Setting up the Christmas tree and decorating it is a beloved tradition for many families, but those wonderful holiday traditions can pose a danger to our dogs. The choice of Christmas tree and its décor can be a serious health and safety risk to our canine companions. To make sure the holidays are picture perfect and do not include an emergency veterinary crisis, train your dog to stay away from the Christmas tree and use physical fences, gates, or other ways to dog-proof the Christmas tree. Also, use only dog-safe ornaments in case your dog does get tree access.
Christmas Tree Dangers for Dogs
Even if you prefer a live Christmas tree, it may be better to consider artificial trees when there’s a dog or pets in the household. An artificial tree will not shed or drop needles, it requires no water and it also can be smaller and located more easily in a pet-proof display area. No Christmas tree is 100% safe, but the water additives such as aspirin and preservatives added to the water in a live tree stand can sicken a dog or be lethal, and pine needles can cause digestive punctures or hurt tender paw pads. A well-watered natural tree is only safe if enclosed by pup-proof fencing or a fireplace-type grate all around it and the water well of a tree stand is completely covered. An artificial tree doesn’t require water and is also much lighter weight and more balanced so it’s easier to stabilize to prevent the tree from falling over.
Prevent Christmas Tree From Falling Over
An excited dog may knock over a Christmas tree, so securing the tree in a heavy-duty tree base and then taking ultra-strong fishing line, wires or ropes, even decorative ones, and tying those around the tree at mid-height and near the top and attaching the tree to the wall or ceiling with hooks keep the tree from falling over. To help prevent knockdowns and messes, try to use strategically-placed furniture to support the tree by placing it between bookcases to anchor it, or place the tree in a corner to have 45 degrees of the wall to anchor the tree.
Pet Gates, Playpens, and or Supervision
A Christmas tree dog fence, pet gate or playpens will create a space that is dog-free around the tree and block the tree off entirely. This is important not only if you have a small dog but also if you have a large dog because all dogs become curious! For doggy welfare and tree/present survival, the best and only real way to secure a tree is to keep pets closely supervised during Christmas tree season and by keeping the room the tree and presents are blocked or gated off.
Dog Training Secrets
The better trained or mannered your dog is, the safer Christmas is! You should start by supervising and allowing a dog to get used to the tree and ensuring the novelty is gone. By training your dog to go to their mat or crate if they get too close to the tree, eventually, the repeated command will discourage and end the tree and gift-seeking behavior.
Ornaments and Garland Dangers
Some types of ornaments are irresistible to dogs, where they think all balls look the same. So, round ornaments look like toys to them, and soft toys may look like their chew toy plushies. Knowing what type of toys your dog favors, including tug-of-war toys that can be mistaken for any type of garland, invite a dog to want to get the new toys off the tree and into their mouths! As ornaments can be made of glass and unsafe or fragile materials, Christmas tree ornaments can never be entirely safe. Plastic ornaments are less fragile, break less, and shatter differently, and silk-wrapped ornaments can cause Styrofoam and silk to be ingested and get stuck in or obstruct a dog’s stomach and intestines. Furthermore, the commonly used metal hooks need to be replaced with plastic hooks, ribbons or even twist ties to secure ornaments on the boughs of the holiday shrubbery. Hooks from ornaments can damage a dog’s mouth or puncture a cheek and are a choking and serious safety hazard.
Holiday Décor Dangers
Other holiday season décor can also be dangerous to your pet, so keep holiday items in a pet-secured area or on the tree, and not where a dog can easily get into. Jingle bells, sleigh bells, metal hooks, tinsel, and even strings of popcorn can all cause intestinal issues, and even salt dough ornaments can pose health risks as salt dough ornaments can cause salt poisoning. Edible holiday treats, from cakes and cookies, as well as decorative candy canes put on trees, can contain severely toxic ingredients for pets, especially chocolate and xylitol, a sugar substitute that causes organ failure in dogs.
You can decorate safely by placing holiday greeting cards taped on the wall in decorative designs and make sure the most precious and fragile ornaments are well-secured at the top of the tree. Using Christmas lights can create a fire risk and can be chewed on, so coating them with petroleum jelly or a pet deterrent product can prevent a dog from biting electrical cords, being electrocuted, or causing a fire from gnawed wires. In any pet-friendly home, to prevent fires and burns from curious pets interested in the light, it’s practical and safer to use LED or other fake candles that have no open flames.
Wrapped Package Temptations
To prevent temptation, it is also critical when to place the gifts under the tree. Dogs can easily ingest the delicious fruit cake or chocolates in gift-wrapped packages and destroy bows and ribbons. Ideally, keep the gifts fenced off and placed under the tree right before opening on Christmas morning. Dogs have stronger senses of smell and can find the delicious and high-risk dog gifts we least want them to, so ensure that the treats and tasty snacks in stockings are secured and unable to be explored or gotten into by our canine companions. After opening gifts, make sure all the paper, ribbons, and bows are cleaned up to prevent a dog from investigating them or eating a curly ribbon that can get stuck in their gastrointestinal system.
Enjoy your holidays at home and not the animal hospital by protecting your dog from holiday hazards, and making sure they have a happy holiday as well. Make sure they are included at Christmas by having their own pet-safe stocking and make them pet- safe meals. By being mindful of their needs and remembering they are a pet, holidays can be stressful and overstimulating for even humans, and dogs are not humans. Show them they were on the good list of Santa Paws and demonstrate love, by protecting them from holiday decoration, food, and tree dangers.