If you celebrate Christmas, a decorated tree might be part of your December traditions.
However, just as we admire the way a tree lights up the holiday season, it can also attract the attention of curious dogs or cats. And, unfortunately, these festive trees carry a few potential hazards for furry friends.
It’s possible for pets and Christmas trees to coexist safely, though, and taking a few precautions will make your tree — whether it be a real tree or aluminum foil or fake tree) as cat-proof or dog-proof as possible.
Try these 9 tips listed below to enjoy a mishap-free holiday.
1. Choose Your Tree’s Location Wisely
Strategic planning goes a long way in preventing holiday hazards. With that in mind, think about tree placement.
Where is the best place in your home you can admire the tree, but also prevent your dog or cat from having access if you need to? For some pups, simply placing a small fence or playpen around the base of the tree will prevent them from exploring and chewing when you’re not around. Make sure there’s no furniture nearby your pet could use to jump over the fence. For the ultimate barrier, consider placing your Christmas tree in a room with a door, and shutting the door when you’re not around.
When deciding where to place your tree, use your best judgment regarding your pet’s tendencies and mischief level.
Use extra caution if this is your pet’s first holiday in your home, since you don’t yet know how they’ll respond to an enticing Christmas tree.
2. Secure the Tree
Find a sturdy holder or anchor for your tree so it can’t be knocked over. Some pet parents even find ways to anchor the tree against a wall or ceiling, using a fishing line and hooks to make the tree cat safe.
This is especially important for cat owners. Even the most docile indoor cats may be tempted to climb a Christmas tree because they might think it’s a new toy just for them.
Cats are notorious for knocking trees over, but playful pups can also tip over a tree.
In addition to potentially injuring your pet, a falling tree might cause broken ornaments, spilled tree water (see below for why this is a concern), or other problems. Securing your tree helps prevent these risks.
SEE ALSO: Holiday Safety Tips for Pet Parents
3. Don’t Let Pets Drink Tree Water
The water in your Christmas tree stand may accumulate fertilizers, bacteria, sap, pesticides, additives, and toxic tree preservatives — all of which are harmful to thirsty cats and dogs.
It may seem like tree water is well hidden under branches, but curious cats and dogs will find a way. So be sure to cover the water so there’s no chance of your furry friend confusing it for their water bowl.
Shop for pet-proof tree stands (those with a compact shape that covers the water reservoir) or small pet fences to enclose the stand. Or, try using a garbage bag or margarine lid (with a hole for the tree trunk in the middle) to cover the water. You can then cover it up with a tree skirt.
4. Have a Plan for Pine Needles
Fortunately, most holiday trees (pine, spruce, and fir trees) don’t carry a risk of toxicity to dogs and cats. However, although Christmas trees aren’t poisonous, oils from needles and branches may irritate the mouth or stomach. This can cause excessive drooling, vomiting, or diarrhea.
Also, since pine needles are sharp and non-digestible, they might puncture the mouth, throat, stomach, or intestines if swallowed. If ingested in large amounts, tree needles can even cause an intestinal blockage that requires a surgery to correct.
For all these reasons, try to vacuum up fallen tree needles as often as you can, and prevent your pet from chewing on branches.
An artificial tree is an attractive alternative that saves you from constantly cleaning up fallen needles. However, if your pet’s a chewer, they may still try to chew artificial needles or branches.
5. Prevent Electric Shocks
Whether they cover your home or your tree, lights are a part of nearly every holiday decorating style. However, lights and other electronic Christmas decorations might attract the interest of our canine and feline friends, too.
There is a risk of electric shock or burns from biting or clawing into electric cords, ornaments, lights, and displays. Also broken lights have sharp edges, and cords may cause a pet to become entangled.
Enjoy lights and electronics safely by keeping them out of your pet’s reach: Place décor high up, avoid decorating the tree’s lowest branches, and use protective cord covers as needed.
6. Keep Ornaments Out of Reach
For maximum safety, don’t make it easy for pets to reach ornaments, and avoid placing them on the lowest branches of your tree, especially your family heirloom ornaments or anything fragile.
Glass ornaments and baubles are very sharp if they break, which can happen if a pet bites into them or if they fall and shatter. Small ornaments, stuffed/plush ornaments, or pinecones can cause an intestinal blockage (which requires a surgery to fix) if swallowed. Food-based ornaments also present risks. For example, salt dough ornaments can cause salt toxicity, chocolate and the sweetener xylitol are toxic to pets, and the string of popcorn garland can get tangled in the intestines. Consider investing in shatter-proof ornaments, too. And when in doubt about an ornament’s safety, avoid using it.
In addition to keeping ornaments out of reach, it may help to wait a few days to decorate the tree after you bring it home. That way your pet is bored with the tree before the ornaments are even applied.
7. Be Cautious with Holiday Plants
While we’re talking about trees, it’s important to keep in mind other holiday plants can also present risks to pets.
Poinsettias and holly can cause stomach upset if ingested. Mistletoe can, too, in addition to more serious side effects, like difficulty breathing, collapse, seizures, and even death, if consumed in large amounts.
Also, amaryllis may cause vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, excessive drooling, depression, or tremors. And lilies cause kidney failure in cats if ingested.
8. Say No to Tinsel
As beautiful as it looks, tinsel (also known as angel hair) has fallen out of favor as a Christmas decoration in homes with pets, due to potential health risks.
Ingested tinsel may get stuck in the intestines, which requires surgical correction. This is something that’s fairly common in cats, who love to play with strings and might accidentally swallow them in the process. But it can happen to dogs, too.
Read more about decorating for the holidays with your pet in mind here.
9. Remember that Pets Like Presents, Too
Many pets won’t bother presents under your tree, but others will tear them open or eat the wrapping materials or the present itself (especially if there are any food items, which a pet’s sensitive nose can detect). To avoid this issue, wait until Christmas morning to put presents out.
Lastly, consider getting your pup or kitty their own present (a special toy, scratching post, catnip, or treat), so they’ll feel included in the festivities. You can even place the present in a gift bag or loose paper so they can “open” their own gift.
There’s no need to be scared of Christmas trees or other holiday staples if you have pets. Instead, being aware of potential risks can help you make well-informed decisions about how to decorate. And, if your pet does get into something they shouldn’t have, remember, we’re here for you — 365 days a year.
With a bit of planning, everyone in the home — two-legged and four-legged alike — can enjoy the holidays with no mishaps, and plenty of fun and good cheer.