Winter is a festive season, from Christmas to Hanukkah to Kwanzaa and beyond. And one of the most fun parts of the winter holidays is decorating for them. But holiday decor and pets don't usually go hand-in-hand. Fortunately, there are ways to keep our pups happy and healthy while still being able to transform your house or apartment for the festivities. Here are several winter holiday decorating tips to help keep your dog safe, no matter what you're celebrating.
Many of the most popular Christmas plants are actually poisonous to pets, especially when ingested. For example, eating the leaves and berries of mistletoe can cause your pet to experience gastrointestinal upset and cardiovascular problems, such as a slow heartbeat. This is because of the viscotoxins in the plant. Ingesting holly and its berries can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea due to the toxic saponins. In larger quantities, it may even cause nervous system issues. This is true for both the English and Asian varieties.
As for flowers and flowering plants, Lilies are quite toxic due to calcium oxalate crystals. Ingestion (and even mere contact) can cause mouth pain and irritation, excessive salivation, difficulty swallowing and vomiting. It can also lead to kidney failure in large quantities, particularly in cats. All parts of the amaryllis plant (with the bulb reportedly most toxic) contains Lycorine and other toxins that can cause increased drooling, gastrointestinal issues (like vomiting, diarrhea, decreased appetite and pain), lethargy and tremors. Lastly, though only mildly toxic, poinsettia plants can cause diarrhea, vomiting and other gastrointestinal issues as well as excessive saliva production. When ingested in larger quantities, however, it may become more toxic.
Solution: Keep live holiday plants completely out of your dog's reach. Note: this may be difficult if your dog's a jumper or climber and will not completely eliminate the chance that parts of the plant falls within reach.
Alternatives: Silk and artificial plants, especially if your animal likes to eat fresh greenery, or swap more traditional holiday greenery for safer houseplants. For example: holiday cactus, orchids, roses, autumn olives, bromeliads and frosty ferns are still pretty and safer alternatives.
Pro Tip: If you do opt for live plants, make sure to check them very regularly for dropped leaves, flowers, berries, etc. and clean up any pieces immediately to avoid ingestion. Contact a vet or the pet poison line immediately if you notice parts of the plant missing or see any of the above signs of poisoning.
Candles, Menorahs And Kinaras
Dropping temperatures has many of us turning to candles to provide warmth and coziness from their flickering flames and captivating smells. But they can pose a few risks, especially for playful or curious dogs, rambunctious puppies and wagging tails. Not only can the flame and hot wax burn your dog, but knocking over an open flame is a fire risk (as well as a potential broken glass hazard for glass candles). Furthermore, candles made from paraffin wax or synthetic oils and fragrances can be toxic.
Solution: Keep all candles out of your dog's reach (including the reach of their tails) and away from anything flammable. Opt for soy or beeswax candles if using real ones and never leave lit candles unattended (e.g. wait until sitting down for dinner to light tabletop candles). For holidays like Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, keep Menorahs and Kinaras out of your dog's reach and don't leave the house until the candles burn out.
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Pro Tip: All of these tips around candles are applicable year-round, not just during the holidays.
The Christmas Tree
Christmas trees are staple for Christmas decor. Unfortunately, they can pose some risks to our pets. For example, playful and rambunctious dogs may accidentally whack or run into the tree (or pull and jump on it on purpose), causing it to fall over if not anchored. This can lead to a tangled mess of string lights as well as broken ornaments, both of which are hazards to pets (and people).
Solution: Securely anchor your Christmas tree to the floor, wall or ceiling so it won't fall and injure your pet (or kids). It's a good idea to check the stand frequently to ensure it's always locked in place. For anchoring the tree to the ceiling, you can use thin wires that are barely visible. Also, consider putting the tree in a corner so there's only way to fall that you can prevent against.
Alternatives: Small or mini trees that can sit on tables, counters and anywhere away from pets.
