“I saw a TikTok that said if you traumatise your cat with your tree before putting it up, they will leave it alone,” she said.
In the video, which has been viewed more than 26 million times, she repeatedly thrusts the top of the tree at her cat Stella, who jumps away in fright each time.
At one point, Stella jumps up more than three steps to avoid the tree. The video has divided social media users, with many voicing their concerns.
“This isn’t funny. It’s really cruel,” one person wrote.
In a later update, Richards said Stella was “happier than ever” and has since not touched “a single bulb, ribbon, bead or branch” on the tree. “She doesn’t care about it,” she added.
Cats Protection, a UK charity dedicated to ensuring the welfare of cats, has warned owners against using Richards’ method, telling The Independent that it will “serve no purpose other than causing [cats] unnecessary stress”.
“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,” behaviour officer Daniel Cummings said.
Cummings said the practice does not consider how cats learn, and could also cause longer term damage to vulnerable cats.
“Cats which are easily stressed, or persistently exposed to unnecessarily stressful situations may go on to suffer prolonged health problems, such as behavioural issues, and conditions such as urinary tract infections,” he said.
“No cat owner would want to intentionally stress out their cat, and part of cat ownership is accepting their natural behaviours. Cats love to seek out high up spaces, so it’s no surprise that some may be attracted to exploring a Christmas tree.”
How to keep your cat off your Christmas tree
For owners who are concerned about putting up their Christmas tree for fear of it being destroyed by their cat, animal charities have offered several helpful tips.
Consider a smaller tree
JoAnna Puzzo, a feline welfare manager at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, says that owners could consider getting a smaller tree that’s not large enough for their cat to get a grip on and climb.
“When you take something that’s usually outside and bring it inside the home, cats will naturally want to investigate it,” she says.
One effective way to “cat-proof” your tree is to ensure it has a sturdy base that is less likely to topple over should your cat attempt to climb it, according to Cats Protection.
Hang decorations higher up
To decrease the temptation of climbing the tree, Cummings recommends hanging decorations higher up where your cat can’t bat at them. Additionally, avoid using glass or breakable decorations and keep leads and wires hidden.
“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 also deter cats from approaching, as many don’t like the smell of citrus or the feel of foil under their feet,” Cummings said.
Keep your cat distracted
Additionally, Puzzo recommends keeping your cat as distracted as possible so that your Christmas tree is less attractive to them as a play option.
“Introducing a novel toy or self-play toys the same time a tree comes into the home can keep your cat distracted.”
For those with outdoor cats, ensuring they have plenty of time to “naturally exhibit those behaviours of exploring outdoors” will also deter them from climbing your tree indoors.
For indoor cats, this desire to explore can be fulfilled with the use of cat trees or by scattering food, like biscuits, around the house.