Decorating for Christmas and other holidays can be a chore with pets in the house. You want your home to look festive, but finding things that are safe and practical to have around a curious cat or a large dog can be difficult. We know mistletoe, holly and poinsettias are hazardous to our pets, but did you ever think about your Christmas tree? Real Christmas trees can be mildly toxic to animals, especially fir trees. Fir tree oils can cause an irritated mouth and stomach, and most commercial live trees are treated with a fire retardant that can be toxic. The tree water can also present a problem, as many trees have pesticides, fertilizers, and even aspirin in their branches, which can be released into the water. Artificial trees are often made of plastics, and may have chemicals that are not digestible. Either form of tree has needles that can also cause blockages and obstructions if eaten by your pet, and even punctures in the GI tract. And even if your tree itself is safe and secure, the decorations can be poisonous, sharp, and otherwise hazardous to our animals.
Real and artificial trees can present lots of hazards to our pets, but there are a few steps you can take to keep you and your furry family safe. First, do not let your pet around the tree unsupervised. Even a dog that is used to having a tree every year can see a new ornament or smell something unusual and want to investigate. Placing the Christmas tree in a closed room or using a baby gate will help minimize the time your animal is around it. Putting your tree in a corner and securing it well can prevent it from being knocked over. Keep bells or something noisy near the base to give you a warning if they get too close, and keep other tall objects far from the tree (a cat tree near the Christmas tree is just asking for trouble). Tape the cords to your Christmas lights on the wall or floor so pets won’t be inclined to chew or trip on them. As for ornaments and decorations, use common sense. Never decorate your tree with food, and place extra fragile or sentimental ornaments at the top of the tree. Imitation snow (flocking) is poisonous to pets, as is tinsel (and it only takes a few strands to cause a major problem). Using light twine rather than metal hooks can be a good idea, just in case your pet decides to chew on a branch or ornament. You can also use a bitter spray (check in the pet store) on the tree, ornaments, and area to keep pets from chewing or licking. Even if your tree is now pet-safe, you also have to make sure the area around it is too. If you have a real tree, keep the water bowl covered so pets don’t drink or play in it. Clean all needles (both real and artificial) and any fallen décor up promptly. Make sure the presents you put under the tree (including those for pets!) aren’t going to lure your pets closer to or under the tree. Things like food, candy, and pet toys can be wrapped and placed in another secure location.
While we cannot completely pet-proof a Christmas tree, using the steps above can reduce the likeliness of an incident. You can also give your animal a new treat or toy to distract them from the tree for a few days, but never as a “trade” (to stop them from immediately messing with the tree). If your pet shows odd behavior or symptoms, they may have ingested or chewed something they shouldn’t have. Excessive licking, salivating, changes in appetite or water consumption, lethargy, vomiting and diarrhea can all be signs of a problem, and veterinary attention should be sought promptly. We teach our dogs to fetch sticks, and give our cats grass to chew on, so is it any wonder that Christmas trees look so tempting? Even the most well-trained pets can be curious about the holiday decorations, so be sure to keep your home safe and secure this winter. Happy Holidays!
Sources: PetMD, Hartz, www.adoptapet.com, VetStreet, www.vetmedicine.com, www.catchannel.com