how to calm down a cat during the holidays

With thoughtful preparation, your home can be a happy place for your cat during the holidays, whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or another special occasion. These eight tips can help you make sure the holidays are stress-free for your cat.

1. A Cat-Proof Christmas Tree

Let’s start with the Christmas tree and your holiday decorations. You want to be extra careful with cats and Christmas trees. Take the necessary measures to cat-proof your tree, since fake snow, tree water, and tinsel can be dangerous to cats.

Secure the tree: One of the easiest ways to prevent your tree from tipping over is to make sure it’s on a solid base and secure it to a wall. Hang fragile decorations up high, out of your cat’s reach. But since cats can climb, you might want to display your most precious keepsakes elsewhere. Use string to hang shatterproof ornaments instead of hooks which can hurt your cat.

Tinsel: Avoid decorating the tree with tinsel, which can injure your cat if he eats it. Try felt, paper, or wood decorations instead. Spray the tree with a scent cats don’t like, like citrus or apple cider vinegar.

Lights: Don’t leave electrical cords and wires exposed because your cat can chew on them. And be sure to turn off the lights when you leave.

Tree Water: If you have a live tree, cover the water reservoir with a tree skirt to prevent your cat from drinking it. Even if you’re not using a chemical additive in the water, the debris from the tree entering the water can make your cat sick.

Pine needles: Try to keep your cat away from prickly pine needles. Not only are they sharp, but some varieties can be toxic. If ingested they can cause a blockage that could require surgery. For this reason, you might consider an artificial tree or a tree that is mostly branches and decorate it with cat-safe, shatterproof ornaments.

Holiday plants: Be cautious with all plants and avoid plants that are toxic to cats, such as amaryllis, lilies, poinsettias, holly, and mistletoe. Because there are myriad ways cats can get themselves into trouble, it’s best not to leave them alone with holiday decorations. 

2. Peaceful Guest Introductions

When guests are in your home for festivities, always let your cat decide whether he would like to interact with them or not. If a guest approaches or tries to pet your cat, he may feel threatened or fearful. Let your floof set the pace for guest interaction. In other words, let it be on your cat’s terms.

3. Calming Diffusers Can Help Your Cat Stay Relaxed

Cats use pheromones to help them feel safe and calm. Managing your cat’s stress through all the changes in the home during the holidays is much easier when you can mimic those calming pheromones. Instead of worrying about guests walking through the front door or whether holiday decorations will invite chaos, you can help your cat maintain a sense of calm.

The Comfort Zone Calming Diffuser mimics a cat’s natural pheromones, communicating that everything is safe and secure. It can help your cat roll with the holidays — and the additional stimulation that has temporarily become part of her life. Plug the calming diffuser in a few days before the festivities begin, so it has time to start working.

4. Create a Safe Space for Your Cat

To keep stress levels down, create a place for your cat where he will feel comfortable and protected while observing all the new activity in the home. Consider using a cat tree, a covered bed under a table, or a pop-up cat tent to create a sense of privacy for her. Spray the hide-away with calming pheromones to make it inviting. If you have a kitten, a heated bed with a pillow that vibrates like a mother’s heartbeat will help keep him calm.

Some cats might prefer to be confined to one area (like a bedroom) with the door shut. This space should have all the necessary items (food, water, litter box, toys, and a bed) for kitty to retreat when the holiday excitement is too much.

cats and christmas trees

5. Promote Confidence-Building Activities

One of the best ways to help cats feel more confident and less stressed during the holidays is to play with them using a wand toy that you maneuver. Your cat is at her most confident and fear-free when she is hunting—or in this case, preying—on her toys. A moving toy can be much more enticing for a cat to stalk and chase than a stuffed mouse toy “asleep” on the floor.

Cats can also feel extra confident if they have high places to retreat to, so consider setting up window perches, cat trees, or cat condos. The right toy can provide an added bonus of distracting your cat from holiday decorations and the Christmas tree. If you give your cat a special hideaway that only comes out during the holidays, she might lose interest in your tree altogether.

6. Provide Mental Stimulation

A cat’s instinct is to work for his food. So consider incorporating a food puzzle into your cat’s dry food or treat regimen to provide much-needed outlet that many housecats lack. This can be an effective way to help him de-stress during the holidays. If your cat needs more mental stimulation throughout the year, consider clicker training.1 

7. Extra Attention Goes a Long Way

Grooming, petting, or just spending some extra time with your cat, even if only a few minutes here and there amidst all the commotion, can help improve your cat’s confidence and diminish stress. As long as your cat enjoys the affection, it can help strengthen the bond with you. Your cat loves you, and the more time you spend together, the better she will feel.

8. Predictability is Important

Cats become used to routines, and if something in their predictable schedule changes, it can cause stress. This can be especially true for cats that are fed at certain times of the day. If you’re going to be out late holiday shopping and unable to feed your cat his evening meal on time, get a timed feeder which dispenses food when your cat expects it. There are timed feeders for both dry and canned food varieties. Try to maintain other routines too, like the specific time of day you play a game, or a nightly snuggle on the couch.

When holiday festivities are over and the guests have said their goodbyes, don’t forget to pet your cat and enjoy a few magical holiday moments together. The holidays are for everyone, including feline friends.

1. Moss, Laura. “How to Clicker Train Your Cat.” Adventure Cats, 11 October 2015, https://www.adventurecats.org/backcountry-basics/how-to-clicker-train-a-cat/.

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