Claws and Christmas Trees | The Hazards of Having a Holiday Cat

written by Michelle DeShon, special to The Devil Strip


Socks, my sister’s cat, liked to bask under the twinkling Christmas tree, licking her tiny paws. The site was an adorable one, but my family and I knew it would soon turn into a disaster.

Fake pine needles would litter the carpet, bulbs would become cat-sized soccer balls, and the tree might well end up horizontal on the floor. She could scale the tree in a few seconds, using her sharp claws to hoist herself up the trunk. Once she reached the top, she would poke her head out of the branches and peer out at us as we stared back at her, amazed by her speed.

On the other hand, Sock’s brother, Whiskers, was most interested in munching on the branches. Like all cats, he loved a good snack. He was too plump to climb the tree because the branches were too dense for his round belly. He would casually sit under the tree and feast, occasionally getting a needle stuck in his mouth. When this happened, he would sway his head back in forth, trying to get it out with his prickly cat tongue. If I caught him doing this, I would run to the rescue to pull the object from his mouth. I was afraid I would loose my cat from a bad accident involved chewed needles or cords.

My family never quite broke our cats of their bad habits during the holiday season. We tried spraying them with a mist of water as a punishment, but in the end, the tree was too enticing. Each year, the tree had to be replaced and each time, the tree got smaller. Once our tree was a measly 3 feet tall, it was placed upon an end table next to the couch. It was constant chaos during for the month that the tree was up. We were first time pet owners and we did not know how dangerous these behaviors actually were.

Veterinarian, Dr. Gregory Roadruck, of Akron Barberton Veterinary Clinic, said that behaviors such as eating needles and climbing the tree can be “extremely dangerous”. He said that needles can puncture the esophagus and objects longer than 1 inch can easily get stuck in the cat’s digestive system and wrap around the intestines. Dr. Roadruck said that any object that a pet owner leaves around the house can cause this problem, like sewing needles or toys with long strings.

“You need to baby-proof your house,” Dr. Roadruck says.

He said to look for things on the floor that cats might try to chew on like chords, for example. As far as curious cats who like to climb, he said to always anchor the Christmas tree.

“It’s a lot of work putting it up. Who wants to put it up twice?”

Cat owners may think that fake trees are less dangerous, but Dr. Roadruck said that both fake and real Christmas trees have disadvantages. He said that cats are more likely to chew on the branches of a fake tree because they are plastic and “cats love to chew on plastic”. However, they are more likely to climb a real tree because before it was brought inside, there were animals, maybe birds, that were in it. Cats will pick up on those smells and try to “investigate”.

“They love to be up high. They’re predator animals,” he says. They like to look down on their surroundings and they might feel safe up high in the tree. “It’s just comforting for them.” He said that the cat who is nesting in the tree is thinking, “Ahhh, this is cool.” As much as the cat may enjoy the tree, it’s best to keep them safe and away from the tree.