Live trees are beautiful and fragrant, but can pose hazards to dogs. For example, the beloved smell is also what can lead to issues for dogs, as they're attracted to the scent too. It may tempt them into eating parts of the tree, such as pine needles or sap, which can cause skin and eye irritation as well as gastrointestinal issues upon ingestion.
In addition, live trees have a water reservoir inside the stand. Make sure this is not accessible to pets, as it can contain unsafe substances. These include toxic sap from the tree, standing water bacteria, pesticides, fertilizer, water additives (such as aspirin, which can be fatal in large amounts) and toxic chemical preservatives.
Solution: Block your dog's access to your live tree, either through tree protectors such as mini fences or this tree defender. Avoid using preservatives in your tree as fresh water can help maintain it for the season. Also look to block the water reservoir with a well-wrapped tree skirt, aluminum foil, plastic wrap, blanket or towel.
Alternatives: Artificial trees, which are more realistic looking than ever, often feature non-toxic and fireproof needles.
Pro Tip: Here are a few more tips surrounding the Christmas tree:
- Supervise your pets around the tree to ensure they don't knock it over or ingest anything.
- When unable to supervise (e.g. when leaving the house), barricade the room with the tree or secure your dog in a different room. You may also want to place it in an area you can barricade full-time.
- Avoid putting the tree up in your dog's favorite spots (e.g. where they like to lie, their favorite window, etc.)
- Consider leaving the tree undecorated for a short while to help familiarize your dog and allow him or her to lose interest before adding to it.
- Make sure to check the tree daily for dropped needles or decorations and clean up anything immediately to avoid ingestion.
Many dogs, especially those into fetch and balls, are interested in ornaments because they sort of look like a toy. But ornaments are often made of materials that are hazardous to our dogs. For example, glass ornaments can be easily broken while small ones pose as choking risks and large ones can cause intestinal obstruction. In addition, edible and DIY ornaments are made with unsafe ingredients like candy, candy canes, popcorn strings, cookies, nuts, sugar and other toxic substances.
Solution: Keep ornaments that pose risks higher up on the tree and out of your dog's reach (including their tails). This is especially true for the breakable, smaller, DIY and edible ornaments (though it's probably best to avoid using edible ones altogether). Wooden ornaments and some larger plastic ones can be a safer choice for lower on the tree.
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Pro Tip: Make sure to keep track of all the hooks you use for hanging ornaments as these can be harmful to dogs if swallowed, potentially causing esophageal and gastrointestinal issues or lacerations.
String lights and fairy lights make a big statement for the holidays, but they can pose several risks to our dogs. For starters, dogs who like to chew and teething puppies may gravitate towards wires and extension cords. These, however, can cause electrocution or burns. Batteries are also dangerous as they contain substances that can burn or cause ulcers in the mouth, tongue, esophagus or intestines. In addition, glass tree lights can be harmful as they get very hot, break easily and pose a swallowing or choking risk.
Solution: Keep wires and extension cords out of your dog's reach. You can hide them in old wrapping paper tubes or buy wire covers and protectors, tape or pet-safe cords. Make sure to wrap lights tightly and avoid any gaps where dogs can get caught or chew. You can also try to use a pet-safe repellent spray to try and keep them away.
Alternatives: Plastic LED lights with larger bulbs as these stay much cooler and aren't easily breakable.
Pro Tip: Do not leave the lights on when you're not around or while sleeping if your dogs are not secured away at night.
Tinsel, Hanukkah Garlands & Other Thin Plastic Decor
Tinsel is shiny, making it potentially interesting to your dog. But things won't look so bright if they swallow it. Tinsel has been known to cause intestinal obstruction (often needing surgery), severe vomiting, dehydration and even death. This is because it can be hard to find on X-rays and become fatal if not removed in time. Hanukkah garlands and other plastic decor are often made of similar materials, which mens they're also hazards for choking or intestinal obstruction. In addition, artificial snow (which is made of plastic) may help bring winter inside but is potentially toxic if ingested in large amounts.
