Pet-friendly holiday decorating

The holiday season wouldn’t be complete without a tree, greenery, candles and ornaments. If you have a dog or cat, you need to consider his safety around your decorations. Here’s how to keep him safe and healthy while also having a festive-looking home.

Enjoying the holidays includes putting up a tree, hanging a wreath, and getting out the special ornaments and seasonal candles. But is it really worth it if you’re going to worry about your dog or cat damaging the decorations and harming himself? By making some compromises, you can nix the worry and have the best of both worlds – a festive home, and a safe and happy pet.

The Christmas tree

The fragrance of a live Christmas tree is wonderful – and your dog or cat may also be attracted to it, with negative consequences. Ingesting tree sap can make him sick, so make sure the pot of tree water is securely covered, so he doesn’t take a drink from it.

Artificial trees don’t have the aroma of a live spruce or pine, but they’re much more realistic-looking than they were, the “needles” are non-toxic and fireproof, and there’s no sap so they won’t hurt your pet.

Situate the tree away from your dog or cat’s favorite windows. If he finds he can’t look out or jump on the sill anymore, he’s more likely to interfere with the tree in an effort to get to the window. Put the tree in a corner instead. It’ll be more secure too, since there’s only one direction it can fall in – and you can prevent even that by anchoring it to the wall or a ceiling hook.  This is especially important if you have a cat that likes to climb.

Leave the tree undecorated for a day or two. This will help your pet get used to it, and perhaps even start to lose in interest in it before you hang your ornaments and string the lights. Place wooden or plastic ornaments at the bottom of the tree, and save the more valuable and breakable items for the top, where they’ll be safer from curious paws and noses.

Glass tree lights are dangerous if broken or swallowed. They can also get quite hot.  Opt for plastic LED lights and choose larger-sized bulbs – they stay cool and aren’t breakable. Be sure light strings are securely attached to the tree, and avoid loops that could twist or droop and pose a choking hazard. Never leave the lights on when you’re not around – if your dog or cat chews on the wires, he could be electrocuted. If your pet insists on tampering with the lights, try spraying them with bitter apple.

Don’t put edibles on the tree. It’s just asking for trouble, since dogs especially will be attracted by cookies and candy canes, which they shouldn’t be eating anyhow. Popcorn strings and chocolate coins are also huge no-nos when you have pets.

Wreaths, garlands and swags

If you use live greenery to decorate the rest of the house with, choose species that don’t have berries, many of which can be toxic. Pine and spruce are about the best choices, but make sure the greenery is freshly cut so it won’t start dropping needles before the holidays are half over. Even with the freshest greenery, some dropping is inevitable later in the season, so check the floor daily and clean up fallen needles or cones (the same applies to the tree).

Place wreaths, garlands and swags out of your pet’s reach – good locations are behind picture frames, over the tops of doors or windows, or above a china cabinet. The mantelpiece is also fine as long as your cat isn’t in the habit of jumping on it.

Avoid mistletoe, hemlock, holly and ivy, which can all make your dog or cat sick. Pine and spruce are just as nice, and you can dress up swags, garlands and wreaths with ribbons, plastic berries and other decorations.

Alternatively, choose artificial greenery. It’s so lifelike nowadays that it can be hard to tell from the real thing – it’s safer for your pet, and less work for you because there’s no dropping.

Plant safety

Holiday plants such as poinsettias, amaryllis, Christmas cactus, cyclamen and potted Norfolk Island pines are popular gifts this time of year, but should also be kept out of your animal’s reach. Hanging baskets can work well for some of these plants. As with live greenery, check them frequently for dropped leaves or flowers.

Animal-friendly ornaments

If you have breakable glass Christmas bulbs and other decorations, it’s a good idea to hang them near the top of the tree and reserve the bottom boughs for plastic and wooden ornaments. Yes, this does mean your tree won’t look perfectly decorated, but it’s better than having to rush your companion to the vet because he has shards of glass in his mouth or throat. It also preserves your more valuable ornaments from breakage.

Avoid hanging edibles on your tree, unless you want your canine companion stealing cookies and candy canes while your back is turned, and possible upsetting his stomach into the bargain. Popcorn strings may be traditional, but they’re a no-no if you have a dog who eats anything — including the string the popcorn is hung on. If you just can’t give up edible decorations, use them to adorn out-of-reach swags and wreaths. The same rule applies to tinsel, which can cause severe intestinal problems if swallowed.

Care with candles

The holidays wouldn’t be the same without the warm glow of candlelight. But what kind of candles are you burning? Paraffin candles emit toxins, including carcinogenic smoke and soot. Paraffin is a byproduct of petroleum and therefore not a healthy thing to be burning inside your home.

Popular alternatives include beeswax and soy candles, with natural cotton wicks if you can get them. In fact, burning beeswax candles can actually clean the air in your home by producing negative ions that help remove dust, allergens and odors.

Along with using non-toxic candles, remember to keep them well out of the way of waving tails or inquisitive noses or paws. Cats especially are often attracted by moving flames, so put your candles on surfaces your feline can’t access by jumping on. Wait until you sit down for dinner before lighting centerpiece candles, and never leave burning candles unattended.

  • Never leave burning candles unattended, especially if you have pets.
  • Make sure candles are in holders, and place them out of reach of dogs and cats – never near the edge of a table or shelf, or close to any fabric.
  • Flameless LED candles are an effective alternative to the regular kind, and feature flickering lights that look very realistic.

By making a few compromises, taking some extra care, and using your imagination, you’ll find that dogs, cats and holiday decorations can co-exist happily and safety.