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cat parent must-knows
Cat in christmas tree

📷 by Griffin Taylor

Are Christmas trees toxic to cats?

Yes. The oils in fir, pine, and spruce trees can irritate a cat’s mouth and GI tract, causing excessive drooling and vomiting. When ingested, the essential oils found in Christmas trees may also damage your cat’s central nervous system, signs of which include seizures, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, and depression. Aside from the tree itself, the water at the base of the tree can also be toxic to pets, particularly if it contains fertilizer and bacteria or mold, which can accumulate in unchanged water over time. The needles themselves are also a danger, as they can cause bowel obstructions or perforate the intestines of pets that try to eat them.

🚨 If you think your cat has eaten or ingested something poisonous, call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center immediately at (888) 426-4435.

Other unexpected dangers Christmas trees pose to cats

It’s not just the pine needles and toxins that threaten your feline. There are a few other dangers to consider, too:

  • Avoid glass ornaments and lights — Cats love to play with shiny, dangly ornaments. Since glass and ceramic can shatter, it’s best to use soft or plastic ornaments your cat can’t easily swallow. You also don’t want shards of glass ending up in their precious little paw pads!
  • Try to keep your cat on the ground — If you have a cat that loves to climb, they’ll probably try scaling your Christmas tree, which can cause it to tip over. Your cat could be harmed by the fall itself, or by the tree as it tumbles.
  • Remember that even artificial trees pose a risk — Ingestion of the plastic branches or needles of artificial trees can cause bowel obstructions in cats.

Poisonous holiday plants that aren’t Christmas trees

Be sure to avoid bringing any of the following festive plants into your house as well, as they pose similar (if not even more dangerous) risks to cats as do Christmas trees.

  • Christmas cactus. Ingestion of any part of a Christmas cactus, otherwise known as Schlumbergera truncata, can result in vomiting, lethargy, anorexia, and diarrhea.
  •  Mistletoe. Your holiday smooch might not be worth it if your cat ends up vomiting or experiencing diarrhea, low blood pressure, difficulty breathing, or a low heart rate.
  • Poinsettia. Poinsettias are generally only slightly toxic to cats. Still, their sap can irritate your cat’s mouth and stomach and cause vomiting, so use at your own risk.
  •  Holly. Toxins like methylxanthines, saponins, and cyanogen are found in holly, which can cause vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, and lethargy in cats.
  • Amaryllis. The red varietal of this flower is popular during the holiday season, but it’s not well liked by cats’ stomachs. While ingesting the leaves usually only results in drooling, vomiting, and diarrhea, cats that eat the bulbs of this plant can experience tremors and seizures, weakness, low blood pressure, or even have trouble walking. If a cat consumes a large amount of this plant, then aggressive treatment is required to treat your pet for toxicity.
  • Hemerocallis and Lilium. These troublesome species include most types of lilies. Within a few hours of eating the leaves or pollen, your cat will start to vomit. According to the ASPCA, acute kidney failure can develop within 24 hours.

🚨 If your cat does ingest any part of a lily plant, it’s important to seek medical treatment immediately.

10 tips for a cat-friendly Christmas tree

Just because you face some extra hazards by having a furry friend doesn’t mean you have to skimp on decorating for the holidays. Below are some tried and true methods for cat-proofing your Christmas tree:

Buy an artificial tree — This may seem like a given, but it’s the best way to keep your cat from drinking contaminated Christmas tree water.

Go small — If you’re not committed to a towering tree, a small one that sits on the table is a lot less scalable. Plus, if any accidents happen, they’ll be a lot easier to fix or clean up.

Use a heavy base — Although an artificial tree may not require a heavy base, you may want to consider using one to make sure your cat isn’t capable of tipping it over. Or otherwise, secure  your tree’s base to the wall to mitigate the damage should your cat try to scale it.

Get pre-lit — Trees, that is. Artificial trees that come wrapped in lights are more likely to be secure since the strands are usually buried deep in the tree. That way, your cat is less likely to snag them with their claws or go on a chewing spree.

Cover exposed wires — Pets who bite or chew at wires can be severely injured. “A wire can deliver a potentially lethal electrical shock, and a punctured battery can cause burns to the mouth and esophagus,” Dr. Tina Wismer, medical director at the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center told the organization.

Buy soft ornaments — If they aren’t glass, they can’t break. There are plenty of cute, soft-shelled ornaments out there that are much less likely to cause trouble if knocked down.

Hang decorations up high — If you do have precious or glass ornaments, hang them up high and out of paw’s reach.

Secure your decorations — Sometimes a standard hook won’t cut it. Use twist ties to secure ornaments onto individual tree branches so they’re not easily batted away.

Skip the ribbon and tinsel — Yes, it’s pretty and shiny — that’s why your cat’s drawn to it! To avoid temptation, it’s best to keep any dangly, sparkly additions to a minimum.

Use a deterrent — Try wrapping aluminum foil around the base of your tree. Cats hate the texture, and will therefore be less inclined to climb.

Including your cat in the holiday fun

Food can be a great way to include your cat in your family’s holiday celebrations. Just be sure to avoid chocolate, raisins, grapes, onion, chives, and other toxic foods for cats. While they might be holiday staples for humans, they’re not safe for cats to enjoy.

Keep your cat calm and carry on

For less social kitties, the holidays can be stressful. Whether you plan to celebrate at home with family and friends or call in a sitter, your cat might experience increased levels of stress during the holiday season. To keep your cat calm and comfortable, try using a calming diffuser, which can be plugged into the wall and releases pheromones into the air. For kitties on the go, try misting their favorite blanket with a calming spray, or use a calming collar.

Frequently asked questions

Are pine trees toxic to cats?

Yes. According to the Pet Poison Helpline, cats are sensitive to the oils in pine needles. Cats that eat them can experience nausea, vomiting, and skin irritation. The needles themselves can also cause bowel obstructions or perforate their intestines.

Can you have a Christmas tree with a cat?

You don’t have to sacrifice holiday cheer just because you have a cat. You should, however, stick to artificial trees and follow the above tips for decorating safely — which include hanging your precious ornaments up high and covering exposed wires.

Will a real Christmas tree hurt my cat?

It’s not guaranteed to hurt your cat, but it definitely can. That’s why it’s best to err on the side of caution. Oils in the needles of real Christmas trees can wreak havoc on a cat’s stomach. The branches can also be a choking hazard for pets, and water kept in the base can be harmful if it develops mold or bacteria.

How can I make my Christmas tree safe for my cat?

First, buy an artificial tree. Second, decorate it with as many soft ornaments as you can, securing more fragile bulbs as high on the tree as possible. Third, skip the tinsel and ribbon — any cat owner knows dangly things are sure-fire cat enticers!

Are artificial Christmas trees safe for cats?

Mostly, yes. There is still a risk of your cat ingesting the artificial needles or branches, which could cause bowel obstructions and stomach issues. However, artificial trees are safer than real trees, which contain oils that can be harmful to cats. Just be sure to pay close attention to your cat and follow our above tips for decorating your tree in a cat-friendly manner.

What kind of Christmas tree is best for cats?

A small, artificial, pre-lit tree is your best bet when it comes to keeping your cat safe. The pre-strung lights are tucked away from curious claws and bites, the needles aren’t poisonous, and the tree’s small size poses less of a danger to your cat if they were to tip it over.