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How to Keep Your Cats and Christmas Trees Safe

The day after Thanksgiving kicks off the Christmas holiday season, and millions of homes sport either real or faux trees — glittering towers of beauty that can pose a threat to your pets. Before you put the tree up, take a few moments to go over some safety precautions to keep your cats and Christmas trees under control.

1. Choose the Right Spot. Pick an area where the tree can be enjoyed by the family without becoming a “climbing toy” for your pet. The tree should be secured to the wall or ceiling, away from furniture that can serve as a springboard for your pet. Try to place the tree near an outlet so you don’t have to run electrical cords long distances.

2. Prepare the Area. Lay down plastic sheeting or buy a “tree bag.” This is an extra large trash bag used for live trees. Center the tree on the bag. When the season is over and you have removed the tree ornaments, pull the bag over the tree. This will catch the pine needles as they fall from the tree – and prevent them from being chewed or swallowed by your pet.

3. Secure the Tree. Cats — kittens especially — love to climb trees. Many a tree has been sent swaying with a happy kitten on top. Kittens can be injured if the trees or ornaments fall and break. Dogs can knock over a tree by rubbing against or playing under it. You can place the tree in a corner and secure it from two sides to small hooks in the walls. Another trick is to place a small hook in the ceiling above the tree and use clear fishing line from the top of the tree to the hook. Apply gentle tension and tie. The clear line is invisible.

Cats and Christmas Tree Safety 101

Christmas, New Year’s, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa — and all the celebrations they entail pose safety problems for pets. Aside from the over excitement and confusion caused by too many guests, there are purely physical problems: a cat can singe a tail on a candle or can swallow tinsel and wind up with an intestinal blockage that may need surgery to repair. Cats and Christmas trees can be a recipe for disaster if you’re not careful, so it’s important to be cautious.

The natural smell of a Christmas tree attracts pets. But remember that needles (even artificial ones) are indigestible. So, keep your pet away from the tree (using a baby gate in the doorway or low lattice fencing around the tree itself) and, since cats like to climb, secure it so he can’t knock it over. Artificial trees pose their own hazards. Small pieces of plastic or aluminum can break off and be swallowed, causing intestinal blockage or irritation to the mouth. Don’t use preservatives in the stand water. They can be toxic if consumed by a thirsty pet. Carefully cover the top of the stand with a tree skirt so your pet can’t get to it.

Cats love plants. Though they’re strict carnivores, cats like to eat plants even though doing so can make them ill. The consequences can range from simple vomiting to liver failures, seizures and even death. And while most animal species learn to stay away from things that make them sick, cats will eat plants over and over with the same results.

A wide variety of plants are poisonous to cats. Some of the more dangerous are castor bean, foxglove, lily-of-the-valley, Japanese yew, oleander, azalea, rhododendron, and hydrangea. One castor bean seed can kill, and mistletoe is deadly.

Flowers such as amaryllis, daffodils, iris, hyacinth, and honeysuckle also are poisonous. Christmas trees, pine needles, and even water from around the base of Christmas trees can produce oral irritation, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, trembling, and hind end weakness. Poinsettias aren’t seriously poisonous, though they can cause gastrointestinal irritation and vomiting.

Cats and Christmas Trees — and Stress

Ah, the sights, the sounds and the smells of the holidays! The real question is … do cats experience holiday stress like we do? For some pets, the holidays are a cornucopia of joy. Dogs often like the hustle and bustle; new people, new things and, best of all, good food stream into the house. But the family cat generally views this as bedlam. She also sees it like a never-ending car ride. Her routine shattered and her peace of mind disturbed, she has precious few, if any, places to which she can escape.

The holidays put a lot of stress on everyone involved, some of it good and some of it bad. Cats have to withstand any number of unusual circumstances that are novel each year because they don’t have the chance to get used to them. Do cats experience stress? We believe they do.

Pay attention to foreign objects. Your cat isn’t going to understand just what the heck this tall green thing, sitting in the middle of the living room, is meant to do. Is it a toy? Food? Furniture to climb? Lacking your aesthetic tastes, your cat doesn’t appreciate seasonal décor. Then there are the objects under it, as well as the other things around the house that mark the holiday season. (And let’s not mention the consternation caused by the singing, swaying Santa Claus or Hanukkah Harry dolls.) Worse even, cats are often discouraged from exploring.

Finding Humor with Cats and Christmas Trees

Once you’ve experienced enough Decembers, you know the drill. This holiday season, you’ll attend fabulous parties sporting your trademark ugly sweater, be reunited with that group of relatives you’re fine with only seeing annually, and endure enough stress to last all year long.

Yes, holiday stress is inevitable. Like overspending and overeating, it comes with the territory. As you proceed with coordinating gatherings, hanging decorations, and attempting to remain within your spending budget this holiday season, your stress level is bound to grow.

But thankfully, you have a secret (and non-alcoholic) weapon to combat stress. Enter your pet — your ever-loyal friend, confidant, and sanity-keeper. Since your dog or cat’s holiday stress level is comparatively minimal, you can balance each other out.

Sometimes you just need a good laugh to stave off holiday stress. When your fully-decorated Christmas tree topples over or you accidentally regift that malfunctioning blender to Aunt Jackie, there’s not much else you can do. As luck would have it, your pet is a king of unintentional comedy. Whether he’s creating mischief by carrying a stocking around the room or wearing a gift bow as a hat, your dog or cat’s antics are sure to induce a chuckle or two. Hearty laughter will vanquish your stress, whether it’s attributable to your pet’s natural hilariousness or to National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

Resources for Cats and Christmas Trees

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