Christmas Decorating with Pets

cat tree

Snow is falling. The days are getting shorter. All the houses on your block are decked out in their holiday finest. Soon, it will be time to put up decorations yourself! If you’ve got pets in your home, however, you might find this time of year to be a bit challenging and stressful. Maybe your enthusiastic puppy knocked a precious antique manger scene off your side table with his wagging tail, breaking it into a hundred pieces? Maybe your new littermates got into a wrestling match a little too close to last year’s menorah? Or maybe you, like me, have woken up one morning to find your adult cat inside your (miraculously still upright) Christmas tree, snoozing on the branches without a care in the world?

There are tricks and tips that veteran pet parents swear by when they decorate for the holidays. Some are for safety and others are just meant to make life a little easier–so everyone can enjoy the holidays (Fido and Mr. Fluffykins included)

First you have to pick a tree… tree

If you opt for a live Christmas tree every year, there are things to consider to keep it safe for your pets. Your pets might view it as something wonderful to chew on. However, the fir oils can be irritating to your pet’s mouth and throat tissue. It’s also not great if they swallow any needles. Try as much as possible to keep your pet from chewing on the branches.

Be wary of any trees that have been treated with chemicals designed to keep the tree fresh longer. They can leech into the water in the base of the tree, and if your pets drink from this tainted water, that could lead to sickness. The same goes for the old “aspirin-in-the-tree-water” trick, which is supposed to make your tree last longer as well. However, aspirin tablets are very dangerous to cats, and can prove fatal.

If you’re buying an artificial tree, you may avoid some of the pitfalls mentioned above. But pets can still ingest artificial needles, leading to obstruction. Flocking–or artificial, spray on snow–is a popular addition to some artificial trees. You can even buy cans of it which you can spray on your tree yourself. It’s not meant to be ingested or inhaled…but try telling that to a curious kitty or new puppy who just wants to see what this fun white stuff is all about! Best to avoid flocking altogether if you can.

Then you have to set it up!

Picking the ideal location to display your Christmas tree is such a fun part of the holiday experience. Some things to consider when putting up your tree are how accessible it is for your pet and how easily it can be knocked over. Picking a heavy, sturdy base is a great idea. Try setting it up in a corner, away from bookshelves or other “launchpads” your pet might try to use to get into the uppermost branches.

If possible, you can try anchoring the tree. For example, because of the previously mentioned cat in the tree incident, in our home we started using medium gauge wire wrapped around the trunk of the tree and stretching up to the curtain rod in the corner behind it. It may not prevent the tree from spilling some of its ornaments, but it may just hold it up long enough for us to right it in the event our cat tries to nap there again, and it will keep it from falling entirely.

Time to decorate!ornaments

Once the tree is up and ready for decorating, you’ve got some choices to make! 

Plastic lights bulbs (like LED bulbs) tend to hold up better to pets than glass bulbs, which can get hot and may break if Mr. Fluffykins tries to chew on it. Try to keep lights and bulbs tucked away from the ends of branches to help your pets avoid temptation.

Shatterproof ornaments are a pet parent’s dream come true! But of course everyone has treasured ornaments that have been handed down through their family, made of glass and very fragile. Placing these higher up in the tree, and putting plastic/shatterproof ornaments on the lower branches can help avoid tears over a broken heirloom, as well as injured paws from ornament shards scattered on the floor. Alternately, you could invest in an ornament hanger, or string up a strand of garland over a window or in a doorway, on which you can display these treasured antiques and keep them away from paws and tails!

Tinsel may look beautiful on your tree, but it is also an attractive object to your pet. If ingested, it could end up lodged in their throat or cause obstruction in their stomach. It’s best to avoid these glittery strands. The same goes for popcorn garland, cranberries, and other edible decorations that could be tempting to eat.

What about the rest of the house?

Most of us don’t just stop at the tree–the rest of the house gets the full holiday treatment as well! Many of the above suggestions go just as well for the rest of the house: avoiding edible or chemically treated decorations (wreaths, garland, poinsettias, holly berries, etc.) is a good start, and keeping decorations out of reach will help even further. If you have children who enjoy their yearly chocolate advent calendar, keep it in a cupboard or hung on a wall and away from Fido’s curious chompers!

Finally, just use common sense! Don’t leave pretty candles or your menorah or kinara burning unattended, don’t leave out items that could be easily broken or dangerous if eaten, and staying vigilant when your pets are in the room with the tree and other decorations are excellent ways to ensure that you and your pets have a happy, stress free holiday season!