During the holiday season, you’re likely overwhelmed by your to-do list—picking the perfect gifts, cutting down the most beautiful tree, and baking mouth-watering goodies to share. With the many tasks filling your days, you may not be able to dedicate as much time as normal to your furry friend, allowing your pet to find mischief. Exciting household items emerge from the attic once a year, tempting your pet into causing trouble if you’re not careful.
While pets can be attracted to delicious smells wafting from the kitchen, glittering decorations adorning the tabletops, or brightly colored greenery spread throughout your home, many cats and dogs are awed by the star of the show—the Christmas tree. Outfitted in sparkling lights, shiny baubles, and at the perfect height for climbing or chewing, many Christmas trees have met their fateful end at the paws of a pet.
Although you may be worried about your Christmas tree’s demise, what about your pet? Are the needles your kitty chewed on toxic? What about the water in the tree stand that your pup slurped up? Let’s discover how dangerous Christmas trees are for cats and dogs, and what other holiday decorations may cause toxicity issues in your pet.
Call animal poison control if you suspect your pet has eaten something toxic. The number for the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center is (888) 426-4435.
The Dangers Associated With Christmas Trees
While you may have visions of stringing popcorn garlands, tinsel strands, and salt dough ornaments along your beautiful fir tree, your pet will be drooling at your feet, eager to make a snack out of the conveniently hung treats. Even without food-based and shiny decorations, your Christmas tree can pose a threat to your furry friend. Before setting up your Christmas card photo of your pet bedecked in antlers or an elf hat in front of the tree, consider these potential hazards:
- Live Trees: Fir, spruce, and pine trees make excellent Christmas trees, but their oils can irritate your pet’s mouth, leading to excessive drooling or vomiting. The needles can create more of an issue, as they are not easily digested and can cause gastrointestinal irritation, vomiting, an obstruction, or perforate the intestines.
- Artificial Trees: Although fake trees are oil- and sap-free, their needles can create gastrointestinal or other issues, depending on what material makes up the tree.
- Fertilized Water: If you put your Christmas tree up the day after Thanksgiving, you will want to ensure it lasts until Christmas by adding fertilizer or preservatives to the water. These chemicals, mold, and bacteria can make your pet ill if she drinks from the tree stand.
- Ornaments: Your pet may think your glass baubles, clay keepsakes, and ceramic ornaments are excellent toys for batting, but they can crash to the floor and shatter, cutting paws.
- Lights: Dazzling strands of light can intrigue your cat and delight your dog, only to lead to choking hazards or electrical burns.
Holiday Plant Poisons
Besides the star attraction of the Christmas season, other holiday plants can take the stage with causing toxicity in your pet. Avoid these four most dangerous plants when decorating for the holidays:
- Mistletoe: Just one sprig from a mistletoe plant can cause vomiting, diarrhea, low blood pressure, difficulty breathing, and a low heart rate in cats and dogs.
- Holly: While the berries have a low toxicity rating, the holly plant can create mechanical injuries through its pointed leaves. Holly also contains soap-like compounds called saponins, which can cause severe stomach upset. The spiky leaves and saponins can lead to blood in your pet’s vomit or stool.
- Lilies: Cats are highly sensitive to lilies. In fact, they’re so sensitive that grooming lily pollen off their fur can lead to kidney failure. Other signs of lily toxicity can include gastrointestinal upset, heart arrhythmias, and convulsions.
- Amaryllis: The bulb of this beautiful bloom can cause salivation, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, decreased appetite, lethargy, and tremors in cats and dogs.
You may wonder why the poinsettia is not listed as a toxic holiday plant. Although many people believe that poinsettias can kill their pets, that is a rarity. A pet would have to ingest a massive amount of this plant to cause poisoning, and most pets won’t eat a large enough amount because of the irritating taste and feel from the sap. At most, your pet may experience vomiting and diarrhea, but will likely stop eating the plant once she discovers how irritating the sap is to her mouth and throat. To be on the safe side, ensure all plants are kept out of paw’s reach.
How to Prevent Christmas Plant Toxicities in Your Pet
Avoid dampening your holiday cheer with an emergency veterinary visit by following these tips:
- Double check your plant placement, as cats can jump high enough to reach plants placed out of reach. Consider keeping your holiday plants behind closed doors in people-only rooms instead.
- If your pet is a known chewer, choose artificial plants over real ones. But, too much chewing can lead to a foreign body obstruction if ingested.
- Barricade your Christmas tree behind baby gates or pens to keep your pet out.
When in doubt, check out the ASPCA’s list of toxic and non-toxic plants (Toxic and Non-Toxic Plants (aspca.org))before adding greenery and bright blooms to your home. But, if your pet nibbles on your plant, no matter what type, be sure to contact your veterinarian or animal poison control for advice.