It’s coming up to that time of the year where most of us are beginning to decorate for the festive period, or are at least thinking about it. A colourfully decorated tree with dimmed fairy lights is sure to bring instant joy and fill your home with warmth as you eagerly anticipate the arrival of the big day. However, it is easy for pets to become overwhelmed by their natural instincts to explore as their home is filled with so many new and exciting things.

Even though Christmas is the most hectic time of the year for a lot of families, it is important to keep an extra close eye on your pets in order to avoid a trip to the vets.

Many of the popular Christmas decorations and plants can be hazardous to both cats and dogs. Below is a compilation of some of their dangers so that you can familiarise yourself with the risks and protect your pets accordingly.

 

CHRISTMAS TREES

Cats in particular are naturally inquisitive of anything shiny and have a tendency to climb trees, so it is no surprise that your Christmas tree (along with its decorations) will appeal to them. It is advisable to ensure trees are securely based so that they are less likely to be felled by a curious cat who is compelled to climb.

Besides the risk of finding your Christmas tree on the floor, there are several other reasons why they are a potential pet hazard.

The oils produced by some real Christmas trees can be mildly toxic if consumed and are likely to cause irritation to your pet’s mouth and stomach. Symptoms of this include excessive drooling and vomiting. Fertilisers, preservatives and plant food can have similar effects, so be careful with your pet’s presence around your potted tree.

With both real and artificial trees, there is a great likelihood of pine needles laying around on the floor. These pose a risk to both cats and dogs. If swallowed, pine needles have the potential to perforate the intestines, as well as cause gastrointestinal irritations. This can lead to further internal damage, obstructions and vomiting. Although rare, pine needles can also get into the eyes and ears, so it is important to monitor your pets around the Christmas tree and safely discard of any loose pine needles.


BAUBLES

Baubles and other hanging decorations often resemble toys, especially to cats, so it is no surprise that you can often find your pets with their paws on them. However, they can become dangerous if knocked onto the floor and broken. Broken pieces can cause injury or serious illness if swallowed or stood on. Some dogs have also been known to chew baubles and other decorations, which can lead to lacerations in the mouth or intestinal blockages. To combat this, pet owners may choose to place more delicate baubles at the top of the tree where it is harder for pets to reach. Even so, you should always monitor your pets when they are around the Christmas tree and never leave them unsupervised. If a bauble is knocked onto the floor, pick it up immediately.


TINSEL

Most pets will be fascinated by tinsel as it shimmers and shines in all its glory. However, what looks like a shiny toy to your cat can prove deadly if ingested. What starts out as simply watching and admiring can soon lead to exploring with the mouth, and at the very least, this will lead to irritation and discomfort. For some animals, the pieces of tinsel will head down the ‘wrong pipe’ and cause them to choke. With luck, they’ll be able to cough it up and out of their mouth, though for others, it will be swallowed. In the event of swallowing tinsel, it will head down into the intestinal tract and will become what veterinarians refer to as a severe linear ‘foreign body’ (something stuck in the intestinal tract that doesn’t belong there). Many times, this triggers vomiting and a reduced appetite. A linear foreign body occurs when your pet swallows something stringy with wraps around the base of the tongue or anchors itself in the stomach, rendering it unable to pass through the intestines. As the intestines contract and move, this string or linear foreign body can slowly saw through the tissue, resulting in severe damage to your pet’s intestinal tract. Ultimately, pets run the risk of severe injury to, or rupture of, their intestines. Treatment involves expensive abdominal surgery – a cost which we can all do without at Christmas time.


FAIRY LIGHTS

Although they are pretty to look at, fairy lights can pose a real danger to pets on many levels. There is the possibility of pets becoming tangled in the wires, which can cause them to panic and injure themselves. Pets may also choose to chew through the electrical wiring, which can result in electrical burns. If swallowed, the bulbs can pose threats too, including choking. If for some reason the casing surrounding the bulbs decides to break or shatter, this poses additional threats to pets if swallowed or stood on.

To protect your pets as much as possible, you should ensure that any wiring is not exposed and supervise them at all times. You may choose not to trail fairy lights onto the lower branches of your Christmas tree as these will be easier for your cats or dogs to reach.


