Christmas decorations brighten our homes in the short, grey, cold days of winter. All pets thoroughly investigate their environment, anything new is a source of excitement and curiosity. Colourful, dangling, twinkly, ball shaped objects with an indoor tree (or climbing frame with interesting smells) mean Christmas decorations can be a dangerous adventure playground. Taking care with Christmas decorations can help to prevent injury and a veterinary visit this Christmas.

The Christmas Tree 

The artificial or real tree decision is a personal one and neither is more pet-safe than the other. 

Pine needles are sharp

They can injure paws if stepped on or the mouth and digestive tract if chewed or eaten. Non-drop varieties are available and vacuuming daily reduces the risk. Artificial trees are not sharp but small pieces of plastic may drop off or be chewed off. If these pieces are eaten, they can obstruct the stomach and intestine. Obstruction occurs with anything that is too large to pass through the digestive tract. The pet becomes unwell with loss of appetite, lethargy and vomiting. If you suspect your pet has a foreign body, contact your vet promptly as early treatment is essential to prevent severe illness.  

Real Christmas trees may be sprayed with preservatives or fake snow. 

These can be toxic when chewed and can leach into the water at the base of the tree. Pets love novel, fresh water sources so avoid chemically treated trees or prevent your pet drinking from the base of the tree. 

The tree should be fixed securely so that it cannot fall on your pet. 

Cats love to climb and dogs may jump on the tree to reach decorations. Use a secure, stable tree base and attach the tree to the ceiling or wall with wire and a small hook to prevent this. Delaying tree decorating may help them get over the initial excitement of a tree in the house before attractive toys are added. If you cannot fix the tree safely, then you can use furniture or a stair gate to prevent access. Some retailers are marketing a pet friendly parasol tree. This is an artificial tree with no lower branches and a long trunk. Thus, decorations are too high up to be disturbed and climbing is impossible.

Tree decorations

Decorations need to be tied securely with any sharp wire trimmed. 

Fragile ornaments should be placed out of reach. 

Glass baubles can shatter into sharp splinters. These will cause injury if eaten or stood on. Shatterproof materials are safer. Plastic baubles will not splinter but can still cause obstruction if chewed. Textile baubles may be safer, homemade or artisan cloth baubles can add unique but safe style to your tree. Older ornaments may contain angel hair which is a wispy material made of fine fibreglass. This is sharp and can damage the mouth and intestine if eaten.

Tinsel looks like a cat toy, especially if it dangles from the tree. 

Keep tinsel out of reach and wrapped securely around the tree. Pets may also chew ribbons and wreaths. Using pet repellent spray can prevent chewing. Most cats dislike citrus smells, so hanging fruits or a citrus spray can keep them away. Most animals chew food thoroughly before swallowing but textiles can become caught in the teeth and present a choking hazard.

Children may make Christmas tree decorations. 

Check for any sharp wire or food material such as popcorn before hanging these. Salt dough contains large quantities of salt and will make your pet sick if chewed.  Rabbits are especially vulnerable to toxin ingestion as they cannot vomit, so if your rabbit spends time indoors or you have a house rabbit be especially vigilant.

Pets will usually investigate Christmas lights. 

Keep them out of reach if possible as they may burn themselves on the bulbs or become entangled in the cables. Some animals will chew through cables resulting in a fatal electric shock. Tape dangling wires safely and unplug Christmas lights when you are out if you have a pet who chews.  

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Edible decorations

Edible decorations should be avoided as your pet has less self-control than you or your children. 

Chocolate poisoning is common in dogs and cats. 

Theobromine causes damage to the nervous system resulting in muscle tremors and seizures which can be fatal. The amount of theobromine varies with the type of chocolate, dark chocolate is most toxic, milk chocolate less so. All chocolate is high in fat and can cause a stomach upset and pancreatitis. 

Candy canes and sweets contain a lot of sugar

This is unusual in a pet diet and often causes diarrhoea. Sweets may also contain artificial sweeteners, such as xylitol which is highly toxic to dogs.   

Candles

If a burning candle is knocked over by an enthusiastic or curious pet, the hot wax and flames are an obvious hazard. Blow them out when you leave the room and position them in high or inaccessible areas. Electric candles can provide a cosy atmosphere without the risk. Christmas centrepieces can be designed with alternative decorations.

Garlands

Ceiling decorations are pet safe, whether tinsel, foil or foliage. Take care around windows and high furniture as cats can try and capture them with a risk of strangulation or entanglement. Christmas greenery usually includes holly, mistletoe and ivy. Each of these plants causes irritation and oral inflammation when chewed. If they are swallowed, they may cause a mild gastric upset with vomiting and diarrhoea. Keep them away from pets or use repellent sprays.

Christmas house plants

Flowering house plants are often used for decoration. Cats, dogs and rabbits may chew house plants if they can reach them. Poinsettia, Amaryllis and Cyclamen can all cause mild toxicity if chewed, with vomiting and diarrhoea. Lilies are highly toxic to cats, red lilies should be kept away from cats. 

Potpourri

Potpourri may be used to fragrance your home at Christmas. If eaten it will often cause drooling, vomiting and diarrhoea.   

Snowglobes

Some snowglobes contain antifreeze which causes severe often fatal toxicity in cats. Ensure any snowglobes are kept away from areas where pets could smash them. 

Presents

Store presents away from your pet, in case they contain toxic foodstuffs. Any pet will make short work of wrapping paper if there is an interesting smell. Wrapping paper should be disposed of carefully so pets don’t eat it and potentially suffer from a gastrointestinal obstruction. 

A securely fixed tree with suitable decorations, out of reach and firmly attached, is pet-safe. If your pet does eat something that they shouldn’t or you suspect toxicity, contact your vet. Where possible, take a sample, label or leaves of anything that your pet may have been eating. This may help with diagnosis and treatment. With a little thought, Christmas decorations can be a pleasure for all to enjoy without any risks to your pet.

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