Keeping the Christmas Tree Vertical (in the Presence of a Curious Cat)

The first Christmas after Ivy the Wonder Cat joined me, the same jitters that I felt before her adoption were back with a vengeance. This time, I was worried about how she would behave around the artificial Christmas tree.

Five months into our relationship, I already knew she was a good little kitty who didn’t have any predispositions to destructive behaviour. Nonetheless, she still had a strong curious streak which could make the tradition of keeping a Christmas tree upright a challenge. I had heard enough horror stories and had seen enough videos to know just exactly what cats are capable of, in the presence of a bright, shiny “play structure” in the middle of the living room.

I turned to my panel of experts at the office who all offered fabulous, practical tips to keeping the tree and the cat safe (thanks again, everyone!) Plus, with experience, I added a few of my own ideas upon realizing that my cat was not only smart but fearless when it came to climbing the tree.

Here are some of the strategies I use to keep my Christmas tree vertical throughout the holiday season:

– For the first Christmas with Ivy, I kept my most cherished (and breakable) ornaments in a box, safely tucked away until I knew how she would behave. This took some of the fear and apprehension out of the experience.

– When I install the tree lights, I try to avoid the branches at the very bottom, within the reach of her paws. By avoiding those branches, not only is it safer for Ivy and the tree, I find that at human eye-level, the overall appearance of the tree is enhanced given the greater concentration of lights higher up.

– At Walmart, I bought a bucket of inexpensive unbreakable ornaments that were not only attractive but safe. Ivy has not broken one since!

– For Ivy’s safety, rather than using wire hooks for the ornaments, I cut up some ribbon into short strands and looped one strand into each ornament, securely tied with a bow.

– When I place the ornaments on the tree, I don’t just leave them dangling at the end of a branch, I try to position each one several inches into the branch, making it much more difficult for her to knock it off.

– I bought some inexpensive garland and chopped it up into segments of 1 ½ to 2 feet long. That way, if she tugs at the garland on the tree, more than likely just that segment will come off, and the odds of bringing down the whole tree are minimized.

– Once the tree is up, I always keep an eye on the cat to see what seems to be captivating her interest. If there is interest to play with a dangly ornament, I might decide to move it higher up on the tree. If the cat is just watching in fascination, the ornament might be fine where it is. Either way, cats are pretty transparent when it comes to what makes them curious. We just need to tune in and figure out if the curiosity poses a danger, and if it does, relocate the object of their affection.

– A trick I picked up this year is to put up the tree when she is not in the room. The fascination with a Christmas tree as a work-in-progress just seems to double the time needed to decorate, in trying to get her out of the tree every few minutes. If I can decorate it while she is blissfully unaware of it (i.e., sleeping in another room), the job can get done much faster. I also discovered that she seems less inclined to tinker with the finished product rather than the work-in-progress.

– For $15, I purchased a remote controlled plug-in for the light set. This makes it easier for me to turn the tree lights on and off via remote, without having to crawl under or squeeze around the tree. In doing so, I am not shaking the tree and animating the ornaments for the cat, thus becoming less of a playtime temptation.

Most importantly, at its base, my artificial tree is anchored by three dumbbells (15 to 20 pounds each). When there is a ten pound cat at the top of a tree, if you do not have heavier weight at the base keeping the tree firmly in place, or a very wide base to compensate for any swaying motion, the laws of physics are stacked against you.

Every pet owner needs to find what works for them and the unique behaviour of their own pet. It really is trial and error. I can’t tell you how many times I was out of the room that first year trying to put up the tree, and heard a frantic meow followed by a crash. It scared the crap out of me, and possibly three of my own lives.

But after a few years, we seem to have gotten into the Christmas groove with this compilation of advice, tips and ideas that appear to work for both of us.

Also, as she gets older, I suspect that her curious streak might be losing some intensity, or she’s getting used to the tradition, as she now seems quite content lying under the tree watching Christmas movies and TV specials with me.

For the record, three years later, my most treasured ornaments are still tucked away, but I may be able to put them out in a year or two… at least a couple of them, just to test the waters.

Having a cat doesn’t mean having to do away with our cherished traditions. It’s just a question of adapting them for the health, safety and peace of mind of the pet and the owner!

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Filed under Cats, Christmas

2 responses to “Keeping the Christmas Tree Vertical (in the Presence of a Curious Cat)

  1. Dave

    Remembrances of when Scooter was around. I eventually found I really had no reason to put up a tree or to deal with the battle that ensued every year. Haven’t put a tree up in almost 20 years now.

    • Hey Dave, I completely understand as I questioned the tree tradition as well, but the advice I got certainly made it easier. Thanks for the comment and very best wishes you for a very merry Christmas! Cheers!

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