Safe and Festive Holiday Decorating With Pets

The holiday season is approaching along with a variety of different traditions. For many people, they look forward to decorating their home for the season. Lights, plants, and other types of decorations can create a magical holiday atmosphere, but they can also pose dangers to pets.

Luckily, there are several quick and easy ways to minimize this danger so that you and your pets can enjoy the holidays safely. 

Keep dangers out of reach 

There are several holiday decorations that can simply be placed out of reach of pets. Candles or potpourri are a great way to fill your home with seasonal scents, but both pose some danger to pets. Candles can be tipped over or knocked off of surfaces, potentially leading to a fire, and potpourri can cause be toxic if ingested. 

In much the same way, holiday treats can be a hazard. Wendy Welch from the Humane Society of Huron Valley in Ann Arbor cautions that food containing chocolate, especially baking chocolate, raisins, or artificial sweeteners such as xylitol can be harmful if eaten by your pet. Experts recommend being cautious of where you place such decorations or treats. You should look especially for surfaces that are high enough to be out of reach of your pets. These surfaces should also be sturdy enough to stay upright if bumped by an excited pet. For example, you may want to place candles atop a study counter, rather than on an end table. 

Certain ornaments should also be placed with care. Animals are often attracted to the ornaments toward the bottom of a tree. Cats especially enjoy batting at a shiny red ball or glittery white snowflake. Unfortunately, this might cause them to fall and break, creating a hazard for your furry friends’ paws. In addition, salt-dough ornaments can be a tempting snack, especially for dogs, but they can lead to salt poisoning. 

Place breakable or salt-dough ornaments toward the top of the tree, and be sure to attach them securely on the branches so that even the most adventurous climbing cat can’t knock them down.   

Avoid or substitute harmful decorations 

Sometimes it is better to play it safe by avoiding or replacing certain holiday items. For example, cats enjoy playing with ribbons and tinsel, but these can get caught around their tongues or even cause intestinal blockages or damage. As tinsel can be difficult to secure firmly out of reach, it may be a decoration to avoid. You might also consider swapping your breakable ornaments with plastic ones, or placing LED candles around your home for the ambiance without the flame. 

Plants are another potential source of concern. Welch notes that the Humane society often warns patrons that while plants can add a beautiful splash of color to your home, those such as lilies and mistletoe are highly toxic. Poinsettias, cyclamen, and amaryllis are mildly toxic and can cause intense gastric distress. While you can certainly place them out of reach (especially mistletoe, which is often placed on the ceiling for best kissing advantage), you might also think about using faux plants that can be safely reused year after year. 

Take precautions 

There are a few precautions you can take to make your decorations more pet-friendly. First, if you have a Christmas tree you should be sure to secure the tree firmly at both the bottom and the top. It’s important to buy a tree stand that has a wide base and can fit tightly around the tree trunk. You may also want to use a hook and wire to attach the top of your tree to the ceiling as an extra safety measure. Whether you choose a real or artificial tree, it is important to avoid trees with fake snow, which can be harmful if chewed by pets. 

For those who choose a live tree, the tree stand should be sturdy but also designed to make drinking the water difficult. Drinking the tree water can upset stomachs if tree oil leaks into the water, and pesticides from trees can be toxic. Setting a clean, safe water dish in the same room can be a great deterrent for thirsty pets. 

You should also be sure to tie any decorations or lights securely. Floral wire, for example, can allow you to fix string lights to Christmas trees so that they won’t easily come loose. It can also be used to tie breakable ornaments more carefully to the branches. 

Last, pet repellent sprays can help keep your animal friends out of harm’s way. Using this spray on trees, plants, or other decor can help discourage your pet from engaging with something they shouldn’t. 

Winter Weather

You may also want to think about how you protect your holiday guests from the winter weather. Wendy Welch reminds us that while sprinkling salt on ice can keep us from slipping, it can also be tracked into the house and eaten by pets. Be sure to use pet safe salt or ice preventative, and to keep your pets well away from cold weather chemicals such as antifreeze. 

Know What to Look For 

We all know that accidents happen! It is helpful to know what to look for in a pet who needs medical attention. If you notice that your pet has any of the following symptoms, you should reach out to your vet for further help:

  • Excessive Drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Change in coordination or balance
  • Seizures
  • Fever
  • Sudden lack of energy

For More Information 

Below are resources with additional information. You might also contact the Humane Society of Huron Valley- Ann Arbor at (734) 662-5585. And if you are thinking about adding a pet to your family this holiday season, please reach out to this number as well. The Humane Society would love to introduce you to their many furry friends in need of good homes! 

Author: Dr. Alyssa Whitford is a former K-12 teacher and current professor of education at Hope College in Holland, MI. She is passionate about literacy, social studies, and all things education. She is also a proud parent to two children (and two pets) of her own.