Are Christmas Trees Safe For Cats?

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Christmas trees are a holiday staple, but as a pet parent, you need to consider every potential danger to your pet—even the festive ones. Luckily, Christmas trees are considered safe for cats to brush up against, but they can be mildly toxic when the needles are ingested.

Cats have a remarkable ability to climb, and many of them knock over Christmas trees every year. However, if your cat likes to learn about new things by chewing, licking, or eating them, you should try to keep them away from the Christmas tree. Are Christmas trees safe for cats? Ultimately, it depends on what kind of tree you use to decorate your home for the holidays. 

Are Real Christmas Trees Safe For Cats?

Real Christmas trees are a must-have in many households during the holidays, but are live Christmas trees safe for cats? Most real Christmas trees are spruce, fir, and pine, all of which have needles that can be toxic to cats if they ingest them.1 Christmas trees are one of several plants that are toxic to cats for several reasons. A few potentially dangerous elements of a Christmas tree for cats include:

  • Needles: When putting up a Christmas tree, you might realize that the needles are sharp enough to cause discomfort. Pine needles can puncture a cat's intestinal lining, potentially injuring them when ingested.
  • Chemicals and sap: Christmas trees contain terpenes, a natural chemical that gives trees and other plants their scent. Unfortunately, while you may love the smell of pine, terpenes are toxic to cats. In most cases, cats would have to eat a lot of needles to experience extreme toxicity, but they may experience mild symptoms such as GI issues and irritation.1
  • Fertilizers: Christmas trees are often treated with fertilizers and pesticides to help them grow. However, these chemicals can stay on the tree long after you bring it home and be poisonous to cats. 
  • Water: The water you use to keep your Christmas tree alive and green for as long as possible can also be dangerous to cats if you add preservatives. In addition to preservatives, you might use sugar substitutes or aspirin to prolong your tree's life.1 Unfortunately, these are incredibly toxic to cats, so they should never have access to the water. In addition, pine needles and sap can fall into the water, making it even more dangerous. 

Signs of toxicity

Signs Of Toxicity

If your cat has come into physical contact with the tree and you're unsure whether or not they ingested any part of it, you should monitor for any signs of toxicity that can manifest in a few hours. Signs of Christmas tree toxicity in cats include the following:

In addition, you should take your cat to the nearest emergency vet if you know your cat has ingested any part of your tree because of the potential for toxicity. However, since many preservatives and fertilizers can be lethal to cats, there's no reason to risk your cat's health and safety. 

Dangers of real vs. artificial Christmas trees

Are Artificial Christmas Trees Safe For Cats?

Are real Christmas trees safe for cats? No, but that doesn't mean artificial ones are, either. If you're unsure whether certain houseplants are safe for your cat, you might buy artificial ones instead, and the same concept applies to Christmas trees. Artificial Christmas trees are considered safer for cats than the live alternative. However, they still pose risks even though they don't require any preservatives or have dangerous needles. The dangers of artificial Christmas trees to cats include the following:

  • Choking hazards: Not all artificial Christmas trees are created equally, and some may have different parts and pieces you have to attach or those that frequently fall off the tree. If your cat eats any part of an artificial tree, it could pose a choking hazard.
  • GI issues: Small pieces from a Christmas tree can cause dangerous intestinal blockages. If your cat swallows any part of an artificial tree, they should be examined by a vet as soon as possible. The earlier blockages are treated, the better your cat's chances of survival. 
  • Ornaments and lights: Christmas ornaments and lights are other potential Christmas tree hazards to consider. Cats love to climb, jump, and learn about new things. If you have a Christmas tree of any kind in your home, they'll want to learn about it. Unfortunately, ornaments can break and create sharp edges that can harm your cat. In addition, cats can swallow lights or get tangled in them, not to mention the risk of electrocution. 

How To Cat-Proof Your Christmas Tree

No type of Christmas tree is truly safe for cats. However, pet parents can take some steps to cat-proof their trees to ensure their pet's safety during the holiday season. 

