How to Keep Pets Safe at Christmas
By: Julie Day
This is my first Christmas tree in a while – I gave up a few years ago, after my 14-pound cat sent the tree crashing to the floor at two in the morning. My tree is now sprinkled with glued together ornaments from that noisy night, and one ear is always perked for the telltale rustle of catastrophe.
If you have pets, you’ve likely had similar disasters, and perhaps you’ve had to invent some pet-friendly Christmas traditions – like my mother, for instance, who decorates the bottom of her Christmas tree with bells. It’s a tradition left over from our family’s old springer spaniel, Charlie, who thought stealing tree ornaments was the game of the century. The bells didn’t keep him away, but they certainly alerted the humans that mischief was afoot!
But can you really blame our furry friends? All those climbable branches, swattable glittery baubles, and scented chewable branches are just too much to resist! Not to mention the wonderfully crackly ribbons and wrapping paper, just begging to be ripped open before Christmas. It’s a wonder cats and dogs can contain themselves at all!
This was taken the year my cat, Houdini, toppled the tree – I should have known!
Take the “Ir” out of Irresistible
Many an animal lover has given up on Christmas trees until their pets grow out of their curiosity, but there are some things you can try that can discourage your pets, such as:
- Scented Repellents: Before decorating your tree, spray it with a scent or flavor that is repellent to pets. Examples include bitter apple, clove oil, citrus oil, and vinegar – experiment to see what your pet hates (just make sure you don’t hate it too!). You can also sprinkle dried orange peels around the base of your tree. Avoid hot pepper – it can get into your pet’s eyes and cause severe pain. You may need to reapply the repellents as they wear off, just don’t spray anything wet onto your lights, or you might have more twinkle than you hoped for!
- Paw Repellents: Surround the base of your tree with something your pets don’t like to walk on. Aluminum foil is a classic cat-repellent (they usually hate to walk on crackly things), and you can also purchase spiky mats that are unpleasant to animal paws. This is a good way to recycle those plastic mats that go under office chairs – turn them spiky-side-up and hide them under your tree skirt.
- Climb Blockers: Attach dark mesh or plant netting on the underside of your tree to keep your pets from climbing into the branches. You can also use netting to protect wrapped gifts or the tree itself when you’re away. To discourage climbing and scratching, wrap the base of your tree in double sided tape or Sticky Paws.
- Training Sessions: With some diligence, you can train your pet to stay away from the tree. For safety’s sake, stay away from squirt guns, but you can try clickers, compressed air, or noisemakers to discourage unwanted behavior.
- Go High Tech: If all else fails, try a gadget such as Scccat, a motion-activated repellent that uses compressed air to train your pet to stay away.
Experiment with different repellent flavors and scents.
Tips for a Pet Safe Christmas Tree
Aside from keeping your pets in another room, there is no surefire way to keep them away from Christmas trees. Be sure to keep your pets as safe as possible by following these tips:
- Tuck lights and cords deep within the tree – make sure there are no electrical wires dangling temptingly from the branches. Also tape down any cords running across the floor.
- Use the bottom third of your tree for sturdy, shatterproof ornaments (and bells!) that won’t hurt your pet if they do pull them off.
- Don’t use additives in your tree water. You don’t need them anyway, and your pets may drink the water.
- Use fishing line to tie your tree to the wall so that it won’t topple over.
- Make the tree inaccessible to pets when you’re not home to supervise. Close doors or use door gates to keep them away from danger. It’s up to you to intervene if your pet gets curious!
Keep pets from eating decorations, even if they’re considered nonpoisonous.
Keep these decorations away from pets:
- Tinsel, Angel Hair, and Ribbon: These items can pose choking and strangling hazards for your pets.
- Plants and Floral Arrangements: Poinsettias, hollies, and mistletoe can cause gastrointestinal upset and illness. Lilies can be deadly if eaten. Even so-called “nontoxic” plants can upset your pet’s tummy, and floral arrangements may be sprayed with preservatives.
- Potpourri, Scented Oils, and Candles: can be harmful if ingested and dangerous if spilled.
- Candy and Human Treats: Common ingredients such as chocolate, raisins, alcohol, and xylitol can be toxic to dogs and cats, not to mention the hazards of candy wrappers!
- Snow Globes: Imported snow globes may contain highly poisonous antifreeze (ethylene glycol).
- Bubble Lights: Contain methylene chloride, which can be harmful if swallowed or spilled on skin.
Invite Your Pet to the Party!
As the festivities kick into high gear, don’t forget to include your pet in the fun:
- Dogs love to unwrap their very own gifts, and cats will play for hours in piles of tissue and gift paper.
- Be sure to have plenty of pet toys on hand to encourage your pet to play appropriately.
- Take your dog for long walks, to help dispel extra energy.
- Reward your pet with healthy dog/cat treats rather than “people food.”
- Also, make sure they have a familiar crate or bed nearby so that they have a place to calm down when they need to.
A little preparation on your part will ensure that your pet enjoys the party without crashing it!
- Holiday Toxin Tips (Pet Poison Helpline)
- Pet Poison Safety Tips for the Holiday Season (ASPCA)
- Winter Holiday Safety & Poison Prevention Tips (Cal. Poison Action Line)
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