How to Keep Dogs, Cats and Christmas Trees Safe
If you love the holidays, you’ve probably been looking forward to decorating the Christmas tree all year. And as a pet parent, you know that your furry family members want to be included, too. Not only are their favorite people gathered in one spot together, but there are plenty of interesting things for them to get into—like branches to climb, lights to chew on, and ornaments to play with. But when you mix dogs, cats and Christmas trees, plenty of mishaps can occur, and some are pretty dangerous for your pet. To keep your holidays free of dog and cat Christmas tree calamities, we’ve gathered some holiday safety tips from the experts, so your pets and Christmas trees will stay safe all season long.
Hazard: Tipping the Tree
Instead of a Christmas tree, your cat thinks you bought her a brand new cat tree house, while your dog thinks you’ve hung tons of toys in a tree for her to play with. So, of course, one is going to try to practice their climbing skills while the other is busy jumping on the tree to retrieve the fun toys. If the tree tips over, it can cause injury to your pets or other family members.
Christmas can come early for your feline friend if you spoil her with a Frisco 52-Inch Cat Tree, which you could even decorate as her own personal Christmas tree. As far as your real tree is concerned, Deemer Cass from Fantastic Gardeners Christmas tree delivery service in London has some good advice: “Corners are your friends… This will give it 50% less space to be knocked over in.” Cass adds that you can also tie the tree down with fishing wire. Integrative veterinarian Dr. Carol Osborne, DVM, of the Chagrin Fall Veterinary Clinic in Chagrin Falls, OH, agrees that you can anchor your tree with 200-pound fishing line by running it from the trunk to a stable hook in the wall or ceiling. Above all, be sure you have a sturdy base that isn’t easy to tip over.
Hazard: Toxic Tree Water Preservatives
The tree base presents a different kind of pet temptation: drinking the water from this mysteriously forbidden new water dish. According to Dr. Austin Neely, DVM at CityVet–Mid-Cities in Flower Mound, TX, tree preservatives can cause stomach upset when ingested, and “Many dogs seem to prefer water with organic materials over clean, fresh water.” Dr. Osborne points out that stagnant water is a breeding ground for bacteria, which can cause vomiting and diarrhea.
The only way to keep pets from drinking from the base bowl is to cover it with some sort of physical barrier. An ornate solution is to use a Christmas tree skirt to cover the entire base, which cuts off access to the tree water. You could also try placing a PetSafe ScatMat Electronic Pet Training Mat around the base. The ScatMat gives 3 seconds of a mild static pulse that is harmless, but will startle your pet. It’s available in different lengths and widths, and you can add on extensions so you can go all the way around the tree. As Cass points out, you can simply not use tree preservatives (and make sure none were used before you purchased the tree) to eliminate at least one of the dangers.
Hazard: Pine Needles and Artificial Needles
If you put dogs, cats and Christmas trees together, your animals won’t be able to resist munching on pine needles and branches, whether they’re real or artificial. Sharp pine needles “can easily penetrate pets’ tongues, paws and intestines; they’re painful and easily lacerate intestines, leading to emergency vet visits,” says Dr. Osborne. Even artificial trees pose a risk to pets. Kristen Corral, AMCP, owner of Little White Dog Co. in Las Vegas urges pet parents to find out what the tree is made of and if it’s toxic when ingested. They should also make sure pieces can’t be broken off easily.
How do you keep away the needle eaters? Dr. Osborne’s Christmas safety remedy is to fill a spray bottle with a 50/50 mixture of red pepper sauce and water and spritz the tree. Pets will soon lose their taste for tree munching. You can also try NaturVet Bitter YUCK! No Chew Spray, a pet-safe deterrent that’s easy to apply. As for real trees that constantly shed, be sure to sweep around the base often. If your taste is for vintage aluminum trees, the best bet is sectioning off the whole area with a pet gate or pen.
Hazard: Ornaments and Garlands
You can’t have a Christmas tree without ornaments. But these shiny, dangling objects are irresistible to pets, who might try to eat them or play with them. Small pieces that are bitten off can become choking hazards, and Neely notes that all ornaments can potentially cause problems, especially for young pets who are curious. “Glass and plastic ornaments can be broken, causing cuts in the mouth, and food-related ornaments can be mistaken for food.” Aside from the ornament itself, the hooks used to hang them are another Christmas tree safety hazard. Decorative elements like garlands and tinsel are irresistible to cats, but Dr. Osborne cautions that if swallowed, they can block the intestines, leading to an emergency vet visit and costly surgery.
Don’t despair—you can still have ornaments on your tree. Instead of using hooks, Dr. Osborne recommends decorative velvet bows. Avoid using string, as this can cause obstructions in the intestines if eaten. She also suggests non-breakable, pet-proof or homemade ornaments that use non-toxic materials like pine cones or cardboard. Outward Hound holiday dog toys are also great as safe pet ornament ideas.
Hazard: Christmas Tree Lights
You might not understand the appeal of chewing on Christmas tree lights, but your pets do. Chewing on the bright, twinkling light strands is a temptation for cats and dogs alike. But as you know, they could receive an electric shock if they indulge.
Dr. Osborne’s helpful holiday safety tips include taping cords to the floor or hiding them in empty wrapping paper tubes. Remember to turn them off and/or unplug them when you go to sleep. To keep pets from gnawing the lights hanging from branches, you have several options. One is to raise the tree up on some sort of stable platform and secure the base to it. This might work for artificial trees that aren’t too heavy. For real trees, surround them with a pet gate for absolute safety. Corral notes that putting a pen around the whole tree is a Christmas safety precaution that works for her and has worked for many of her clients. Four Paws Smart Folding Gate works well as a pet Christmas tree fence—the five-panel option should be long enough to go around the tree. It’s made with natural, varnished hardwood that could easily become part of a wintery scene in your living room.
Hazard: Urinating on the Tree
Let’s think about this from your pet’s point of view. There’s a giant tree inside the house, just like the trees your pup is allowed to pee on outside. So what’s the problem with using this isolated piece of nature as a potty spot? “Many cats and dogs, especially males, naturally want to urinate on objects with strong odors such as live trees,” says Dr. Neely. It’s not a Christmas safety danger for your pet, but it’s seriously unpleasant to smell throughout the holiday season.
Having an artificial tree might curb their instinct to have to mark it with their scent. If you have a very determined or territorial pet, the best way to save your beloved tree is once again just to block it off. Surround it with a Christmas tree fence like the IRIS 8 Panels Exercise Plastic Pen, which comes in nine colors, including red, white, green and chrome. With this protective barrier, you’re less likely to have guests wrinkling their noses as you show off your beautiful tree. If you prefer a less obtrusive option, try PetSafe Pawz Away Indoor Pet Barrier. Pets can wear this lightweight collar, and when they come within 2-12 feet of the transmitter, it emits a high-pitched tone or safe static correction to keep them away.
With all the holiday happenings and excitement, don’t forget to follow these holiday safety tips and take extra precautions to keep your pets and Christmas trees safe. After all, you want the whole family to share in and enjoy the festivities—including your furry family members!
Nikki Naser, Pet Central Senior Editor
Instead of owning 30 cats, Nikki has an impressive collection of 30 cat-themed T-shirts, and just 4 pets—a ginger-haired senior cat, a senior Maine Coon, a middle-aged Choodle, and a young kitty who showed up one day on the back steps. A former Orlando resident, Nikki worked on several tourism publications before moving to South Beach. When she’s not stopping to take pics of community cats to post on Instagram, Nikki spends her time with the office pets at Chewy, writing for their Pet Central blog.