Cats vs. Christmas Tree: what's your experience?
November 21, 2020 7:41 PM   Subscribe

There are plenty of articles telling me "just use repellent spray" "secure the tree" and so on, but I want some advice from someone with a cat like mine, who is both acrobat and escape artist. Is it pointless to try and have a tree w lights and ornaments or have some of you actually had active climbing cats plus a tree without disaster?
posted by emjaybee to Pets & Animals (25 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Can’t help you there. My cats are trash. Four years after getting them, they’ve one by one broken pretty much all the breakable Christmas ornaments.
posted by LizardBreath at 7:44 PM on November 21, 2020 [3 favorites]

Non-breakable ornaments -- wooden, woolen, metal, etc. And you can wire them on with twist ties instead of just hanging them on to enhance the chances that they'll stay there, but the key thing is nothing glass or delicate. Anything that can break will eventually.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:47 PM on November 21, 2020 [7 favorites]

Yes some years, the breakables just stay in the box, and you spend December putting back onto the tree the bouncy ornaments that got swatted into the kitchen. One year, our entire tree mysteriously fell over while we were out - floor protection is important if you have a live tree with water in the base.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 7:57 PM on November 21, 2020 [2 favorites]

posted by sourcequench at 7:57 PM on November 21, 2020 [14 favorites]

Yes, non-breakable ornaments. Lights are fairly safe these days, and for extra safety, you could get battery powered lights so you're nowhere near 11v AC current, and only have 5v DC current. Also, a stout, stable tree stand, with not much water. Maybe have a shorter tree that will far less far.
posted by at at 8:05 PM on November 21, 2020 [2 favorites]

Absolutely no tinsel. Cats eating tinsel is a very common christmas-time emergency surgery.
posted by dum spiro spero at 9:21 PM on November 21, 2020 [6 favorites]

Friends suspended a small tree from a swag hook in the ceiling. I think that's pretty much the only solution.
posted by kate4914 at 9:33 PM on November 21, 2020 [5 favorites]

I use a harm reduction model of festive decorating. Sturdy ornaments, multiple small trees without water reservoirs, delicate stuff hanged from picture wire at ceiling level away from anything cats can use as a ladder. My cats have repeatedly and happily set themselves on fire. They're dumb, destructive floofballs. Work within that limit.
posted by VelveteenBabbitt at 9:49 PM on November 21, 2020 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: We don't use tinsel and I've already given up on using my grandma's fragile ceramic ornaments. Does the bitter spray work at all?

( It's an artificial tree)
posted by emjaybee at 9:50 PM on November 21, 2020

I’ve had 4 cats over the years and the most my tree has suffered is some batted ornaments around the bottom. None of them have been particularly interested in the tree or done anything like jumping on it. Dogs on the other hand have knocked off ornaments with their enthusiastic tail wagging.
posted by MadMadam at 11:17 PM on November 21, 2020 [2 favorites]

Depends on the cat, but acrobat seems to indicate that securing the tree is a must. Orange / lemon slices dried in the oven make for pretty and sturdy ornaments with cat repellent built in.

It might be just for a year or two, cats settle down past age 4 or so. Kittens are the worst - a family I knew left a six-month kitten with a full size Christmas tree and came home to a carefully positioned line of all the big ornaments on it, and at the end of it a very exhausted kitten sleeping the sleep of the just. He managed to only break two of them, too.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 1:19 AM on November 22, 2020 [6 favorites]

Rather than keeping the cats out of the tree, can you just resign yourself to having them in the tree and making that situation safe for everybody? (Bonus: adorable photos of cats peeking out from the tree!)

Depending on your space, this might involve having the tree in a spot where it won't harm anything if it does get
knocked over, discreet guy lines to keep it steady even if the case of flying felines, or putting it in a corner so all landings/launches just knock it against a wall.

My cats have lived in a house with a christmas tree, and we were lucky that they didn't seem interested in the lights, so those were safe. For ornaments, figure out some combination of things that don't interest your cats or that are harmless if the cat attacks them. My cats were slightly interested in the lower ornaments, so we would find those all over the house, but that's not really any different from the rest of their toys...
posted by Metasyntactic at 1:47 AM on November 22, 2020 [4 favorites]

I very successfully trained my cats out of the tree by strategically placing small tins of coins on the inner branches. You have to sort of balance them so that they will fall to the floor at the slightest touch and scare the hell out of your cat. It worked so well that we stopped having to use the tins after the first two Christmasses because they had just internalized the fact that the tree is not a toy but a macabre machine for making no-good-very-loud noises.

However, I would still secure the tree and use unbreakable ornaments until your cat has learned to fear the tree. ;)
posted by Mrs. Rattery at 6:12 AM on November 22, 2020 [13 favorites]

My climber cat would go all around the tree. After she knocked it completely over, she stopped. Never chewed on any wires or anything
posted by Jacen at 7:02 AM on November 22, 2020

My dear departed Yevgeny was nicknamed The Christmas Bastard. His great joy in life was to play with Christmas Stuff. His favorite thing was to shred the edges of wrapping paper and then slide across the floor on it like a surfboard. His very last Christmas, when he was too old and sick to do much else, he still manages to shred some paper and bat a few bows around. We used to hang those shiny painted Styrofoam apples on the tree, and from Thanksgiving to the end of January you could count on one of them being in his teeth whenever you saw him.

