A Christmas tree and all of the trimmings can be dangerous to an inquisitive pet, regardless of whether it’s a live or artificial tree. Dogs and cats are naturally curious about anything new in their environment, and a Christmas tree will certainly grab their interest. Shiny ornaments, tinsel, lights, intriguing smells and presents are all hard to resist. The natural thing to do – from a pet’s perspective – is to give the tree a thorough inspection. It’s hard not to smile when your cat pokes her head through decorated branches, but feline curiosity can get her into trouble. Here are some things to be mindful of as you decorate your home for the holiday season.
Depending on the size of a pet and the amount consumed, pine needles can be mildly toxic for pets. The real danger is that pine needles aren’t digestible and can puncture or obstruct the gastrointestinal tract. Oils from the needles can also irritate your pet’s mouth and stomach, causing excessive drooling and vomiting. Regularly sweep or vacuum up any pine needles that fall off your Christmas tree, and never let your pet chew on the needles.
Water in the Tree Stand
Many people use preservatives in the tree stand water to keep their Christmas tree fresh. Commercial preservatives generally contain fertilizer, some kind of sugar, and may have fungicides in them. Homemade tree preservatives include aspirin, bleach, alcohol or vinegar. Bleach and vinegar produce a toxic gas – chlorine. Insecticides or other chemicals that were sprayed on a tree can leach into the water, and bacteria grows in stagnant water. For the health and safety of your pet, do not ever let them drink the water in your tree stand. Keep the tree stand covered with plastic wrap or aluminum foil, or use a covered stand to make sure your pet doesn’t have access to the water.
Lights, Wires and Electrical Cords
Keep lights away from the bottom of your tree. Some can be very hot and burn your pet. Dogs and cats are drawn to the wires and electrical cord plugged into the outlet, and it’s not uncommon for pets to chew on them. Check the light wires and electrical cord to make sure there are no bite marks or punctures. Pets that chew on wires can become tangled up in them, can pull down the tree or knock ornaments off. They are also at risk of electrical shock that can cause burns in the mouth and fluid in the lungs, which may be deadly. If you can’t hide wires or electrical cords, tape them to the floor or wall.
Keep precious ornaments at the top of the tree and avoid using glass or edible ornaments (popcorn, candy canes, cookies etc.) around the bottom. It’s best not to put any ornaments at the bottom if possible, to help remove temptation for curious and playful pets. Small ornaments can be swallowed and glass ones can cause injury to the feet or mouth if broken. Depending on the materials used in making them, some can be toxic, and a swallowed ornament can cause a blockage in the intestines.
Hooks, Tinsel and Gifts
Hang ornaments with yarn or ribbon instead of wire hooks, and make sure they are secured tightly to a branch. It’s easy for a pet to get snagged in the mouth by a wire hook, and a swallowed hook can become lodged in the throat or intestines. Ribbon and yarn can also be a hazard for pets. It’s best to avoid using tinsel if you have a pet, because it can cause a blockage that usually requires surgery to remove. Gifts under the tree can be tempting for pets who like to chew on ribbons, bows or string, which can obstruct the bowels if ingested. Keep food gifts, especially chocolate, up away from pets to prevent them from chewing through paper wrappings to get the food.
Artificial Tree Risk
As an artificial tree ages, it can become brittle and pieces of aluminum or plastic can easily break off. A pet that ingests any of these pieces can suffer from intestinal blockage or irritation in the mouth.
To keep your tree from being knocked over, use guy wires and attach them to the walls or ceiling. Place a lattice fencing around the tree to keep pets away, use baby gates, or put your tree in a room where you can control your pet’s access to the tree. Clear plastic carpet protectors with the nubby side up can also help keep pets away from the tree.
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