Keep your pet safe from potential risks in the run-up to Christmas with our advice for the festive season.
Christmas dangers for dogs and cats
For many of us, preparing for the festive period means putting up a tree and decorations. However, there are some risks that pet owners should be aware of as they dust off the boxes and start getting festive. Keep reading for our top tips for keeping your dog, cat or house rabbit safe this festive season.
These tips are especially important for new puppies and kittens; this is the first time that they will be seeing a Christmas tree and all of the sparkly and shiny decorations. As you can imagine, it could be overwhelming, but it could also spark their curiosity or desire to make mischief. Keep a very close eye on them.
Can you have a real Christmas tree with a dog or cat?
A real Christmas tree is a festive staple in many households, but did you know they can pose a risk to your pet? Not only do they shed sharp needles, which can become lodged in your pet’s throat if swallowed, or injure delicate paws, they also produce natural oils that are mildly toxic to cats, dogs, and rabbits. Although usually minor, these oils can irritate mouths and stomachs if swallowed.
While the fir oils are only mildly toxic, the water that your real tree sits in can be a lot more dangerous if mistaken for your pet’s water bowl. Fertilisers, pesticides and other chemicals that may have been used on the tree can transfer into the water. Additionally, the stagnant, room temperature water is often a breeding ground for bacteria which can cause painful stomach upsets if drunk. We would advise covering the tree bowl or hiding it from your pet.
Many companies now offer cat safe Christmas trees, and we’d highly recommend researching these. There’s also a great selection of very real looking artificial Christmas trees about – so plenty of choice.
How to dog and cat proof your Christmas tree
Artificial trees pose less of a risk, but they can still be knocked over or pulled down by inquisitive pets. Try to position them out of reach, such as on a small, sturdy table, and always keep an eye on your pet and stop them from playing with the branches. If possible, locate your tree somewhere that your pet doesn’t spend a lot of time, where this isn’t possible – don’t leave your pet alone in the room with the Christmas tree, at least not for long periods – the temptation may prove too much.
A few tips:
- Location – out of your cat’s way, but also away from furniture that a cat could use to climb into the tree or play with the branches.
- Secure – you could consider using clear tape to secure the feet to the floor, or if you don’t have clear tape, normal tape and hide it with presents.
- Deterrent – cats aren’t lovers of citrus scents, so a citrus spray or some lemon or orange peel might help. Foil can help too, as many cats don’t like the feel of it on their claws – added advantage is that it sparkles!
Christmas decorations and pets
The sparkle and movement of tinsel is irresistible to many pets, but it can cause severe blockages if they have a nibble and accidentally swallow bits. Depending on how much is swallowed, surgery may be required to remove a tinsel blockage, so always keep tinsel well out of paw’s reach.
Much like tinsel, fairy lights can be very attractive to curious pets but can cause dangerous electric shocks and burns if chewed. Older, non-LED light bulbs can get very hot, so always secure them firmly out of harm’s way. Chewing on a wire can also cause excess fluid in the lungs which can be fatal, so be sure to keep lights well out of the way and check for teeth marks or punctures in case your pet is having a sneaky nibble.
Candles are a great way to create that warm, cosy atmosphere, but they can be dangerous, and you should avoid leaving your pet alone with them. Always place them on a high shelf to prevent accidental burns. It’s also worth knowing that burning candles may cause issues for pets with breathing problems, so you may want to rethink the candlelit mood if you know your pet has an existing medical condition.
Some imported snow globes have been found to contain antifreeze which can be fatal if swallowed by your cat, dog, or rabbit. In fact, as little as one teaspoon for a cat or rabbit, or one tablespoon for a dog, can poison them and result in kidney failure. Avoid buying cheap, imported snow globes wherever you can. If you like snow globes, place them out of reach to avoid danger of breakage. Many cats will enjoy wandering amongst the contents of a cabinet and knocking things off as they go.
