe. Decorating with catnip mice and kitty treats, fresh mint or dried or silk flowers, bows, strings of beads or popcorn instead of tinsel, soft sparkle-ball pom-poms and soft cat toys. Keeping them on the lower branches encourages the cats to stay at floor level.
  • If you have a live tree cats may drink from the water in the tree base. Anything added-fertilizer, preservatives, aspirin-can make pets sick. Chewing tree lights, swallowing tinsel, eating tree needles or other holiday décor can kill a pet.
  • Instead, make the area around the tree unattractive to keep paws at bay. Aluminum foil deters many cats since they dislike walking on that odd-feeling surface. Silver foil also offers a festive holiday look, so use this as a tree apron around the base. Or, invest in some clear plastic carpet protectors and place under the tree-nub side up. That makes cruising or lounging under the tree uncomfortable.
  • The soft "tacky mats" available from home product stores designed to keep throw rugs from sliding around work well to keep cats away because they dislike walking on sticky surfaces. Another option is Sticky Paws which is a double-sided tape product designed for cat training. Sticky Paws now is available in larger sheets as well as strips that you can apply directly to carpets beneath the tree, or to place mats situated on table tops or wherever needed.
  • Use your cat's smell sense to keep her away from the tree. Citrus scents are off-putting to cats so scatter orange or lemon peels (or potpourri) around the base of the tree. Vicks (menthol smell) also works as a good pet repellent. Dip cotton balls in the ointment and stick in the lower branches of your tree. They'll look a bit like snow and blend in with the rest of the decorations.

With proper preparation, your holidays can be enjoyable for your whole family. Save a few empty boxes and ragged bows after the gift-giving frenzy. Boxes, bags, crinkled wrapping paper and other "cheap thrills" will encourage your cat will forgive any perceived snub regarding the holidays.

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