Cats are wired to destroy Christmas trees, scientists say. Here’s how to stop them.

Cats are excited by Christmas trees because of the ornaments, the trees’ height and shiny tinsel, making trees a “playpen” for curious cats, scientists say.
Cats are excited by Christmas trees because of the ornaments, the trees’ height and shiny tinsel, making trees a “playpen” for curious cats, scientists say. AP

The average Christmas tree is quite the production — strung with lights, decked with ornaments, drizzled with tinsel and capped with a festive tree-topper.

But to a cat, your tannenbaum is far from ornamental. It’s more like a playpen.

“Those ornaments you hang on the tree turn it into a giant cat toy,” Mikel Delgado, a cat researcher the University of California Davis’ School of Veterinary Medicine, told Inverse, a science news site. “Lots of fun things to bat around.”

Anyone who’s tried to keep a cat from climbing, clawing, batting at or otherwise destroying a Christmas tree knows house cats have an irresistible urge to play with trees. And the internet hasn’t failed to notice.

According to scientists, though, there are a host of biological reasons your feline friend can’t help but terrorize your tree.

“First of all, you brought something new and fragrant into their territory,” Delgado told Inverse. “When cats are in familiar territory, they often want to investigate anything new. The tree has outdoor smells and bark to scratch so there is plenty to investigate.”

The height of Christmas trees makes them intriguing, too.

“[T]hey love to climb, and especially if they don’t have a cat condo, or cat shelves, it may be the tallest vantage point they can get in your house,” Delgado told Inverse.

There are ways to try to keep your cats at bay to protect that precious tree, scientists say.

“I think the most sensible thing, obviously, would be to have the tree in an area that you can actually shut the door,” Dr. Leonie Richards, of Melbourne University's Veterinary Hospital, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

That’s easier said than done, though, given how slinky and sneaky pet cats can be — particularly when they’re trying to make mischief.

So if keeping the door shut is a no-go, you could consider covering the floor around the tree with aluminum foil, Richards says. Yes, aluminum foil.

“Cats don’t like to stand on that surface,” Richards told ABC.

It also might be wise to keep your tree away from “launching zones” that your cat could use to leap into the tree, such as tables, couches or similar surfaces, according to PETA’s guide for cat-proofing a Christmas tree.

Using repellants on the tree is also a strategy for keeping cats away. There’s anecdotal evidence that citrus smells drive away cats, according to PET MD, so putting orange peels or cotton balls loaded with citronella under your tree could repel your cat.

Another word of advice from cat experts: Avoid decking the tree with tinsel. If cats ingest tinsel, it can sometimes be fatal, according to PET MD.

“It can cause huge problems in their intestines,” Richards told ABC.