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How to Keep Your Pets Safe During the Upcoming Holiday Season: Holiday Decorations

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Whiskers, Paws and Love Inc. Team

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    In addition to being cautious about food, drinks and drugs, our team also recommends caution when decorating with the following:


    If you’re planning to use candles this holiday season it’s important to keep your pet’s safety in mind. A significant risk with burning candles is that your pet could get too close and burn themselves or knock them over and cause a fire. It is imperative to make sure that you never leave a lit candle unattended. For extra safety use heavy, sturdy candles that are less likely to topple over, place them in a glass shield or protective covering of some kind, or try placing them inside a tray of water so that if they do get knocked over the flame will be extinguished.

    Whether we are two-legged or four-legged, candles made from paraffin wax (which is a by-product of making gasoline) aren’t healthy for any of us. Studies by air quality engineers and testing by the EPA have confirmed that they emit toxins and dangerous chemicals in measurable quantities into the air. However, candles made from soy, beeswax, vegetable wax, or coconut wax do not contain toxic pollutants and they’re better for the environment. Check the label to make sure any non-toxic candles are made with 100% non-paraffin wax and if you use them, you should still make sure the room is well ventilated. You’ll also want to avoid burning any candles if you have pets with asthma, bronchitis, or other respiratory issues. This includes pet breeds with short noses and/or flat faces like Persian and Himalayan cats, or French Bulldogs and Pugs. Even if your cat or dog doesn’t have respiratory issues, keep an eye out for the following symptoms that may indicate your pet has a specific sensitivity to candles: sneezing, coughing, watery eyes, runny nose, Itching, skin redness or rashes, respiratory distress (labored breathing, fast breathing, panting, coughing, or wheezing).

    The best option for safety is to use battery-operated candles. These candles provide light, beauty and joy without health risks. You can leave them in every room of your home and still have peace of mind.

    Christmas Trees (both real and artificial)

    Christmas Trees (both real and artificial). The major hazards of real Christmas trees are pine needles and tree water. If the needles are eaten, they can cause gastrointestinal irritation or a blockage or puncture in your pet’s intestinal lining. Christmas trees are treated with preservatives, fertilizers, pesticides, and other harmful chemicals which seep into the tree water around the trunk. These additives will make stagnant, bacteria-loaded water even more dangerous for your pet to drink. If you have a real Christmas tree, we recommend covering the tree water by using a covered base or covering the base with a tree skirt or some tinfoil.

    The best choice for pet owners is an artificial tree which has the advantages of being less desirable for your pet to chew on and of not requiring water. (One type of Christmas tree to avoid like the plague is an aluminum tree because your pet won’t be able to resist its sparkle.

    Regardless of whether you decorate with a real tree or an artificial tree, it is important to ensure that you place the tree far away from tables or chairs which may provide a spot for a cat to vault into the air, that your tree is stable (otherwise it has the potential to tip over and harm your pet if they push or pull it over), and that you set up a barrier around the base of the tree using fencing, baby gates, pet gates or even furniture.

    Lights, cords, and batteries

    There are two ways that strands of Christmas lights can be hazardous to your pet. If they become too hot, they have the potential to burn pets that get too close to them, and if your dog or cat chews on the wire, they could suffer an electric shock or mouth burn. Chewing on an electric wire also may cause pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs), which can be fatal. Punctured batteries leak alkaline or acidic material that will damage your pet's mouth and esophagus. Be sure to secure and cover batteries, wires and electric cords connected to holiday lights, including the end of the wire that plugs into the wall. And ALWAYS unplug the lights when you’re not able to supervise your pet.


    Glass ornaments should be avoided if you have pets. They are especially dangerous if they shatter and cut your pet’s paws and even more dangerous if your dog or cat ingests the shards. We recommend using only shatterproof ornaments. Also avoid small ornaments that your pet could choke on. Homemade dough, which is used to create ornaments, could cause serious problems if eaten by your pet. It typically contains a high level of salt and can cause vomiting within a few minutes, diarrhea, lethargy, tremors, copious drinking, and dehydration. Animals may become weak and wobbly on their feet, and they can develop fast heart rate and rapid breathing with high blood pressure. In serious cases, there can be fits and kidney failure. Also, your pet can be injured by the little metal hooks typically used to hang ornaments. They create a choking hazard or lead to injury of the mouth, esophagus, stomach, and intestine. Instead of using hooks, try securely tying the ornaments to the tree.


