11 min read

The Ultimutt Guide to Pet-safe Christmas Decorations

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Overview

Decorating your home at Christmas time is an age-old tradition. With a bright, decorated tree, seasonal plants, lights and other decor, it's easy to lose yourself in the holiday. But not all holiday decorations are safe for our dogs and cats.

Do you have a kitty tree climber, or a pup who loves to chew on ornaments? Does your feline love to chew on electrical cords? Is your dog fond of munching houseplants? Most animals are curious by nature and will gladly investigate all the new things in their home, which means you'll need to think ahead to ensure they stay safe throughout the festivities. Even if your pet hasn't exhibited these behaviors before, it can only take one time to create a dangerous situation, so be sure to make your indoor Christmas wonderland a welcoming place for your four-legged besties. 

In this guide, we'll explore which Christmas decorations are safe for pets and give you tips and ideas to keep the season merry and bright while keeping your best furry furiends in mind. 



White and brown dog sitting next to a toppled Christmas tree

Christmas trees

Nothing says its Christmas time like a sparkling, decorated tree. Sweet-smelling firs and pines are a staple in many households during the holidays, but they can present several health hazards, including irritating pine needles, toxic tree water and the possibility of a toppled tree.

The tree

Most people will admit they love real Christmas trees. The pine smell wafting through the house and the ritual of finding the pawfect tree each year often becomes cherished memories. But are Christmas trees toxic to dogs and cats? Pine needles, while not particularly toxic, can be quite dangerous if eaten as they can cause irritation in the mouth and GI tract of your pet due to the oils they contain, as well as their sharp points. Symptoms of ingestion can include mild vomiting or diarrhea, but a bigger concern is a possible blockage or puncture in the gastrointestinal tract. Needles can also injury delicate paw pads or the skin between your pet's toes. 

Artificial trees, however, can also shed undigestible plastic and metal bits which could be eaten and cause choking, or an intestinal blockage or injury. So, which is better, a real or artificial tree? Overall, an artificial tree is the safer choice, especially since they don't require water, another possible hazard for your pets. Whether you opt for a real or artificial tree, here are some tips to help reduce your pet's risk.

  • Regularly vacuum up fallen pine needles, or plastic or metal bits from the floor to keep them out of your pet's reach. 
  • Discourage and/or train your pet from getting near the tree.
  • Be sure to be present whenever your pet has access to the tree, and restrict access when you can't supervise.
  • Watch for signs of your pet ingesting needles or artificial tree bits, which can include abdominal pain, salivation, vomiting, diarrhea, or blood in vomit or stool, and seek veterinary help immediately if present.

Tree water

Another health concern is tree water that may contain additives such as pesticides, fertilizers or preservatives that can be harmful to pets if ingested. Some people also add aspirin to the water to help it last longer, which can be extremely toxic to pets if too much is ingested. And if the water sits for too long, harmful bacteria and fungus could grow. It's important to take steps to prevent your pet from accessing the tree water. This could be:

  • Putting up an artificial tree that doesn't need water.
  • Buying a tree stand that comes with a cover or shield for the water.
  • Covering the tree water basin with something that your pets can't get into, such as a lid with a cut out for the tree that sits on top of the water basin.
  • Setting up barriers to block the base of the tree.

Protecting the tree from pets

Not only do you have to worry about the tree or tree water harming your pets, but you may also need to protect the tree from your furry bundles of love. Whether curiosity, playfulness, or just plain rambunctiousness, there are many ways our pets can threaten the stability and health of the Christmas tree. Cats can climb the tree trunk and could use it as a scratching post. Dogs could rip off or chew on branches, or even knock the tree with their swinging tails. All these actions could make the tree topple, causing needles, water and ornaments to go everywhere! But we got you covered with these tips:

  • Use a fire guard or other barriers around your tree to restrict your dog's access to it.
  • Train your cat to leave the tree alone, though you still may need to restrict access when you can't supervise. 
  • Put the tree inside a large lantern box, cage or crate.
  • Remove the bottom branches of the tree to discourage your pet's interest.
  • Get creative and place the tree in harder to reach locations, such as on top of a table, shelf or refrigerator, hang it from the ceiling, attach it up on a wall, or even put it outside where you can still see it.
  • Replace the tree with artwork of a decorated tree on the wall, create a tree out of fabric, sticks, lights, books, wood, bricks or other items that are less hazardous, or hang ornaments on strings in a tree shape from the ceiling. You can even use a cactus as your tree to discourage your pet from touching it again.



Cat playing with a gold bulb - The Ultimutt Guide to Pet safe Christmas Decorations

Ornaments

A tree becomes a Christmas tree when it is decorated! Whether bulbs that glitter and sparkle, garlands that add color and shine, or lights that illuminate, the right decorations can reflect your household as well as your holiday spirit. But many items can hold hidden dangers for our pets. 

Bulbs and other ornaments

Flashy and fancy ornaments with festive sounds, lights or glitter can easily catch our eye- and those of our pets! Bulbs that look like toy balls will certainly look attractive to playful dogs, and ornaments that move, such as toy trains, spinners or dangly ones, are sure to draw our pets to them. 

