Holiday Pet Safety: How to Dog-Proof Your Christmas Tree
Is your Christmas tree dog-ready?
We brainstormed with our best pal Sparky to understand what a Christmas tree looks like from a canine point of view so you can puppy-proof your perfect pine.
These seven holiday pet safety tips will ensure your Christmas tree and dogs can share the same space — and that your gorgeously decorated tree isn’t just a set-up for disaster!
1. Secure the Base of your Christmas Tree
The biggest risk a Christmas tree presents to your pets is the chance of it toppling over, with disastrous results.
Whether your tree is real or artificial, make sure you always use a sturdy tree base and don’t underestimate how much heavier the tree will become once it’s decorated. Ask yourself: would this Christmas tree stay standing if my dog runs into it, jumps on it or tries to climb it? Be mindful that nearby furniture may provide your pooch access to higher-up places on the tree!
With all this in mind, sometimes the basic metal frame that comes with a Christmas tree just isn’t strong enough and requires reinforcement. For extra security, we also suggest using wire or fishing line to attach your Christmas tree to the ceiling or wall.
2. Cover Tree Water & Sweep Up Needles
If you opt for a real Christmas tree, there are a few extra steps you should take to protect your pooch.
The water that keeps a real Christmas tree looking green often contains additives and fertilizers that are healthy for your tree, but not so much for your dog. Sadly, just like toilets and street puddles, tree water seems to be irresistible — even to dogs with perfectly good bowls of clean water nearby! To prevent your pooch from getting sick, keep tree water covered between refills so that your dog can’t get into it. A ring of aluminum foil or double-sided tape around the water bowl may keep an investigative pup away.
As for the Christmas tree itself, don’t let your pets lick, eat or swallow any tree needles. The needles can irritate or injure your buddy’s throat and stomach, and their mildly toxic oils may cause stomach upset and diarrhea. Sweep up fallen needles frequently, and don’t let your dog gnaw on the branches. A Christmas tree is not a chew toy!
Overall, an artificial tree is safer for pets. (Of course, that doesn’t mean ingesting plastic needles is good for your pet, either!)
3. Choose Ornaments Carefully
When you’re choosing ornaments to hang on the Christmas tree this year, consider what they’ll look like in the eyes of your curious pet!
Candy canes, popcorn strings and edible ornaments (such as those made from salt dough or gingerbread) are often too much temptation for your pet to resist. Keep edible decor on upper branches that your dog can’t reach, or don’t use them at all.
Glass or ceramic ornaments that shatter on impact can be dangerous if your pet bumps into the Christmas tree or knocks the ornaments off their branches with a wildly wagging tail. The ornaments may land on your pet or leave sharp fragments for them to step on. We suggest you buy shatterproof ornaments, or only use solid ornaments (such as wood) that are less likely to break in a dangerous way if they fall off the Christmas tree.
Finally, metal ornament hooks can also be very dangerous if your pet swallows them. They can get caught in a pet’s throat or digestive system, and may even cause an internal injury. String, twine or ribbons are safer materials for hanging ornaments on than metal hooks (although still not ideal for your pet to ingest!).
4. Ditch the Tinsel and Garland
The bright shimmer and alluring crinkle of tinsel or garland has led many hounds and pooches down the path of temptation.
If your dog gets their teeth on the tinsel, there’s a risk they could tear off pieces of it or simply pull the whole Christmas tree over. Swallowed pieces of tinsel or garland can cause an intestinal blockage, or even need to be surgically removed.
To minimize the risk, use garland that is less interesting to your pet (such as a non-shiny ribbon) or simply keep your pet away from the tree entirely with a petsafe gate or fence.
5. Cover the Lights
Lights on the Christmas tree are what give it that magical sparkle, but they also present dangers for your unwitting pet.
If your dog chews on electrical cords they may get shocked or start a fire. Use cord protectors on all wires so that even if your dog does manage to sneakily chew on any, the chance is reduced that they’ll get all the way through to a live wire. You can also opt for LED lights, which are lower voltage and therefore less dangerous.
Keep all light cords and battery packs covered by the Christmas tree skirt and secured with electrical tape. When you’re not home, unplug the Christmas tree so you can hide the plug and the end of the electrical cord as well.
6. Protect the Presents
If there’s any Christmas presents accessible to your dog, that means there’s a chance your pooch will ingest strings, ribbon, bows or pieces of wrapping paper. As the presents pile up under the tree, you may not even notice when a bow goes missing until you find its destroyed remains!
The odds of your dog getting into the presents increase if you put anything edible under the tree, like cookies or candy for Christmas morning. Even when it’s wrapped, your pup will smell it and want to uncover the source. And even if you don’t put out any food yourself, you may not know you’ve received an edible present until your dog finds it — for example, if your Aunt Peggy sent you a fruitcake without your knowledge.
The safest way to deal with presents is to not put them out at all until Christmas Eve. If you do want to have something under the tree for the festive atmosphere, use fake presents that you know contain only air — no cookies or brownies to tempt your pup — and keep track of any ribbons or bows.
7. Utilize Pet Repellents or Deterrents
The best way to minimize all of these risks is to keep your pets away from the Christmas tree entirely, and there are many safe pet deterrents you can use to accomplish that.
A troublesome texture to walk on can deter your pet. Place aluminum foil, double-sided tape or a sticky or pokey mat on the floor around the Christmas tree. Most dogs or cats don’t like the feeling of these textures on their paws, and will avoid them.
Pets can also be discouraged away from an area with an unpleasant smell (or at least, a smell that’s unpleasant to them). A citrus, cinnamon or bitter apple spray on your Christmas tree may be its best protection this holiday season!
Another option is to hide a motion-activated air can or high pitched sound repellent near the Chrstimas tree, that will activate and startle your pet when they cross its path. (Just be careful not to scare yourself, too!). This uncomfortable (but not harmful) experience may make your pet less inclined to interact with the Christmas tree.
If you do use a repellent, make sure it triggers automatically when your pet approaches the Christmas tree — as opposed to something that you use yourself (such as a spray bottle, air can or air horn that you activate by hand). The key is to make your pet associate the negative experience with the Christmas tree itself, not with you, their trusted person!
You can also teach your dog the command “Away” or “Leave It” to train them to not interact with something. Reward your pup when they walk away from the Christmas tree with their favorite Nature’s Advantage treat, and they’ll quickly learn that they gain more from leaving the tree alone!
If all else fails and the Christmas tree remains just too tempting for your pet, you may want to seriously consider setting up a gate or fence all the way around the tree for its own protection. (Don’t worry, there’s still plenty of ways to make a fence look festive, too!).
To your furry pals, the sudden appearance of a Christmas tree in your home will be a source of fascination. They’ll want to investigate it like the curious and adventurous pups they are. But with some preparation and creativity, it is possible for your Christmas tree and dogs to peacefully coexist!