    Surveys show almost 10% of cats and dogs have fallen ill after eating foliage. Of those, 43% needed urgent veterinary care, while 15% sadly died. In addition to pine trees, the most dangerous Christmas plants include Amaryllis, Holly, Lily, Mistletoe and Poinsettia


    Amaryllis (also known as Belladonna, Saint Joseph Lily, Cape Belladonna, and Naked Lady) is a popular Christmas flower. They are often packaged in pretty boxes and make great gifts, but if you’re a pet owner they are a gift you don’t want to receive. If any part of the plant gets into your pet’s system, you’re likely to see drooling, a decrease in appetite, abdominal pain, and vomiting. The toxins can also slow your pet’s breathing and cause a drop in blood pressure. Tremors are another frightening side-effect.


    It’s difficult to think of Christmas without the quaint red berries and pointed leaves of holly. However, holly is actually more dangerous to pets than poinsettias. Symptoms of ingestion include severe vomiting and diarrhea, drooling and lip smacking.


    Lilies are popular for holidays throughout the year. Certain types of lilies (those from the Lilium or Hemerocallis species) are extremely dangerous. Ingestion of just two or three leaves, or even water from the vase, will cause severe symptoms such as arrhythmia and convulsions which can be potentially fatal. While lilies don’t pose quite as severe a risk to dogs as they do to cats, they are still toxic. The calla lily, peace lily, lily of the valley and palm lily, are all deemed dangerous to dogs.


    Mistletoe is as big a part of Christmas as Santa, but it’s well-known for causing severe intestinal upset and a sudden and severe drop in blood pressure, breathing problems, hallucinations that often lead to unusual behavior, and even death from cardiovascular collapse in pets. Mistletoe is usually hung from the ceiling or doorway, far out of a pet’s reach. Better yet, it should NEVER be brought into the home!


    Poinsettias are famous for reaching full bloom in December. Their iconic red petals are actually leaves and they’re mildly toxic to dogs and cats. Eating poinsettia can cause drooling, oral pain, and vomiting — but only if they’re ingested in large enough quantities. The plant contains an irritant sap and it’s unlikely your pet will eat enough to cause serious harm. The real danger would be if the plant had been treated with a pesticide. In that case your pet could be at risk of becoming ill from ingesting the pesticide. Our advice is simply to keep poinsettias far away from pets.


    Last, but not least, although Daffodils are not plants we usually see at Christmas (since they are synonymous with spring), they start appearing as early as December if the winter has been mild. The yellow flowers contain a poisonous alkaloid that is toxic to both dogs and cats. Even a few bites of the flower can cause kidney failure and even death, while crystals in the bulbs can cause serious conditions such as cardiac arrhythmias or respiratory depression.

    Christmas plants

    Safe holiday plants to place around your home at Christmas are Christmas cactus, Christmas orchid, Christmas fern (Dagger fern) and African violet. While dogs and cats aren’t immediately drawn to holiday plants (like they might be drawn to your dinner plate), if you’re ever in doubt about whether a plant is safe to have around your pets, you can’t go wrong by using the artificial version of flowers and evergreen.


    Ingestion of potpourri causes significant gastrointestinal upset in dogs. This can last several days even after the material has passed through their system and is probably related to the irritating nature of the dried material rather than any toxic effects. Many liquid potpourri products and essential oils, including oil of cinnamon, citrus, pennyroyal, peppermint, pine, sweet birch, tea tree (melaleuca), wintergreen, and ylang ylang, are poisonous to cats. Both ingestion and skin exposure can be toxic. Keep bowls of potpourri and containers of essential oils away from your pets.


    Tinsel may be cheap and flashy but it’s a serious hazard to your dog or cat (particularly to your cat, because they’re more curious), who often can’t resist eating it and therefore risk choking on it, or getting it stuck in their intestines if they swallow it. We recommend that you skip using it altogether!

    Chewing and tasting are instincts our pets use to explore their environment. To them, gifts, boxes, ribbons, and tinsel are not only a game waiting to happen, they’re new to the environment and chewing on them is a way to check them out. If swallowed, ribbon can cause serious issues, including blockage and perforation of the intestinal track. Also, avoid putting gifts under the tree that contain food. Cats and dogs have a keen sense of smell and can hunt out food not meant for them, even through wrapping and packaging.


    To keep our pets safe during the holidays, it's important to be mindful of potential hazards. From using pet-friendly candles and artificial trees to avoiding toxic plants and keeping small objects out of reach, we can create a safer environment. Taking these simple precautions allows us to enjoy the festivities while ensuring the well-being of our furry friends.