Anyway, the point I’m ambling toward is that he got very good at climbing the Christmas tree without wrecking it. And he was by no means a small cat. I’d come downstairs in the morning and he’d be sleeping sweetly, nestled in the branches halfway up the tree.

It was Libby the Disaster Cat we had to worry about. She had Pica, so it was no tinsel or glass ornaments while she was with us. I remember when we first got her, seeing her knock a glass ball off a low branch and pick up a big shard in her teeth,

I read somewhere that you should hang jingle bells on the lower limbs of the tree, so you’ll hear when Kitty attempts to climb and be able to run in and stop them. Kind of a jolly burglar alarm. It worked with Libby.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:11 AM on November 22, 2020 [4 favorites]

we start our lights and decorations halfway up the tree. otherwise we suffer batting and one guy who eats the bulbs (really!). we don't have climbers, so this solves our problem (though looks a bit silly).
posted by smokyjoe at 11:59 AM on November 22, 2020

Because you asked specifically about bitter spray -- we tried this when we had kittens. They didn't care and continued to knock stuff off the tree. Turns out bitter spray is also bitter to humans so every time we put the ornaments back up we had to wash our hands again.

My parents' strategy is to have 'cat ornaments' all along the bottom -- stuff like puffballs or ornaments safe for babies -- and hope that the cats stay down there and play with those. It does not work great but it is harm reduction.
posted by possibilityleft at 12:54 PM on November 22, 2020

Absolutely no tinsel. Cats eating tinsel is a very common christmas-time emergency surgery.

Sidetracking a bit, but keep cats away from ribbons as well. (Those can cause an emergency vet visit as well).
posted by gtrwolf at 4:54 PM on November 22, 2020

When our cat was young and extremely spoing-y, we were able to have her coexist with the tree by: swapping all breakable ornaments out for plastic or wood, using paper chains instead of tinsel, making sure the tree was well anchored in an oversized stand and with a plastic trash bag under the "skirt", and buying LED lights (plastic instead of glass). This was something of a hit to the tree's aesthetics, but watching her enjoy climbing the tree (and falling asleep in the branches) made up for it. (This was a cat who could jump onto the top of a six foot cabinet from a standing start, and who regularly became convinced she should be able to walk on the ceiling and ended up hanging from the crown molding demanding rescue.)

After a few years, she settled down and we were able to get everything back out again, although we still occasionally have to rescue Mr. Data from her.
posted by LadyOscar at 6:19 PM on November 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

I would just get a big heavy piece of plywood, get a really solidly-gripping tree stand and screw it to the plywood, and decorate the thing with, essentially, safe cat toys. No lights. It's Christmas for everyone, especially cats.

We put ornaments and lights on a big natural wreath. If you position this strategically, it might not attract the cat, and it can be quite beautiful.

One comment above mentioned twist ties -- I wouldn't put those where a cat could get them.
posted by amtho at 6:24 PM on November 22, 2020

When we've had new/young cats, we put the tree up early and leave it undecorated for a few days. That lets the cats climb it if they want to and lets us observe how interested they are in climbing in it. Then we add lights and non-breakable ornaments. If the "safe" ornaments become cat toys, we stop there and keep the breakables stashed until the next year.

We've generally found that a Christmas tree is like any other cat toy: No matter how irresistible it is at first, if you leave it around long enough they'll ignore it.
posted by helpthebear at 7:39 PM on November 23, 2020

When I was a kid we made paper chains, Femo (oven-bake synthetic modelling clay) ornaments, and origami 3-dimensional "stars". All cat-safe, and fun to do.
posted by heatherlogan at 6:42 AM on November 24, 2020

We put the tree on a card table because we have high ceilings. The card table sits over a hope chest, the back legs of the table are wedged between the chest and the wall making it impossible for the cats to knock the table over. Then I use bungee cords to strap the tree stand down to the table, and drape a tree skirt over all that to hide the infrastructure. We do have to anchor the table cloth and tree skirt pretty well (binder clips usually) because both cats will pull on hainging fabric just to see if they can.

My big boy tries to climb the wall with his back supported by the tree, he never seems to the consider the possiblity that if he faced the tree itself it might work better. He never gets very far but he has a lot of fun trying, and hasn't managed to knock it over in three years. We did have to stop using garland because he kept getting tangled. As long as we tuck the lights in deeper he doesn't get caught on them.

Also, we only hang up unbreakable cat toys ornaments. Some fragile ones get displayed in a glass bowl on a bookshelf that the cats ignore anyway.
posted by buildmyworld at 9:05 AM on November 24, 2020

Then I use bungee cords to strap the tree stand down to the table, and drape a tree skirt over all that to hide the infrastructure.

We used to do that, but with painter’s tape instead of bungee cords.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:54 AM on November 24, 2020

« Older frozen custard in new england   |   Gift ideas for techies Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.