Cats are inquisitive and curious by nature. As natural prey animals and predators, their instincts drive them to know everything and everyone in their territory. They explore and test everything that is new to them. They want to know: What is this? Can I eat it? Is this dangerous? Understanding a cat’s desire to get answers to these questions can help us understand why holiday decorations are so intriguing to our feline friends.
What is this?
During the holidays, there are all sorts of new things in your cat’s environment: the tree, the decorations, the lights, the ornaments, the presents, and every manner of new holiday smells like pine, pumpkin spice and holiday-scented candles. The smells can be overwhelming for a cat with a strong sense of smell. A cat will have to sniff everything and rub their own scent on things to reestablish her territory.
To lessen the overwhelming effect of all this “newness” for your cat, start decorating early and bring out a few decorations at a time rather than all at once. Allow your cat to sniff them, and give him time to explore and adjust to them. Give your cats treats and special rewards as you decorate to positively reinforce the sense that all is calm and bright in their territory.
Can I eat it?
Christmas ornaments are often about the size of cats’ toys and prey, so it’s understandable that your cat wants to bat them around and give them a taste test. This also can be extremely dangerous if your cat eats something that punctures an internal organ or causes an intestinal blockage. Cats may also attempt to drink water from a live holiday tree.
Watch out for decorations that can easily be eaten, like curling ribbon on presents under the tree, the tinsel and anything else that can be gnawed off and chewed. Curling ribbon can be very dangerous for cats, and holiday decorations like ribbon and tinsel are serious threats to your cats health if ingested.
Place tinsel and other ornaments out of reach, and place soft ornaments or more tempting, cat-friendly toys at the bottom of your tree to keep kitty busy. You can even use kitty mice, attaching them to the tree by their tails, to keep your cat busy and away from more dangerous ornaments near the top. Also consider securing your tree with bungee cords to a table or a wall to keep your cat from accidentally knocking it over. You can also use chew deterrents like bitter apple on the bottom of the tree and on other objects to discourage cats from going near them.
Is it dangerous?
A cat’s survival instinct compels them to learn whether anything or anyone in their territory might hurt them. You might see them paw at something new, then jump away before it can react. Cats tend to be cautious about anything that is the size of a natural predator or that seems to move on its own, like a vacuum cleaner or a revolving Christmas tree.
Humans can also be a threat – when new visitor show up at your home, some cats will not stick around to find out if they’re facing a predator and may run and hide. When they do venture out of their safe space, they approach everything new in their territory at first with caution, because they need to know if it’s safe. Once they have established that something or someone is safe, they mark the person or object with their facial pheromones. It’s the highest compliment!
Holidays are a time when people your cats do not know are visiting. Provide your cats with a safe room filled with their favorite things, litter box, food and water, so they feel secure and don’t dart out the front door when guests are coming and going.
Cats also like routine and consistency, which can make the holidays stressful. Holiday parties, houseguests, and moving furniture around to accommodate the tree can stress out your cat. Do your best to maintain consistency in the midst of changes and disruptions that accompany the holidays. Consistent mealtimes, playtimes and personal attention need to be supplied throughout the holiday season.
It’s likely that your cats have their favorite toys. Bring them out even if it’s only for a few minutes each day to maintain some of the familiarity they crave in their world. Make sure you feed them at the same times you normally would, in the same place they always get their meals. And make time to get away from your guests to spend some precious alone time with your kitty.
Take the time to understand your cat and meet her needs, and the holidays can be fun for the whole family!