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Back in the day, Christmas trees were usually just sold with a basic wooden base nailed to the bottom. You’d haul the tree home, stick it in a corner and then watch the needles dry out as the days went on. By Christmas, the tree would often be more than ready for recycling.
Now, many of us opt for a base that permits the addition of liquids. As Charla Dawson, owner of Dapper Dog and Classy Cat, points out, “The water itself is not poisonous, but if a fertilizer was added to the water, it may be poisonous. This fertilizer may cause the pet to suffer with diarrhea and vomiting.” (Tree preservatives may also be added to the water, helping to keep the tree fresh.) Dawson therefore advises that you cover the base.
A quick and easy remedy is to just put some well-secured foil or plastic wrap over the water in the base. However, some crafty types take this task to another decorative level. One impressive example is a pretty cover made out of burlap, as seen on the DIY Showoff blog. With some imagination, you can probably come up with other clever solutions.
Even if you just put plain water in the stand, I would advise covering the exposed base. The tree, which may have been sprayed with insecticides or other chemicals, will leach compounds into the water. It’s better to be ultra-safe than sorry when it comes to the holidays and your cat.