Experts Warn Against Christmas Trend to 'Traumatize' Cats on TikTok: 'So Cruel'

TikTok users are sharing an unconventional method to dissuade cats from climbing the Christmas tree this year, but animal experts have warned against the trend.

Many pet owners will have seen their cat smashing ornaments or lights as it clambers up the tree—or even bringing the whole thing crashing down.

The social media trend shows owners making a pre-emptive strike: chasing their cat around the room with the tree before it has been decorated, in an attempt to scare the animal.

Clips showing such chases have gained millions of views. "If you chase your cat around with the Christmas tree, it'll be too scared to f**k with it," wrote user @alexisjj_ in her caption. In a later comment, she confirmed that she does this every year and that her cat didn't touch the ornaments the next day.

TikTok user @becs.richards, whose bio is now "My cat is fine," was seemingly inspired and gained over 3.3 million likes in two days after trying this method. "I saw a TikTok saying that if you traumatize your cat with your tree before putting it up, they will leave it alone," she wrote.

Reactions on the app were mixed, with some viewers vowing to try the tip and others criticizing it. "Why are you doing that? It's so cruel," commented one user.

Although some who have tried the method claim it was initially successful, animal experts have told Newsweek it won't work in the long term—and could cause more serious problems.

"Intentionally scaring a cat with a Christmas tree – or anything else – will serve no purpose other than to cause them unnecessary stress," said Daniel Cummings, behavior officer at U.K. charity Cats Protection. "Most cats will experience stress in this situation, particularly as Christmas can already be a stressful time for cats which may struggle with a change in routine, unfamiliar decorations and extra noise.

"Cats which are easily stressed, or persistently exposed to unnecessarily stressful situations, may go on to suffer prolonged health problems such as behavioral issues, and conditions such as urinary tract infections."

Cummings added that the method was unlikely to work. "It does not take into account how cats learn," he said.

"A cat is likely to perceive a Christmas tree very differently when it is set in the corner of a room rather than when it is being thrust towards them. This is similar to how cats perceive a cat carrier—most will respond fearfully to one when their owner is holding it in front of them, but if it's placed in a corner of the room they may be more confident to explore it."

Cat in a christmas tree
Stock image of a cat in a tree. Getty Images

Anita Kelsey, author of Let's Talk About Cats, told Newsweek: "A cat will not have any idea why you are causing them stress or fear and, more than likely, frightening a cat with a Christmas tree can lead to the cat being fearful of the room the tree is in, fearful of the tree, urinating around the home or on the tree and urinating on anything around the tree—like presents. It also can cause a breakdown of trust between the cat and the person trying to frighten them."

Instead, she advised positive reinforcement and providing an alternative structure for the cats to climb nearby. "Cats naturally climb, so rather than try to frighten them by pushing a Christmas tree in their face, it is far more practical to provide a climbing frame/cat climbing tree close by as an alternative and place a small barrier around the tree as a deterrent," said Kelsey.

"Supplying positive 'yeses' is the way any cat guardian should work with training cats."

Cummings also suggested ensuring that the tree has a sturdy base so it's less likely to topple over, hanging decorations higher up so cats aren't tempted to bat them and avoiding breakable ornaments.

If you're buying your pet any catnip-laced presents, keep them well away from the tree.

"Creating a bit of a barrier with presents under the tree may also prevent your cat getting closer, and tin foil or citrus peel—both of which can be handy for making homemade decorations—can deter cats from approaching, as many don't like the smell of citrus or the feel of foil under their feet," he explained.

Cummings added: "No cat owner would want to intentionally stress out their cat, and part of cat ownership is accepting their natural behaviors."