Keeping Your Pets Safe During the Holidays
By Lisa King
In my last column, I outlined how to keep your dog safe at Thanksgiving. The concerns at this American holiday are mostly about food, but Christmas offers a whole new set of dangers for dogs and cats. When making decorating decisions this season, keep your pets’ safety in mind. Here are some guidelines to follow.
A lot of your precautions will depend on the personalities of your pets.
- How well-trained is your dog?
- Is he food-motivated?
- Is your cat a jumper and climber?
- Is she likely to try to climb the tree and knock off ornaments?
In any case, place your Christmas tree in a corner to reduce its accessibility to pets. Secure it to the ceiling or a high curtain rod with string or fishing line so your pets can’t knock it over. Move furniture away from the tree so cats can’t use themas launching pads to jump on the tree. If possible, put the tree in a room with a door so you can shut pets out when you leave the house. You can also put a folding gate around the tree to keep dogs away from it— of course; your cat will just scoff at this barrier.
When trimming the tree, leave a foot or two at the bottom of the tree undecorated. Don’t use edible ornaments; chocolate, candy canes, and popcorn and cranberry garlands can be tempting to dogs especially. Hold the tinsel—if swallowed, it can cause serious intestinal problems. Fake snow and flocking are toxic to pets as well. Use mostly unbreakable ornaments if you can. Sparkly, glittery ornaments are very appealing to cats. Don’t leave ornament hooks where pets can swallow them. Clean up any broken ornaments promptly.
Why Candles May Not Be Safe for Cats
Never put real candles on a tree. In fact, be careful where you put any candles. Don’t put them where a cat can knock them over. Don’t leave pets unattended in a room with lit candles; when you leave the room, blow them out. Make sure your fireplace has a sturdy screen that keeps pets from getting too close.
Keep the area around the tree vacuumed. Both real and fake pine needles can perforate intestines. Use a large, sturdy tree stand and cover it up, since the water inside contains pine resin and possibly flame retardant and other chemicals.
If your cat tries to climb the tree, put foil around the bottom of it and wrap some foil around the base of the tree. Cats dislike walking on foil.
Many other holiday plants are toxic to dogs and cats. Mistletoe; holly; amaryllis, narcissus, and other plants that grow from bulbs; and to a lesser extent, poinsettia, are all on the verboten list. Keep these plants out of your dog’s reach. If you have a cat, keeping things out of reach is more problematic, so perhaps you should forego buying these plants all together.
Pet Safety When Wrapping Gifts
When you wrap packages, shut your pets out of the room. If a dog or cat swallows a ribbon, your vet might have to remove it surgically. Pets can also run into trouble around bits of wrapping paper, Styrofoam and sharp scissors. Put the presents under the tree at the last moment so your pets aren’t tempted to explore them. Empty cardboard boxes, however, make fine playthings for cats.
After you’ve opened presents, clean up all paper and ribbons right away. Small gifts like toys and jewelry that a pet might swallow should be put away quickly, too.
If you have guests over, make sure purses and coats are in a room inaccessible to pets. Dogs have been known to root around in purses and take out vials of medicine.
The best way to ensure a safe holiday for all involved is to think ahead of time about your pets’ safety and take appropriate precautions. A new Christmas toy or two can also provide a distraction and a reward for good behavior.
About the Author: Lisa King is a freelance writer living in Southern California. She is the former managing editor of Pet Product News International, Dogs USA, and Natural Dog magazines. Lisa is also the author of the well-received murder mystery novel “Death in a Wine Dark Sea.”