  • Opt for artificial: Even though artificial trees still carry some risk to cats, they're safer because they don't have sharp needles or require preservatives, fertilizer, or water. Even with an artificial tree, you should still take precautions to prevent your cat from swallowing any pieces of it. 
  • Consider non-drop live trees: Non-drop Christmas trees don't shed their needles as easily as the other options. Therefore, needles won't fall to the floor where your cat can easily ingest them. Of course, cats love to climb and jump, so they will likely still find a way to get to your tree even if needles haven't fallen on the floor. Still, this can be a safer option if you can prevent your cat from coming into contact with your tree. 
  • Make the tree inaccessible to cats: The best way to protect your cat from the tree this holiday season is to ensure they can't make contact with it. Unfortunately, blocking off your tree might not look as good, but it will prevent your cat from becoming dangerously ill. You can buy gates and guards for Christmas trees to add some design flare without completely covering them up. Besides blocking off the tree, you can block off the tree's water to prevent your cat from drinking it by covering the base. 
  • Weigh tree down: Weighing your tree down is another great option. Christmas trees can easily fall when a cat jumps on them or knocks into them, so anchoring your tree will prevent major issues, such as injured people and pets, broken ornaments, and a destroyed tree. When bringing home a Christmas tree, ensure you have an anchor to keep it in place and prevent anything fragile, like ornaments, from falling off it. If you don't have a tree base, you can add weights or use sandbags. 
  • Use scent deterrents: Scent deterrents can keep cats away from your Christmas tree. Cats have a strong sense of smell, so using something like diluted vinegar, cat deterrent sprays, or citrus scents around and on the tree may prevent them from becoming interested in it. Unfortunately, you'll need to continuously reapply the deterrents because they'll fade quickly, so you should always have a backup plan to ensure your cat stays away from the tree throughout the day. 
  • Place ornaments strategically: Ornaments don't always stay on the tree, so you may need to place them strategically in case they fall. Since ceramic and glass ornaments can easily break and potentially hurt people and pets in the home, consider placing them high enough on the tree so your cat can't swat at them. 
  • Avoid tinsel: Tinsel can help your tree shine bright, but it poses a risk to your feline friend. Tinsel can cause intestinal blockages when eaten. In addition, it's a strangulation hazard if your pet gets caught in it while trying to climb the tree. 
  • Use battery-operated lights: Christmas lights can attract cats, making them more likely to approach the tree. Unfortunately, the little lights themselves are choking hazards, and cats can easily get caught up in cords. Battery-operated tree lights can help reduce your cat's risk of electric shock if they come into contact with the tree, but always ensure the wires and cords are hidden in the tree.1

Tips to cat-proof your Christmas tree

FAQs

What Christmas trees are safe for cats?

Before you bring home a tree, consider which Christmas trees are safe for cats. The safest type of Christmas tree for cats is artificial with minimal pieces. Artificial trees don't drop needles on the floor, making them less tempting to cats. However, not all artificial Christmas trees are created equal; some have more parts and small pieces that can cause choking hazards or intestinal blockages.

In addition, cats can topple live and artificial trees. Cats are natural climbers and jumpers, so if they want to jump on the tree, they can, even if you have a baby gate in front of it. Therefore, it's usually safer for your cat, other pets, and people in your home to purchase a smaller artificial tree that won't cause a mess or potentially dangerous situation if it falls over. 

Is it bad for cats to chew on an artificial Christmas tree?

You might consider investing in an artificial Christmas tree if you have a cat. But are fake Christmas trees safe for cats? Unfortunately, they still pose a few risks, such as choking and intestinal blockages. You should never allow your cat to chew on an artificial Christmas tree because they can accidentally break pieces off and ingest them. In addition, while artificial trees made of plastic are generally safer than the live alternative, they can still pose potential choking hazards and cause intestinal blockages.  

Unfortunately, since you can't always deter your cat's chewing, you should find ways to block off your Christmas tree. Also, since cats can jump and climb, you should do everything possible to make your tree as inaccessible as possible. 

Are pine trees toxic to cats?

There are many safe plants to decorate your home with during the holidays. Unfortunately, pine trees aren't one of them. Pine trees are considered mildly toxic to cats because of the naturally occurring terpenes responsible for their scent. In addition, live trees are grown with fertilizer and pesticides that can be harmful to your cat if they ingest any part of the tree, and the water you use to prolong the life of your tree during the holidays may contain toxic additives. 

Cat scratching at Christmas tree

Final Notes

Any pet parents with a mischievous cat should ask, "Are Christmas trees safe for cats?" The short answer is no, but you can prevent harm by taking the proper precautions. Emergency vet clinics are busy because pet parents make mistakes during the holiday season. This year, consider your holiday decorations to keep your cat safe from potential choking hazards, blockages, and poisoning. 

Wondering how to keep your pet happy and healthy during the holiday season? Consult a Dutch vet to discuss possible holiday hazards and how you can help your pet have a safe and happy holiday. Try Dutch today. 

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References

  1. “Are Christmas Trees Toxic to Cats?” PetMD, https://www.petmd.com/cat/are-christmas-trees-toxic-cats.

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