Ornaments can be made out of many different materials, including fragile glass which can shatter when eaten or knocked from the tree. Broken glass could cut soft paw pads and toes, and if eaten, could also lacerate your dog or cat's mouth, throat and digestive tract. Other non-digestible materials can cause a blockage or injury much the same as pine needles can to your dog’s digestive tract. If you want your Christmas tree to look less inviting to the four-legged household members, try these tips:

  • Opt for simple, classic decorations and skip those that reflect, sparkle or shine too much.
  • Use plastic or other shatterproof materials instead of glass ornaments.
  • Skip ornaments that dangle or move to lessen the chance your pet gets interested in them. 
  • Don't place ornaments on the lower branches of the tree where they can easily be knocked down, and instead place them higher up at a distance from your pet's height. 
  • Create your own ornaments that you know are safe, such as out of carved wood, sturdy plastic, paper or felt. 

Tinsel, ribbon and string

Ah, tinsel! This sparkling addition to trees and decor is a great way to bring the winter wonderland into your home- especially for those who live in areas without snow. But tinsel is one of the biggest decorating hazards for your pets. These shiny strings are meant to imitate icicles on our trees, but are just like any other string for our dogs and cats. If eaten, these strings can cause severe blockages in our pets' digestive tracts, which can require intense surgery to cut them out. 

Tinsel strings, tinsel garlands that can shed, small width ribbons and strings on the tree or presents can all attract our pets, and possibly turn a happy holiday into an emergency room visit. Most pet experts explicitly say to ditch the tinsel altogether due to its high level of attractiveness that most pets, especially cats, simply can't resist. For all things stringy, we got the tips for a safe holiday.

  • Replace tinsel with storebought plastic icicle ornaments.
  • Use wide ribbons when making bows, garlands or other tree decor.
  • Instead of using strings to decorate the presents under the tree, opt for larger banded ribbons and bows than can't unwrap easily. 

Food garlands and ornaments

Popcorn garlands, cookie on hangers, and other edible ornaments can be found on many a decorated holiday tree. But if you have a dog or cat in the house, you are probably well versed in the lengths some pets will go for any food they can sniff out. These food decorations may be cute and fun to make, but they can pose a threat to your dog or cat's health. 

Cookies often contain too much sugar and other ingredients which can be problematic for your pets. And pupular salt dough ornaments contain far too much salt and could cause a salt poisoning in your pet. Plus, your dog or cat may damage the tree or knock off ornaments in their pursuit of a hanging treat. Keep the tree and your pet safe with these ideas.

  • Opt for inedible garlands and skip the popcorn.
  • Use cookie shaped, inedible ornaments in place of real cookies.
  • If you must use a food ornament, be sure to place it very high in the tree, and out of reach.
  • Creative bakers can make dog and cat-safe treats to place inside plastic treat bulbs, or use as ornaments, just be sure to limit them to the bottommost branches of the tree.

Related: Level Up Your Baking Game with These Pet-themed Cookie Cutters



small white dog wrapped up in a string of white lights

Lights

When strung around the Christmas tree or around banisters or windows, lights in so many colors, shapes and patterns can certainly bring the holiday spirit into your home! But are Christmas lights safe for dogs and cats? Pets could chew on the light cords, causing electrical burns to their mouth, electric shock or even a fire hazard from compromised cords. And active pets can easily get tangled in Christmas lights if they are left low to the ground or within their reach. With these tips, however, you can still enjoy strings of lights while keeping your pets safe from harm. 

  • Opt for lower voltage LED lights that pose less of a fire risk and have less electricity running through them. 
  • Turn your lights on only when you are able to supervise your pets and be sure to turn them off when you are away from home or sleeping.
  • Hang your Christmas lights up high and out of your pet's reach.
  • For Christmas trees, hang the lights up higher in the tree and leave them off of the lower branches. 
  • Spray light strands with bitter apple spray before plugging them in to keep them from attracting your pets.
  • Invest in cord protectors to keep sharp dog and cat teeth from piercing electrified cords
  • Put the lights outside where your pets can't reach them, but where you can still enjoy them inside and during walks. 



Snow globe next to holiday decor

Home decor

Many households really get into the season by decorating their entire house. However, just like the tree, you should take the same precautions, especially when it comes to lights and breakable items, such as figurines or picture frames. 

Snow globes are often made of glass which can cut when shattered, and often contain antifreeze, a highly toxic substance for our pets. Cookies and gingerbread houses can be left out as decor, which are highly tempting to our critters. And live wreaths carry the same hazards as real trees. Try these strategies:

  • Place breakable holiday decorations out of your pet's reach.
  • Do not showcase toxic snow globes or place them in areas pets cannot access.
  • Put the cookies and treats away until they can be supervised at all times.
  • Keep the gingerbread house out of reach whenever unsupervised.
  • Build and decorate a non-edible "gingerbread" house out of Legos, blocks, cardboard, wood, and pet-safe paints and materials. Omit the candy and frosting.
  • Make your own wreath using artificial pine boughs or a premade wreath that won't shed needles.
  • Use non-breakable items in your Christmas village or set up in a space your pets can't get to.



a poinsettia plant on a table with candles

Plants

Christmas plants that dress up our home for the holidays look festive, but if you have pets in the house, they can also make them sick. Many of the popular plants used in Christmas decor can be lethal if ingested- and no one wants to spend Christmas at the animal ER! If you have a house full of pets or young children during Christmas, you may want to think about which plants to add or ban to avoid potential disaster. 

