I have Bengal cats - Can I put up a Christmas Tree?

The season is approaching, and it is time to put the Christmas tree up.  With a skip in your step, you bring in the box of special ornaments - all those glass ones that hold significant memories. Just as you place your favorite decoration in the prime spot on the tree, you turn around to see the cats staring at their newest, most excellent toy - a tree with a bunch of bright, sparkly, dangly toys on it. Don't be afraid.  There is no need to give up the tradition of putting up a Christmas tree, nor do you need to lock all the breakable ornaments behind a glass case.  There are ways to have your Bengal cats and your Christmas tree too.

The first step is basic Bengal cat owner common sense.  Does your home have plenty of mentally stimulating toys to play with? And do you spend time engaging your cat in play? If you aren't doing these two things, bringing a tree with ornaments into the house sets your cat up for failure. When you bring in a Christmas tree, it is a good time to switch up your toy rotation so the cat toys feel new.  Have you been doing your shopping early and online?  All those boxes make great cat castles and cost nothing extra. Assuming your cat's energy and intellectual needs are being met, you can secure the safety of your tree. 

When your tree first comes into the house, let the cats explore it while there is nothing on it.  They are cats; they are curious, a tree is a new object; it must be checked out.  Giving them this opportunity is kind.  While they are exploring the new tree without any decorations, secure the environment.  You want to make sure there are no cat trees or furniture near enough to the tree that the cat could reach the tree by launching itself off the nearby cat tree or table.  Bengals would be thrilled to go back into the tree-dwelling heritage with a flying leap from the China Hutch to the Christmas tree, so do not provide that opportunity unless you want your tree to end up on the floor. Move all tall cat trees and cat-launching furniture far away from the Christmas tree while your cats check out the tree.

The best and the more aesthetically pleasing way to keep your cats away from the decorated Christmas tree is to place strategically positioned, motion-activated air canisters around the Christmas tree.  Hide them behind a few presents. This way, when the cat approaches, it gets a puff of air in its face and hears a hissing sound that it doesn't like.  This sends the cat off in another direction -  hopefully to some new cat-appropriate play area that you've designed for the season.  Another method would be to use a curved ScatMat in front of your tree, but it can't be hidden like the air canistersWith this method, you could shock your kids as they peek at the presents - which may be advantageous, depending on how you look at it.  As a side note, air canisters and ScatMats are excellent methods of keeping your cats off of counters or out of desks.

Squirting water from a water bottle is not an appropriate way to keep your Bengal away from the Christmas tree.  For one, some Bengals love water, and that adds to the fun.  Dangling toys, water, and a tree - could life get any better?  Furthermore, if your Bengal does not like being squirted with water, then water bottles are not the best discipline technique because they connect you - at the other end of the water bottle - to this negative experience.  They are also inconsistent as you can only squirt when you are home and on guard with a water bottle in hand.  The air-canisters are consistent, and they do not equate the negative experience with you, the cats' beloved servant.

Placing the air canisters around the tree will keep your cats away, but what if you want to be more inclusive of your cats in the festive season?  You can find a happy medium.  We traditionally place our more meaningful ornaments up higher on the tree on stong sturdy branches.  We secure them tightly to the tree.  Then we will place safe, unbreakable ornaments on the lower part of the tree.  If the cats remove or ruin the decorations on the lower half of the tree, it won't be the end of the world. Because our cats have so many other ways to challenge their minds and expel their energy, we have never had a problem using this more inclusive tree decorating method. Presents, however, present an additional problem with that paper that makes such a wonderful crunchy sound.  Instead of placing paper wrapped gifts under the tree, use Christmas boxes like the ones in the picture at the top of the article.  These gorgeous boxes can be reused year after year, and the cats cannot unwrap them before the big day.

Some people go further yet and set up a tree that is meant for the cats.  You can have lots of fun doing this as the cats can too.  Decorating a ladder for the cats is a super idea. It is a stable "tree" for them to climb on which you can hang toys.  Or, have a Christmas tree decorated with cute Christmas cat toys just for the cats.  Embrace your inner crazy cat person desires with fun trees just for the cats.

Decorating for Christmas often involved many electrical cords - which, when brand new, look like new cat toys to cats.  You want to deter your cats from playing with the wires. Deterrents can come in a couple of different methods.   Spraying a Bitter Apple or Bitter Lemon on the decorations you do not want to be chewed is an effective way to keep them away. You can purchase a cord protecting sleeve to place around your wires.  You may need the bitter spray to keep the cats from chewing ornamental decorations as well.  We have many chewed foam cranberries on our Christmas garland that we didn't get sprayed before the Bengals found them.

A couple of other helpful tips on decorating for Christmas.  Museum putty can help keep Christmas Villages and other decors in place.  It isn't Bengal-proof, but it aides in keeping decorations where you want them.  Avoid flocking unless you are open to flocking being all over the house and on absolutely everything.  We had a flocked tree several years ago, and I think we are still finding flock remnants on our stuff.   Finally, never forget that poinsettias, while beautiful, are toxic to cats.  If you love them, use them to decorate around your front door, so you aren't sacrificing a passion, but you are doing what is safe for your cats.

Christmas with your Bengal cats is a wonderful time of year.  You do not have to give up decorating because you have Bengals, but you must have realistic expectations about how enticing your decorations will be to your cats.  Be prepared for their antics by providing them safe, fun, spirited Bengal appropriate toys to play with and using deterrents when necessary.  Keep them safe by protecting the electrical cords you add to your home this time of year and by keeping toxic plants out of the house. You can have your Christmas decorations and Bengal cats too.


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