So if you’re reading this it’s that its ‘that‘ time of the year again and you have cats. Oh you know what I mean: Christmas. ‘That’ time when you’ve got to wonder how many baubles will get broken. ‘That’ time when you’ve got to worry about if you’re cat is going to eat tinsel and get seriously ill. This is certainly the impression you get from the internet about how the holidays are going to pan out. Sounds very stressful doesn’t it? And that’s not what you want at this time of the year.
Well I have the solution (note: I absolutely most probably don’t have the solution only tips and our experience) and also a confession.
So, the confession first.
For all that you might see videos online with cats knocking over Christmas trees, baubles going everywhere and complete and utter chaos descending on the house; well my confession is that I’ve never experienced that.
In my entire time living with cats.
So when I was a kid we had cats and yes they were mostly outdoor cats (we lived in the countryside after all) but even when they’d come in they showed basically no real interest in the tree.
Now it is a bit different having indoor cats as they need to expend their energy and only have your house to do it in, so it can lead to them seeming more hyper than they actually are. And of course there’s the difference in each cats personality and energy levels.
But, all that said, these are the tips I’d have for minimising your chances of a complete and utter glittery, tinselly, baubbly disaster with Mr. Tabby in the middle of it all. Our tips come from having our two cats who are currently approaching their third Christmas and so far (touch wood) we haven’t had any disasters!
The Tree: Our process, the tips and tricks
Now this opening sentence is going to drive some people mad but it’s what we do and there’s a good reason so hear me out: we put the tree up in November.
Wait! Don’t! Keyboards down!
Ahem, thank you.
The reason for this isn’t some over-eagerness on our parts to kick-start Christmas early but is actually twofold:
1) I have a different set of important dates than Ben (i.e. non-Christian) and I like having the tree up with it’s lights as part of that.
2) and most important when relating to the cats is that we put it up to get them used to it.
You see we put the tree up, put the lights on and then just leave it, for about a month, with nothing else on before risking any baubles or tinsel. The plan is to get them used to this strange new thing in the house (as cats are curious and will investigate anything new) and to teach them that, while they can look at it, they cannot climb it or eat it (Bandit is the worst for trying to have a sneaky nibble)!
So Step One is putting up the tree and we let them be with us in the room as we do this, taking it out of the box, putting it up etc. We let them have a sniff and investigate it but scold them if they try to eat it.
Step Two is one we do to try and add some weight to our little plastic tree just in case the cats knock it or were to try and climb: we sandbag it. Not all the way around like a WWI trench but we put 3 sandbags down, one on each foot and then we cover it with the Christmas ‘bib’ (seriously what do you call those things? an apron? Tree apron? anyway…). This means its weighted down a bit but also we’ve hidden the not-so-pretty bags of sand (which we made with regular plastic lunch bags, kids sand and gaffer tape/packing tape).
We’ve also tried putting anti-chew sprays on the tree (you can get this from pet shops). This works for Ember who quickly learnt that it wasn’t tasty (not that she was that interested in the first place) but not quite so well for Bandit who I swear would eat anything!
Step three is putting the lights on and leaving it at that.
So is it job done?
Now you watch them. Like a hawk.
Talk to them, praise them when they go near the tree but don’t interact with it, let them sniff it but reprimand them with a “no” (or similar disciplinary noise; “uh!” works for Bandit, he legs it) if they try to have a nibble or a climb.
Repeat until lesson learnt (or mostly learnt).
Hopefully by December they’re not that interested in the tree and you can move on to baubles, tinsel etc.
Now, I only found out when we got Ember that tinsel can be very bad for cats so either avoid it or put it higher up the tree where they can’t get to it.
As for baubles maybe don’t put the prized, breakable ones on first, start with the plastic ones and get them used to ignoring these first and then add the others. Similarly if any are going to be lower down pick the more sacrificial, plastic ones over your favourite pieces.
Basically cats are toddlers, if it looks interesting they’ll go for it so plan accordingly.
And once again: keep an eye on it whenever possible.
And that’s basically all there is to it!
So far we haven’t had any disasters but Bandit is certainly more of a handful them Ember. That said; so far so good.
If you want to see the process I made a video which you can find here: Christmas With Cats (Video)
What about the food?
Maybe it would also be helpful to do a quick note on food as it’s such a big part of the holidays.
Here’s my tip. You ready?
Keep it covered! Or it will go!
Nice an obvious but you’d be surprised how many people seem to assume that cats aren’t going to be just as tempted by all that delicious smelling food as you are.
In our household we know that Bandit will live up to his name and it will go if we don’t do this. Our first Christmas with Bandit we had a pair of huge eyes just peering over the edge of the coffee table and had to watch out for his little swiping paws but we’d anticipated it and guarded our meal at all times. And who can blame cats for wanting in on all that wonderful smelling, exciting, unusual food? I can’t.
So they can’t have ours but we don’t leave them out, partially to include them in the festivities and partially to distract them from our food we get them a little Christmas dinner of their own (wet food!) which helps keep them happy and busy.
Hopefully this will help you have a happy, disaster free Christmas.
If you decorate at this time of year (whatever the celebration) and have cats feel free to share your pictures with me on Instagram and let me know what tips or tricks you use or if you use any of these. You can find me here: LifelongScribe on Instagram.
In the meantime I wish you a Happy Holidays, Happy Christmas and a Happy New Year!
[Note: All of this just comes from my personal experience as well as stuff I’ve read up on or learnt. I am not a cat behaviourist or a vet so bear that in mind and ask them if you have specific questions or concerns.]