This article has been updated.
Dogs and Christmas trees? Usually not a great combination.
You know what we mean if you’ve ever woken up to find your tree toppled and the floor glittering with broken glass ornaments while your dog sits nearby either proud of his work, or head bent and eyes averted, tangled in a net of blinking Christmas lights.
The annual “shaming” photos are funny, we admit it. But they belie a truth that’s not at all funny. That tree tipped off its stand, those broken ornaments, and the presents torn open could have had you celebrating the holiday at an emergency animal hospital.
This doesn’t mean you have to choose between your dog and a holiday tradition. You just need to be careful during the festive season.
Read on for our tips for dog-proofing your Christmas tree.
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Choose your Tree Wisely
Real trees bring the outdoor inside. They smell divine and look beautiful, but they also come with some hazards. Like a number of different holiday plants (like Poinsettia and Holly), Christmas trees can be poisonous to dogs. Indeed, most types of Christmas trees have needles that fall off and are mildly to very toxic to dogs. The needles aren’t digestible and can cause vomiting and excessive drooling if eaten. The same goes for artificial trees, as their plastic needles can cause an intestinal blockage or even puncture the intestines.
Make sure you are continually sweeping up the needles and preventing your pups from getting too close to the tree.
If you have one of those dogs who is determined to get into anything that’s off limits, consider placing your tree in a room with a door that locks. If this isn’t an option, use a pet gate to keep your dog out when you’re not there to supervise.
Position the tree close to a wall to give it support and make it harder to knock over. Try to avoid putting it near a jumping off spot, like a bookshelf or a couch, where your dog might try to snatch an out-of-reach ornament.And avoid putting anything edible on the tree, like candy canes.
Secure the Tree
Start with a strong tree stand. Krinner’s Tree Genie gets good reviews and comes in sizes from small to XXL. It’s strong, durable, and easy to set up, but what makes it a standout is the enclosed water reservoir that prevents your dog from drinking tree water.
For extra protection, secure the top of the tree by screwing a small hook into the ceiling above with fishing line. Thread the line around the tree’s upper branches and then loop the other end over the hook in the ceiling. Tighten until the tree is almost raised off the floor, and then give it a little slack. Your tree will remain upright.
Cover the Tree Water
The water that collects in the base of a live Christmas tree can poison your pets. It may contain toxins such as pesticides, preservatives, fertilizer, and even aspirin added to keep the tree fresh.
If you’re using a tree stand that has an open reservoir, cover the water reservoir by wrapping aluminum foil over the base. You can also use a sturdy tree collar, a Christmas tree box, or tape a tree skirt around the tree trunk so that it covers the open top.
Put Lights Just on High Branches
Don’t string any lights on the lower branches. Dogs are attracted to shiny, blinking objects, but these lights can be harmful. Hot lights can burn your dog or break in their mouths, and loose electric cords are an accident waiting to happen. Choose battery powered lights, hide cords in a cover, or tape them to the wall.
Dogs often like to lounge under the tree, so don’t decorate the lower branches with lights or ornaments that hang low and attract attention. Besides electric shocks, a string of lights inadvertently wound around a dog’s neck can be deadly, particularly if the dog panics.
Avoid Fragile Ornaments
If your dog is a chewer, keep any ornaments off the lower branches. Try to avoid fragile, glass ornaments or shiny, reflective surfaces. If you’re obsessed with blingy baubles, try shatterproof ornaments. You can also add wood, wool, felt or fabric decorations. But avoid metal hooks to hang ornaments, which can be dangerous if swallowed. Use pet-safe hooks.
If you do use glass ornaments, hang them high, out of reach of curious canines, and if they are family heirlooms or meaningful, secure them to the branches.
Skip edible ornaments, including candy canes, nuts, and especially chocolate, which is toxic to dogs.
Skip the Tinsel
Tinsel is just another name for toy in the dog world. It’s light, shiny, and really fun to bat around.
But tinsel is extremely dangerous to dogs, according to the Pet Poison Helpline. If swallowed, it can result in a “severe linear foreign body” when it wraps around the tongue or the intestines and creates a blockage. Surgery is almost always necessary to remove ingested tinsel, which is not only expensive but potentially life threatening.
Guard Your Gifts
If you can, wait until the last minute to put presents under the tree. Glittering wrapping paper, ribbons, and bows transforms a simple box into something to play with for both dogs and cats.
Be careful after the presents are opened. String, ribbon, and small decorations left on the floor present a choking hazard. If swallowed, they can cause a bowel obstruction.
Be Careful with Candles
Candlelight is festive and romantic, but in the wrong…paws…candles can burn down your house, or set your dog on fire. Keep candles out of reach of mischievous pups.
Never leave candles lit when leaving a room. Remember: Christmas trees are extremely flammable.
Keep your dog and the rest of your family safe by dog-proofing your Christmas tree. Happy holidays!