Holiday plants that are toxic to pets  

  • Holly - A long-time Christmas favorite, holly contains theobromine, a troublesome chemical also found in chocolate. This festive plant can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, a rapid pulse, and dizziness in cats and dogs. Holly berries can also convulsions. 
  • Mistletoe - While there are several mistletoe varieties, including some that aren't toxic, it's better to be on the safe side and keep all out of the household. Some varieties of this noxious plant contain phoratoxin that can cause blood pressure to drop to a fatal level, blurred vision, nausea, vomiting, and more.
  • Poinsettia - While not the most toxic plant, this beautiful Christmas bloom can still cause vomiting, diarrhea and stomach upset. If you touch a poinsettia, it can also create an unbearable itch, something a delicate paw pad or nose definitely won't enjoy! 
  • IvyIvy makes an appearance in many Christmas decorations, but it can cause your pets trouble. Touching it can result in rashes, conjunctivitis, and itchiness, but consuming it can cause diarrhea, excess drooling, vomiting, and blood in feces and vomit.
  • Lily - The Peace lily and other lily varieties are commonplace as gifts or in centerpieces around the holidays, but these plants are one of the most toxic to our pets. Symptoms of a lily poisoning can range from vomiting, drooling and weakness to serious complications like disorientation, dehydration or seizures. 
  • Amaryllis - Bright, red flowers always fit in with Christmas decor, but the active ingredient in this bulb, lycorine, can cause some serious problems when eaten. Drooling, vomiting and diarrhea can occur, but amaryllis can also cause breathing trouble. 
  • Yew - This highly poisonous conifer with red berries is used for many a holiday decoration. Symptoms of a yew poisoning occur rapidly after ingestion, with vomiting leading right to breathing issues, muscle tremors, seizures and death, so it's best to just leave it out of the house.

  • Christmas rosesHelleborus niger produces white to pink flowers that resemble wild roses and are popular during the holidays because they bloom during the winter months. Glycosides in these lovely blooms can cause lethargy, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea and excessive thirst.

If you suspect your cat or dog has ingested any of these plants, or is showing any of these symptoms, seek veterinary help immediately. Waiting to seek help can significantly lower your pet's chances of recovery in many cases. 

Considering swapping out these dangerous plants for their artificial counterparts found in most craft stores and online. Or look for plants to use that are safer for your furry pals. 


a Christmas cactus in front of a window

Holiday plants that are safe for pets

  • Christmas cactus - While the Christmas Cactus can cause some stomach upset if eaten, this green succulent with red flowers isn't toxic enough to seriously harm your pets and is a great substitute for dangerous holiday favorites. 
  • Roses - Beautiful any time of year, bright red roses are not toxic like poinsettas, amaryllis, and Christmas roses but can still fill your home with holiday color. 
  • Orchids - White orchids are a pawfect substitute for lilies, and are much safer for your pets too!
  • Achira - Another safe and furbulous choice with green leaves and red blooms that can double for an amaryllis.
  • Autumn olive - Looking like holly's cousin, this plant isn't dangerous, but it's delicate leaves and red berries are a pawtastic stand-in.



lit candles near other holiday decor on a table

Fire safety

Amidst all the hustle and bustle of holiday decorating, present buying, and visiting friends and relatives, the thought of relaxing with your precious furbaby near a crackling fire may sound like a dream. But open flames and curious pets with flammable fur can be a terrible combination. 

Whether you have a cozy fireplace or love the soft glow of candles, you'll need to be cautious if you also have pets. If your dog or cat gets a hold of a candle, the flame and hot wax can burn their nose and paws, and they can also knock them over and cause a fire in your home. Always be extra vigilant during the busy holiday season when pets may be left unattended more often. Here are more tips to keep your pets safe.

  • Only use fireplaces when someone can supervise.
  • Keep the screen or doors shut to the fireplace whenever pets are present.
  • Use a fire guard or other barriers to block your pets from accessing a hot fireplace.
  • Opt for electric candles which look as beautiful as real ones, but don't have any open flames.
  • Place candles high out of reach of your pets, and always blow them out when unsupervised. 
  • Put candles in an enclosed lantern box.
  • Have a towel or blanket handy to smother any fire that may catch on your pet.
  • Practice fire safety with the whole family to ensure a safe Christmas.


With a safe, decorated tree and home, you and your pets can enjoy a furrific holiday season! 


Got more questions about Christmas safety and your pet? Chat with a veterinary professional today for answers on how to keep your dog or cat safe this holiday season. 



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