Solution: Keep any and all tinsel or plastic decor out of your dog's reach. Avoid using artificial snow unless in areas where dogs cannot reach at all.
Alternatives: Decorations that are safer for dogs, such window holiday decor or those that hang from the ceiling.
Pro Tip: Snow globes, though not always made of plastic, also pose a risk to our dogs. This is because they often contain ethylene glycol, which is the ingredient in antifreeze. If one breaks, even a small amount of liquid can be fatal to dogs who ingest it. Because of this, make sure to keep any snow globes out of reach or avoid displaying them at all.
Fresh Green Garlands, Wreaths & More
Fresh greenery is a beautiful way to decorate a mantle, staircase, table or other surface. But live garlands, wreaths, swags (fir or spruce tied together with a ribbon) and the like can be dangerous to dogs. This is because they're often made of toxic plants, such as holly and mistletoe. Even those that aren't made from toxic plants (like pine and fir) can cause irritation, gastrointestinal upset, nausea and vomiting or punctures to the bowels.
Solution: Keep live garlands, wreaths and the like out of your dog's reach (e.g. over windows and doors, on top of cabinets or tall furniture, mantles, etc.) Make sure to check them very regularly for dropped leaves, needles, berries, etc. and clean up any pieces immediately to avoid ingestion. Avoid the most dangerous plants, like holly and mistletoe.
Stockings are another Christmas staple, but it's important to make sure they're safe for your pets. Heavy metal holders may look great, but can injure dogs if they fall off (or if your dog pulls it down with the stocking). In addition, many of the items in stockings are tempting to dogs (especially edible treats) but can cause sickness or pose a choking hazard.
Solution: Opt for hangers with safety grips or plastic hooks that attach with removable tape, like command hooks. Avoid filling the stockings until Christmas Eve or morning since many toxic or unhealthy edibles (like sweets) go into them.
Alternatives: Place them on doorknobs early on in the month or under the tree on Christmas morning.
Wrapping Paper, Ribbons, Gift Bags And More
Pets may be intrigued by wrapping paper, ribbons and gift bags because they're shiny and make similar crinkling as some noisy toys out there. But they can be a choking hazard or cause intestinal blockage if swallowed by pets.
Solution: Keep wrapping paper, ribbons and similar supplies out of your dog's reach and wrap presents on a table or in a room away from pets. If possible, keep gifts out of reach until Christmas Eve or morning and, if not, protect gifts behind a tree fence. Always supervise your dog when opening presents and, if need be, keep them secured in another room. Dispose of or remove from reach any wrapping, ribbons and gift bags after unwrapped.
Alternatives: Use more pet-friendly wrapping options, such as plain craft paper.
Pro Tip: Try giving your dog a puzzle toy or brain game (especially ones that involves treats) to work on while you open presents to keep him or her distracted.
Table Dressings And Edible Decor
Many people like to decorate their dining room tables or kitchen islands for winter and the holidays with tablecloths, runners, placemats, garlands and more. But lengthy fabrics and items can get caught or pulled off (by accident and on purpose), increasing the chance of broken dishes and other hazards falling to the floor. In addition, edible decor is tempting to dogs but unsafe for them. For instance, candy canes are loaded with sugar (or Xylitol in some sugar-free versions). Also loaded with sugar are Santa's cookies, which may also contain toxic ingredients like chocolate, macadamia nuts and raisins. Hanukkah gelt or chocolate coins are dangerous for obvious reasons, while dried ears of corn for Kwanzaa can be a hazard for choking or intestinal obstruction.
Solution: Use shorter tablecloths, runners and placemats that don't hang over the edge. Also don't put any edible decor on the table unless you can supervise your dog and keep any other edibles out of your dog's reach.
Pro Tip: Avoid letting your dog have any table scraps as these are often dangerous to dogs - from toxic seasonings to sugar and fats to splintering bones and beyond.