RIBBON

Similar to tinsel, ribbon can become a linear foreign body and can cause blockages if ingested. This has the potential to be fatal so it is important to keep ribbon out of the way of pets. You may want to consider this when placing wrapped presents underneath the tree, as cats especially will play with ribbon if given the chance.


GIFTS

Perhaps a risk you hadn’t thought of – be careful of the presents you leave under the tree, even if they are wrapped up. Some items that are commonly given as presents can be hazardous if your pets decide to go snooping.


SNOW GLOBES

Snow globes are such a small, simple Christmas decoration which is why it may shock you that they are on this list. The reason is that they often contain ethylene glycol, a toxic chemical that is also used in antifreeze. If your pets ingest this, it can cause several problems, with kidney failure being the worst possible outcome. To prevent any risks of accidental breakages or leaks, it is best to place snow globes on hard to reach surfaces out of the way of any curious pets.

Find out more about antifreeze poisoning here.


BATTERIES

One third of all battery sales happen surrounding the festive period. At this time of the year, many of us will have batteries laying somewhere around the home, and they are likely to be attractive to pets as a result of their shiny appearance. However, household batteries may contain chemicals which can pose a dangerous threat if chewed or swallowed. If a battery is punctured or ingested, there is a risk that the alkaline or acidic chemicals may leak out, which can result in severe corrosive injury. This can cause chemical burns and heavy metal poisoning, as well as obstruction if the battery becomes lodged in the oesophagus or stomach.

You should ensure that any batteries you have laying around the house are stored out of the reach of pets and small children. If you suspect that your pet may have ingested a battery (of any type), you should contact your vet straight away.


POINSETTIA

During the festive season, poinsettias are a popular Christmas plant and are often used to decorate the home. However, they can be mildly toxic to both cats and dogs.

It is the milky white sap within poinsettia plants which contains toxic chemicals. If it comes into contact with your pet’s skin, it may cause irritation. This ca be identified by signs such as redness, swelling or itchiness. In the event of it being ingested, your cat or dog ma experience drooling, vomiting and/or diarrhoea.

Unfortunately, there is no antidote for poinsettia poisoning, so it is lucky that symptoms are usually mild and resolve with time. However, if symptoms appear more severe or are persistent, you should contact your vet immediately who will advise you with the next steps.

We advise you to keep all plants out of the reach of pets.


HOLLY

Some varieties of holly contain toxic chemicals (saponins). This means that if it is ingested by your pet, this can result in severe gastrointestinal upset. Common signs of this are vomiting and/or diarrhoea, although there are many other signs that your pets may display:

  • difficulty breathing
  • low heart rate
  • abdominal pain
  • drooling
  • lip smacking
  • excessive head shaking

Foliage is thought to be more toxic than the berries and pets can gain internal injuries from the leaves. Therefore, we would advise you to keep all yuletide plants out of the reach of your pets during the holidays. If you suspect your pet has ingested holly, you should contact your vet immediately.


LILIES

When you think of lilies, you may think of a beautiful Summer flower. However, there are various species of lily, some of which are popular around Christmas.

It is important to keep lilies out of the way of your pets, and monitor them around vases just in case they tip over. This is because lilies – and the water they are in – pose a significant risk to cats especially, and they have the potential to be fatal.

Cats are highly sensitive to lilies. It can result in gastrointestinal upset, convulsions (seizures) and/or heart arrhythmias (an irregular heart beat). In addition, it is possible for them to get kidney failure as a result of grooming pollen from their fur. It is very easy for a cat to brush past a vase and end up with pollen in their fur, so we recommend not having lilies at all if you own a cat.


MISTLETOE

Although mistletoe has romantic connotations, there are several types which can be poisonous to pets. Berries from this holiday plant contain polysaccharides, alkaloids, and lectins. When accidentally ingested by pets (in small amounts), mistletoe poisoning can result in mild signs of gastrointestinal irritation, such as drooling, vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal pain. On the other hand, when ingested in large amounts, it is possible for your pet to experience an abnormal heart rate, hypotension (low blood pressure), ataxia (wobbling when walking), seizures, collapse, or even death. To be on the safe side, you should keep mistletoe out of the reach of your dogs and cats. If you suspect your pet has ingested mistletoe, you should contact your vet immediately who will then recommend treatment options.