Source: Elle Decor (Extract)
Posted: October 11, 2023

It is a universally acknowledged truth that a single cat in possession of a Christmas tree must immediately want to destroy it.

Cat owners have long struggled with this dilemma, with many ornaments—and even whole evergreens—falling prey to Simba or Tiger’s relentless curiosity. “A new thing in an apartment will always tickle the curiosity of cats,” says Sandra Giltner, veterinarian consultant at cat furniture brand LucyBalu. “Whether it’s trees, new furniture, or even flowers.”

So how do you keep the Christmas tree from becoming your cat’s new jungle gym? There’s not a universal method, as every feline is different, but there are a few preventive steps you can take that will help make for an accident-free holiday for all involved. (And keep your pets off the naughty list!)

First, Leave Your Kitty with a Bare Tree

Cats can be very sensitive to any change in a home’s environment, so it’s important to first and foremost give them time and space to get comfortable with your new tree. Instead of discouraging their natural curiosity, leave the tree naked for a few days—that way no treasured childhood ornaments will go flying—and let the cats have free rein. “They will sniff, climb, or scratch, and that’s OK,” says Giltner. “The more time they have to explore it, the better. Because then they will get more used to it.”

ELLE DECOR A-List interior designer Nicole Fuller, who owns two Maine coons named Montgomery and Punk, takes this idea a step further and lets her cats lounge near the tree even after it’s fully dressed. “I had gotten a pair of Dior boots one year, and I put the [empty] box under the tree for them…. Now we make these upholstered boxes, almost like a bed, and put them under the tree,” she says. “And they love it because it gives them a destination”—and a distraction from all those tempting baubles.

Put Your Tree in a Cat-Free Zone

Sometimes a Christmas tree and cat relationship is doomed from the start. What’s the biggest deal-breaker? Location. Some spots in the house will make timber traversal more alluring than others. The experts at the online pet-sitting service Wag! recommend keeping the tree away from any furniture that the cat could jump from, and to put it in a room that the cat won’t have access to. After all, it’s harder for a Christmas tree to become a climbing tree when cats have already been briefed on restricted areas.

ELLE DECOR A-List designer Rodney Lawrence has used this strategy for his three cats: two Havana browns and a Siamese. “Both of our trees are tabletop trees, so they’re smaller in size…about three-and-a-half feet tall,” he says. “The cats are trained not to go on certain surfaces, so that’s one of the ways we deal with keeping them away from it.” Particularly daring design aficionados might even try hanging the Christmas tree upside down from the ceiling, which will certainly help keep it out of a family pet’s reach.

Hang Your Ornaments High

No matter how thorough you are, chances are good that a cat may break an ornament or two. To minimize the temptation (and the collateral damage), it’s a good idea to keep glass breakables higher up on the tree so that they’re safely out of swatting distance. That doesn’t mean the bottom half of your evergreen has to be left barren, though: “I’ll do twigs, faux berries, or white berries on the bottom,” Fuller says. “That way it’s not noticeable that you don’t have hanging ornaments.” Felt decorations that won’t shatter also make for great lower-tree options, or you can opt for something that kitty will better appreciate. “Sometimes it’s best to just give in, get creative, and hang all the lower branches with cat toys,” says Gracey Altree, affiliate marketing lead at Whisker, makers of the ever-popular (and blessedly automated) Litter-Robot.

Make Sure Your Decor Is Pet-Safe

Ornament relocation is key, but so is an encyclopedic knowledge of pet-friendly decor. Poinsetta flowers can be toxic to cats, and Christmas lights, while charming, are a safety hazard if wires aren’t managed properly. Whisker also cautions against hanging your favorite ornaments with loose metal hooks, as any that fall can be swallowed by cats. Snow globes are another concern—fun as they are—as they may contain antifreeze, another potentially dangerous substance for curious felines. It’s a good idea to reconsider edible tree hangings too, like candy canes and cinnamon sticks… just in case your furry friend has a sweet tooth.

Keep Those Paws Busy

If you’ve just set up your tree, then you’ll want to avoid a bored cat. Since cats perceive Christmas trees as enormous toys, having a bevy of alternatives on hand can help distract them and keep them out of trouble.

“Enrich their environment with other outlets that satisfy their natural instincts,” Giltner says. “If cats don’t find mental and physical stimulation in their day-to-day activities, they’ll likely seek it out themselves.” In other words, if you haven’t already invested in a cat tree or a scratching post, now may be the time.

Try Aluminum Foil or Rosemary

Cats can be stubborn creatures, so sometimes a few natural repellents are the best solution. “Wrap the base of the tree with aluminum foil, place fresh sprigs of rosemary along the base and throughout the lower branches, and decorate the tree with freshly dehydrated slices of orange,” says Zoe Garred, director of product at cat furniture maker Tuft + Paw. Since cats can’t stand the smell of certain herbs and citrus—and aluminum foil can baffle even the most persistent of felines—these should help keep them at bay.

If you go the natural tree route, it’s worth taking a few additional preventive measures. Cats are notorious for drinking out of a tree’s water bowl, something that’s not necessarily great for their health. “It’s so bad for them,” Fuller says. “I’ve had my upholsterer put zippers on the tree skirt, so it zips tight around the trunk of my tree and they can’t get in there.”

Finally—and perhaps most important of all—make sure to get your cat companions something for Christmas too! (Especially if the tree has come out unscathed.)