When holiday decorations come out, the risk of dog and cat injury goes up. Pets explore their world by tasting, sniffing, chewing, climbing and pawing objects. They can turn your celebration decor into toys or treats that hurt them or even damage your home.
Fireplaces and candles flicker an invitation to explore, and cats are heat seekers that can become burned when they lounge too close or try to sniff an open flame. Holiday plants like mistletoe and holly can poison pets that taste them. Cats that bat and claw a leaf and then lick clean their claws also risk poisoning.
Dogs and cats that chew or claw holiday lights risk electrocution that could kill them or cause a fire and destroy your home. Swallowing tinsel, pine needles, ornamental snow, and ornament hooks predicts a trip to the emergency room veterinarian. So does raiding the garbage for all the left-over goodies like gravy-soaked tin foil and string. Chocolate toxicity causes upset tummies with vomiting and diarrhea or worse, and is guaranteed to spoil your holiday festivities.
Normal routines go out the window and can cause angst when you least expect it. One year, our regular game of indoor “doggy fetch” with soft toys broke an heirloom holiday decoration that left me crying for weeks. It wasn’t the dog’s fault, it was my fault for not properly pet proofing for the holidays.
Holiday Safety Tips
- Place breakables out of paw and mouth reach on mantels or behind closed doors and baby gates. Choose non-breakable, swallow-able decorations instead.
- Keep open flame to a minimum, and use pet-safe barriers to keep pets away. Battery-powered candles look nice, too!
- Choose pet-safe holiday plants or use artificial ones.
Pet Proof the Tree
Whether a live tree or artificial, a holiday tree becomes a great pet hideout and playground. Cats may want to climb or knock off breakable ornaments. Dogs want to play tug with branches, pee on the tree, or drink from the water basin, a potential poisoning if you’ve included additives. Trees end up toppled, presents and decorations damaged, and sometimes pets are hurt.
- Keep breakables out of reach on high branches, and only place pet-safe items on lower branches.
- Instead of spray-on snow, use cotton balls or dried baby’s breath.
- Rather than tinsel, decorate with wide ribbon garlands. My holiday tree includes red and white silk roses placed among the branches.
- Set small trees on a table top or counter out of dog nose reach.
- Situate pet gates or barriers to control access into the room with your decorations to keep cats from climbing and toppling your formal tree
- Pet doors that open with the individual cat or dog’s microchip or collar tag can be programmed to only offer access into a particular room when you want it.
Keep Pets at Bay
Stopping poor behavior is most successful when you also offer them a legal, and better, opportunity to act in a normal dog or cat way. You can persuade dogs and cats to avoid dangerous areas by making the holiday tree or other items unattractive while creating safe places the pets prefer.
For instance, make the “legal” cat tree or dog crate even more alluring by tossing in a catnip mouse or scrumptious treats for them to find. That way your pets are more likely to do the right thing without your extra effort to prevent or punish problem behaviors. You can encourage pets to avoid illegal areas using these tips
- Many pets dislike the feeling of walking on aluminum foil. Spread this on stovetops or under trees, or use it as tree decorations since it also looks festive.
- Tacky mats from home products stores keep throw rugs from sliding around, and these work well under the Christmas tree to keep pets away. Cats especially dislike stepping on sticky surfaces that tug their toe hair.
- Double-sided tape placed on placemats that can be moved around also work well to booby-trap countertops, fireplace hearths, mantels, or other forbidden spots.
- Create an uncomfortable surface for dogs using clear plastic carpet runner/protectors placed nub-side up on forbidden zones. That makes the area surrounding the tree pretty unappealing.
- Remote pet proofing sprays like the Ssscat® Spray emit a hiss of aerosol air or citronella spray when the pet comes too close to a forbidden area. You can place the Ssscat on countertops or near holiday trees to keep pets a safe distance way.
- Try using your pet’s sense of smell to keep her away from the tree. Vicks Vapo Rub (menthol smell) works with some cats and dogs as a repellent. Dip cotton balls in the ointment and stick it in the lower branches of your tree.
- Bitter Apple or other nasty tasting substances help keep pets from chewing objects like electric cords, but don’t rely on this entirely. Some dogs actually like the flavor.Holidays should be a joyful time for your entire family, including the cats and dogs. Put yourself in your pet’s “paws” when you decorate to help keep them happy and safe.
Amy Shojai is a certified animal behavior consultant and a nationally recognized pet care expert. She is the award-winning pet journalist and author of 30 best-selling pet care books.