Baubles and Christmas tree decorations
Baubles and other tree decorations pose a significant risk to cats who love playing with dangling, moving objects. They can be very fragile, particularly if they’re made of glass, and can leave sharp fragments if accidentally smashed or damaged. Avoid hanging decorations on the lowest branches of your tree and always keep an eye on your pet if they get too close. Additionally, always position chocolate decorations on the upper branches of the tree as they’re highly toxic to pets or if you think the tree is at risk of being toppled, keep the chocolate in the fridge!
Ensure your pet has plenty of toys and fun games to play at Christmas to discourage them away from potentially harmful Christmas decorations. Take a look at our guide of pet-friendly gifts to point you in the right direction.
Festive plants which are poisonous to pets
Unfortunately, several festive plants are toxic to pets if swallowed or brushed up against.
Call your vet as soon as possible if your pet has swallowed any of the below toxins:
- Poinsettia – irritates the mouth and causes vomiting
- Mistletoe – in small quantities causes stomach upset, and in large quantities causes serious heart or neurological issues
- Ivy – causes nausea and stomach upset when swallowed and can irritate the skin if rubbed up against
If you think your pet may have ingested something, our poisons guide can help identifying the right course of action. Read our symptoms of poisoning in dogs.
While some wrapping paper can contain small levels of chlorine bleach and toxic dyes, it’s unlikely to pose a poison risk to pets. However, eating a large amount can cause a blockage in the stomach or intestines, so always store wrapping paper out of reach and clear away any rubbish as soon as possible.
Christmas is a time to eat, drink, and be merry. With the abundance of food, it’s very easy to leave yummy things like chocolates around. Sadly, chocolate is very poisonous for cats and dogs, and ingestion of it in any amount can be fatal very quickly. If your dog or cat has eaten chocolate, you need to get them to a vet as soon as possible.
If you have one, there’s often nothing better than gathering around a roaring fire, but if you have a pet, especially a new puppy or kitten then you need to be careful. Whether your fire is real, gas or electric, always supervise your pets and never let them get too close. Real log or coal fires can spit unexpectedly, and gas or electric fires can cause painful burns. We strongly recommend investing in a screen to put in front of the fireplace to prevent your pets from getting too close.
Though it’s difficult to supress the naturally inquisitive nature of a cat, you could try to place Christmas decorations in strategic locations around your home where your cat won’t be able to reach, such as high up on the wall or ceilings. If it’s a Christmas tree, ensure you place it on a sturdy table and don’t leave your cat alone with the tree for long periods of time. Keep decorations that could be get smashed (glass baubles, or delicate figurines) higher on the Christmas tree, and save the fluffy, non-breakables items for the bottom.
With twinkly Christmas lights also comes an abundance of new wires that your puppy or dog will be excited to explore. To keep your dog safe and your lights twinkling, we advise taping down and hiding wires as much as possible. Depending on where your Christmas tree is located, try and ensure your dog cannot get behind it – ensure that they’re supervised when they’re near the Christmas tree.
A good fire surround is the best way to keep your pet well away from your fireplace, whether it’s real, gas or electric. Dogs and cats are often drawn to the heat – who doesn’t love a warm, cosy fire in the winter? Even having a sturdy fire surround might not be enough, and so you should always take care to supervise your pet to prevent any unwanted injuries.
The best way to bunny-proof your Christmas tree is to ensure firstly that it’s firmly secured. Ideally in a place that isn’t part of your rabbit’s normal routine. You can buy Christmas tree ‘pet pens’, which enable you to fence off your tree. Try and keep wires from tree lights to a minimum, and trail them out of reach and hide them with something tough like plastic piping which can be slipped over the cable.
As most cat-owners will know a Christmas tree offers many temptations for cats. If you’ve recently got a kitten, you may not have thought of what they’ll make of the Christmas tree with it’s twinkling lights and hanging baubles. Fortunately, there are a few things that you can do to keep both your cat and your tree safe. Secure your tree with clear tape or hide the tape with presents. Place delicate or breakable baubles at the top and well out of reach. Don’t place the tree somewhere where your cat can get into position to swipe or climb the tree. Deter your cat by using a citrus spray or some orange peel – they’re not lovers of that scent and may keep well away.