Pet Safety and Christmas

 By: Sandy Stone
Without a doubt, I love the Christmas season, always have, always will. I just can't help myself, I'm a Christmas junkie. But over the years as I have collected my menagerie of Santas, stockings, ornaments and other Christmas paraphernalia I have always kept in mind the health of my pets. Without preventative measures, the mixture of pets and Christmas might lead to dogs or cats becoming injured or ill as a result of uncovering something that could be harmful to them. To help keep your pets safe during the Christmas holidays, I have offered a few Christmas safety tips.

Plants: There are so many Christmas plants that can cause harm to your pets that the best practice is to simply not bring them into the house. Lilies, holly, holly berries, poinsettias, amaryllis, mistletoe berries, rosemary and pine needles all have ill effects on cats and dogs, and a few can be extremely hazardous, depending on the amount of the plant consumed. For example, if ingested, holly and pine needles can all cause severe gastrointestinal problems due to the spiny leaves or needles. Bulb plants such as lilies and amaryllis are considered very toxic to cats not only resulting in gastrointestinal problems, but also in cardiac arrhythmia, kidney failure, convulsions and even death. Christmas will not lack any of its spirit or festivity by not allowing these plants into your home, and you will peacefully rest knowing your pet family will be completely safe.

Christmas tree precautions: Unless you take some precautions while putting up and decorating your tree, chances are your pets will only see it as one giant irresistible toy. Live or cut Christmas trees are a danger to pets for two reasons. First, if pine needles are swallowed they can cause intestinal problems and secondly, the tree water can be dangerous if ingested. Often chemicals are placed in the tree water to keep the tree fresher longer, but these can be deadly to pets. The bottom line is that pets and live Christmas trees do not mix well. I decided to give up live Christmas trees a long time ago. I know this may sound pretty grim, but artificial trees are really a great option. They are a one time expense instead of an annual expense and you have no hassle of remembering to water your tree everyday so that it doesn't dry out and turn into a fire hazard. But no matter your choice, here are a few ideas to consider while setting up and decorating your tree:

1. Ensure the stand is solid, stable and weighted down. Cats will climb, it's what they do. Puppies will grab a bottom limb and chew or pull on it. So you should take measures to ensure the tree will not tip over. I use a tree stand that has a wide base with a flat rim. I then place 35-45 lbs of weights on the flat rim. I use 5 lb weights from our weight set, and place them on the lip of the tree stand. So if, or more likely when, your cat climbs or your dog pulls on the tree it will not tip over.

2. I have also elected to go to a smaller tree and place it on a solid end table. This gets it about 2-3 feet off of the ground and out of the immediate line of sight of your pets, thereby, being of less interest. As a note: I still weigh it down at the base.

3. I stopped using tinsel on my tree since cats or dogs will unquestionably eat it. When ingested, it can cause serious stomach and intestinal problems, perhaps even resulting in surgery. Instead I drape wide cloth ribbon over the tree. I find that the ribbon is far more attractive and it doesn't have to be repurchased every year.

4. If you choose to follow the suggestion on placing the tree 2-3 feet off of the floor, you should be able to place your lights and ornaments as you normally would on your tree. However, if the tree is placed on the floor, then ornaments placed on the bottom quarter of the tree should be non-breakable, and tie the ornaments to the tree with a narrow piece of ribbon instead of using the wire ornament hooks. As the bottom ornaments dangles from the tree, pets only see these as toys and will paw at them. If the ornaments fall off, you do not want them breaking causing a potential hazard to your pet or your bare feet. Of course, dogs will likely chew on any fallen ornaments and you do not want anything breaking in their mouth.

5. When hanging lights on the tree do not have any of the wires hanging lower than the bottom branches. Pets will see the hanging wires as potential toys and may chew on them. To remove the light cord of unplugged lights as a chewing opportunity, place a cord protector on the exposed light cord leading to the plug.

Table decorations: We all love sprucing up the place with Christmas decorations placed on end tables, coffee tables or counters. But since these are all new items your cat will at least be curious, and in exploring, may tip them over. I place a very small amount of museum putty on the bottom of each item. This stuff is terrific, if you want to have nice things and not worry about the cat knocking them over, you need to get a small jar and keep it on hand. It will not damage any of your furniture finishes or surfaces, but will prevent the item from moving.

Finally, try to keep your pet's routine as normal as possible, this will keep them calm and in good spirits. Now it's time to relax and enjoy the Christmas season!
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