Every year, many pet owners experience alarm and concerns for their dog when they witness them dog ingesting pine or fir needles from their Christmas tree. The question of immediate concern to these pet owners is, are pine needles from the Christmas tree toxic? Can they harm your pet?
It turns out that pine needles are only very mildly toxic, and toxicity is not the main concern for your pet if they ingest pine needles. Pine needles can, however, cause irritation and harm your pet, as they are sharp and can injure your dog’s gastrointestinal tract. In addition, other dangers associated with your Christmas tree such as decorations, tree water, and electric lights can also pose a danger.
Pine needles are not particularly toxic, and a large number of them would need to be ingested, which is unlikely, before toxicity would be a concern for your pet. However, they can cause irritation in the mouth and GI tract of your dog due to tree oils they contain, and because of their pointed structure.
If your dog has ingested pine needles, he may vomit them up or have mild diarrhea. A more likely concern rather than toxicity level is blockage or puncture in the gastrointestinal tract. Although most cases of pine needle ingestion resolve without serious issue, injury to the GI tract can occur. You should monitor your dog for signs of gastrointestinal distress if they have ingested pine or fir needles. Abdominal pain, salivation, excessive vomiting or diarrhea, or blood in vomit or stool could indicate an injury or obstruction from the non-digestible, pointed needles.
If you use an artificial tree, bits of the tree can also be ingested, and because the plastic is not digestible, present a choking or injury hazard to your dog or cat as well.
Dogs and cats can also step on these needles and get them stuck between their toes or in their foot pads. To avoid ingestion or foot puncture you should regularly vacuum up fallen from the floor, and discourage your pet from the vicinity of the tree. Keeping the tree in an area of the house that can be closed off when you are not present is advisable, if possible, to avoid mishaps.
Another health concern many pet owners do not consider is that tree water may contain additives such as pesticides or fertilizers for the tree that can be harmful to pets if ingested. Pets may avail themselves of the opportunity to drink tree water and can become sick if the water contains toxic substances. Covering your tree’s water supply will avoid this hazard.
In addition, decorations on the tree or gifts can present a hazard as these non-digestible materials can cause blockage or injury much the same as pine needles can to your dog’s digestive tract. Pets may also chew on electric cords and light strings, which can result in electrical burns to their mouth and fire hazard from compromised electrical cords.
The last thing you want at Christmas is to deal with a sick or injured pet. Because Christmas trees present several health hazards including irritating pine needles which can damage your pet's GI tract or paws and the risk from decorations, tree water, or gifts, it is recommended that you take steps to avoid your pet becoming injured by your Christmas tree. Clean up after your tree, cover the water supply to the tree, and if possible, keep your pet away from the tree by supervising them or physically separating them with a barrier to prevent accidental ingestions of tree parts, décor or lights.