As I sit watching Weeble, our little, crazy adolescent kitten bounce around, I sing to myself. “Oh, Christmas tree, oh, Christmas tree, your ornaments are history!” Before we moved to Virginia, our little, feral kitten, Loki, hid in the upper branches of our live tree. When I came home from work, she startled and launched herself from the glittering Frasier fir. Down it came. That night, my beloved husband tethered the tree into a corner of the room. My old Hunter loved to steal ornaments that looked like balls. Then he and Worf, our largest cat, would play together. In a pet’s eyes, Christmas trees are neat toys. Things to bat, branches to climb, hanging balls for a possible game of fetch – oh what joy, and danger.
Tinsel (also called icicles) and garland made from short pieces of the glittering strands should not be on trees if you have pets. If ingested they can cause intestinal damage and blockage. Chewed ornaments, especially glass ones, lead to cut mouths and worse if swallowed. Stepped on shards may result in foot damage. Never assume your pet will not chew or eat any decorations on your tree. Strands of lights pose electrocution hazards if chewed. Even if there is no shock to your pet, damaged wires are a fire hazard. Trees can be climbed, pulled or knocked over.
Here are a few things to consider as you set up your Christmas Tree. Let’s begin with reducing the chance trees will go from vertical to horizontal. Start at the bottom. Many artificial trees and stands meant for live trees do not have a wide footprint. Smaller bases increase the chance of a tree tipping over. Lighter trees are easier to tip. If possible, purchase a wide, heavy base. My personal favorite for live trees, after having many stands over the years, is cast iron with a wide base. With artificial trees, if there are holes in the legs of the base, secure it to a plywood square. Bags of sand can be placed over the legs to add weight. Now move upwards. If the location of the tree permits, you can do what my husband did and tether it into a corner with strong fishing line or thin cable running to each wall.
Think about what decorations you use. Many can be hazardous to pets. Look for safer alternatives to tinsel and frilly garlands. Put breakable decorations out of reach or opt to use baubles that are harder to damage. If your children make salt dough ornaments, the high amount of salt can make pets sick. Keep them well out of reach. If you hang candy canes, read the ingredients carefully. Some are made with Xylitol which is toxic in small amounts to pets. Check light cords for signs of chewing.
Often it is easier to prevent access to your trees. Baby gates, closed doors, or portable dog kennels (often called exercise pens or ex-pens) placed around the tree decrease the chance of the tree becoming a toy. There are more attractive barriers you can purchase that look like picket fences or painted screens.
Finally, provide and encourage the use of better toys. Interactive toys that release food, catnip toys, things to chase, etc., may reduce the attraction of the tree. Pets often go for what gives the most fun.
Wishing you a safe holiday season.
Karen Peak is the developer of The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project and owner/operator of West Wind Dog Training in Prince William County.