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If dogs are man’s best friend, then cats are a Christmas tree’s worst enemy. Even the most docile of feline companions may become an evergreen-climbing, ornament-shattering menace come December, a dilemma that can throw a wrench in many a holiday decor scheme. “Cats are natural climbers and explorers, so it’s hard to blame them for wanting to explore a new tree placed inside the home,” says Dr. Brian Evans, the medical director at Dutch, an online veterinarian service. “Then when we add what appears to be the equivalent of shiny cat toys...I’d almost be more concerned if a cat didn’t want to explore this new wonderland.”
So how do you keep your carefully curated Christmas tree from becoming an oversized (and overpriced) cat toy? The truth is that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution—every pet is different, after all—but there are a few preventative methods you can try to keep your cat out of the Christmas tree, because Simba or Tiger definitely deserve to be on the “nice” list this year.
Allow Time to Acclimate
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 okay,” says Sandra Giltner, veterinarian consultant at cat furniture brand LucyBalu. “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.
Location, Location, Location
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.
Reorient Your Ornaments
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.
It’s also worth taking note of which ornaments might be a hazard to your cat’s health. Items that can be easily ingested like tinsel or garland are best avoided, as are plants like holly, mistletoe, and poinsettia flowers, which can be toxic to felines. Wag! advises particular caution in the case of Christmas lights, which should be hung higher up on the tree to avoid injury or electrocution—and it’s best to keep stray wires out of reach, too.
Keep Them 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 a Few Deterrents
Cats can be stubborn creatures, so sometimes a few natural repellants 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.
Of course, if you want to go the natural tree route, it’s worth taking a few additional preventative 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.)
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