Are Christmas Trees Toxic to Cats?
Give your cat the gift of a vet-free holiday season by keeping these Christmas tree hazards well out of their reach.
Do you love the fresh smell of a real Christmas tree, but worry about your cat nibbling on needles or sipping the tree water? Or maybe you’ve chosen the best artificial Christmas tree of the season, yet own a playful cat who can’t resist climbing and chewing?
If you’re wondering if Christmas trees are toxic to cats, don’t worry. A cat who nibbles on a real or fake Christmas tree probably won’t need treatment at the emergency veterinary hospital, says Dr. Renee Schmid, a senior veterinarian toxicologist at the Pet Poison Helpline.
Real Christmas trees contain mildly toxic components that may cause vomiting or diarrhea, she says. But definitely skip any Christmas tree water additives. If your cat has persistent vomiting or diarrhea, or stops eating after ingesting real or fake Christmas tree needles, contact your veterinarian immediately.
Are Real Christmas Trees Safe for Cats?
Schmid says it’s safe to have a Christmas tree, even if you have a cat. But minimize your cat’s risks by keeping these dangers in mind and follow the Christmas tree-proofing tips.
Christmas tree needles
Christmas trees contain essential oils which can irritate your cat’s mouth and stomach, Schmid says. Fake or real needles can also get stuck in your cat’s gastrointestinal tract if they eat too many.
“If your cat only chewed on needles or ingested very few, you can monitor them at home,” Schmid says. Call your veterinarian if you notice any signs of illness, like vomiting, diarrhea, decreased appetite or excessive drooling.
In rare cases, fake or real Christmas needles can cause life-threatening obstructions. Seek emergency care if your cat exhibits abdominal pain, becomes lethargic, has persistent vomiting or diarrhea or stops eating.
Christmas tree water
“Plain Christmas tree water is not inherently dangerous but it can contain contaminants from the tree, including bacteria and potential pesticides,” says Dr. Nicole Savageau, a veterinarian with The Vets, a mobile veterinary service in cities across the U.S.
Unfortunately, the additives that keep your Christmas tree living longer can be highly toxic to pets. If your cat drinks Christmas tree water with aspirin added, Schmid says they’re at risk of gastrointestinal ulceration and other organ damage.
If you believe your cat has ingested Christmas tree water with additives, immediately call the Pet Poison Helpline (855-764-7661) or ASPCA Animal Poison Control (888-426-4435). You’ll reach board-certified veterinarians who can determine if the additives are toxic and if your cat needs need veterinary care. They can also consult with your veterinarian to recommend the best treatments for your cat.
Christmas tree sap
Christmas tree sap is not toxic but can cause mild stomach upset. If you think your cat ate tree sap, monitor them for vomiting or excessive drooling. Call your veterinarian if signs persist or worsen.
Christmas tree decorations
Some cats prefer batting at bulbs and chewing on lights and tinsel rather than the tree itself. The texture of cords can be enticing to cats because it can feel like natural prey, Savageau says.
Chewing on cords can put your cat at risk of electrocution or ingestion of lightbulb glass. Schmid adds tinsel can cause gastrointestinal obstructions. And some tinsel is made with zinc, which is toxic to cats. Homemade salt dough ornaments may seem like a cat-safe option, but Schmid says they can put cats at risk of salt toxicity if eaten.
If you suspect that your cat has ingested something dangerous, contact your veterinarian immediately.
Cats and Christmas Trees
“Cats may chew on Christmas trees for various reasons, such as curiosity or play,” Savageau says. She adds cats aren’t typically interested in pine needles for their flavor.
Stephen Quandt, a feline training and behavior specialist and owner of Stephen Quandt Feline Behavior Associates, LLC, says punishing your cat for exploring the Christmas tree will only make them fearful and stressed, and they may not understand why you’re punishing them,
Instead, try these tips for creating a pet-safe Christmas tree. They’ll keep your cat out of the tree and safe from potential dangers:
Decorate the lower branches with non-breakable, non-toxic ornaments, like homemade birch slice ornaments.
Use a bitter apple spray to deter your cat from chewing on the lights or tree.
Unplug the lights when you’re not home or when you can’t supervise your cat. This will decrease the risk of a fire, too.
Cover the tree stand with a skirt to prevent your cat from drinking the water.
Create a safety perimeter with a Christmas tree fence.
Choose a sturdy tree stand and secure the tree to the wall with fishing line attached to a cup hook to prevent tipping.
Consider placing the tree in a closed-off room, or using pet gates to keep your cat away.
Defy gravity and your cat by suspending a small Christmas tree upside down from the ceiling.
“Remember that every cat is unique, and what works to deter one cat may not work for another,” Savageau says. “Be attentive to your cat’s behavior, and adjust your strategy as needed to keep them safe during the holiday season.”