Are Christmas trees safe for cats?

CatChannel behavior expert, Marilyn Krieger, CCBC, provides facts about cats and both real and artificial Christmas trees.

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Q: I would like to know your thoughts about cats and Christmas trees, both real and artificial. I am very concerned about my cat, Sonny, ingesting some of the tree.
 
A: Christmas trees and decorations are a yearly challenge. Live, cut Christmas trees can be deadly for cats. Pine needles can be ingested and puncture intestines, and pine is highly toxic to cats, potentially causing liver damage and death. Additionally, the water that cut trees are placed into is toxic. It usually contains pine resin, preservatives and fire retardants.

Fire retardants are sprayed on artificial and live trees and pose a potential danger. A 2007 study published by the Environmental Protection Agency linked fire retardants to thyroid disease in cats and possibly humans.

An artificial tree is generally safer than a live one. However, if eaten by a cat, it can cause intestinal blockage. A bitter apple spray can be sprayed on the tree as a deterrent before trimming it. The spray sometimes stops cats from exploring or chewing on a tree.

It is important to secure the tree so that the cat is unable to knock it over. Some people secure their trees from the ceiling or rig up a way of tying the tree to a nearby wall. Recently, I saw a unique solution to the tree dilemma. The fully trimmed tree was hanging upside down from the ceiling. It was both beautiful and at the same time impossible for the cat to reach.

Christmas decorations also can be deadly to cats. Cats like to play with tinsel and if swallowed, it can cut a cat internally or form an intestinal blockage. Ornaments must be tied securely to the tree, so that an exuberant cat can’t dislodge them. Not trimming the lower branches of the artificial tree can help decrease a cat’s natural curiosity about ornaments.

It’s important to be aware of the potential hazards of Christmas trees and their decorations. To be on the safe side, close the door so that your cat doesn’t have access to the tree unless the cat is supervised.

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Are Christmas trees safe for cats?

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Reader Comments

MG    San DIego, CA

12/23/2013 9:39:21 PM

My cat drank water with tree preservative a few years ago and died hours later of unknown causes, but she was not old or otherwise ill. Why don't they make them label that stuff as toxic?

CatChannel Editor    Irvine, CA

1/2/2013 2:24:58 PM

According to the ASPCA Poison Control site, fir trees are not toxic to cats: LINK

Karen    Franconia, NH

12/31/2012 3:50:32 AM

I notice that you refer to pine trees being toxic to cats. Pine trees make up a very small percent of Christmas trees. Christmas trees are generally fir. So I am most interested to know about the toxicity of fir trees.

CatChannel Editor    Irvine, CA

11/26/2012 8:37:36 AM

Anissa -- Call your vet or take your cat in. You can never be too safe.

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