Why are Christmas trees dangerous to cats and dogs? Top Tips for pet safety

Are Christmas Trees dangerous to Cats and Dogs?

One of the things that really signals Christmas is here, is putting up the Christmas tree and decorations. There’s nothing quite like heading out on a chilly afternoon to the local Fayre and picking the perfect tree. The smell of fresh pine fills the house when you bring in a live fir tree and proudly stand it in its place ( almost touching the ceiling!) ready to bedeck in all its fine glory. 

The squeals of delight you hear in our house when we are rummaging through the decorations box you’d think we’d never seen tinsel or a glass bauble before, but we are always mindful of our pets and keep them well out of the way when the decorating frenzy is upon us.

Once we’ve sat back with a glass of mulled wine to admire our handiwork and have cleared away all the old broken baubles and safely stashed the unused decorations; well blue and purple don’t go with this year’s red and gold theme. It’s time to let the pets in.

The cat sits on the piano and watches the dog who’s busy sniffing the lowest branches and jingling the bell.  I wonder if she’s going to make a flying leap into the tree this year? Let’s hope not. 

Christmas trees are poisonous to cats, dogs and other pets

Christmas trees whether real or fake can pose potential threats to the cat, dog and to Henry our chatty mynah bird who likes to have a flap and hop about every now and then. It’s not just the trees either, some plants that are popular this time of year are really not pet friendly. Here’s run down of some of the things to be mindful of this holiday season.

Are Christmas Trees dangerous to Cats and Dogs?

Potential hazards for pets from Christmas Trees

We love to decorate our home with a Christmas Tree every year but it does contain some risk to our pets. The temptation for some cats to climb the tree and play with the decorations can be irresistible so we do need to make sure we keep an eye on them and are aware of the potential hazards our sparkly, twinkly, tinsel covered wonder holds for them. 

Table 1. Christmas tree and decoration hazards for pets

ObjectHazards and SymptomsPets at risk
Live Christmas Trees:
Fir, spruce, and pine
Oils from these trees if consumed can cause irritation in the mouth leading to excessive drooling or vomiting.Affects cats and dogs.
Live Christmas Trees:
Fir, spruce, and pine
Needles can perforate intestines as well as causing gastrointestinal irritation,vomiting and obstruction.Affects cats and dogs.
Artificial TreesNeedles and spray-on snow can cause gastrointestinal irritation, vomiting and obstructionAffects cats and dogs.
Live Tree preservatives /fertilised waterGastrointestinal irritation, vomiting and diarrhea Affects cats and dogs.
Ornaments: Glass, Clay, Salt dough, ceramicChoking, vomiting, Gastrointestinal irritation,cuts from broken glass to pawsAffects cats and dogs.
String of lightsChoking and electrical burnsAffects cats and dogs and free flying birds.
Table 1. Christmas tree and decoration hazards for pets
Are Christmas Trees dangerous to Cats and Dogs?

Poisonous plants for pets at Christmas time 

Besides the Christmas Tree and decoration hazards there are a number of plants that are popular in the Christmas Holiday season that are potentially dangerous to your pets. 

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Although they have lived in our homes for many centuries, they are still animals, and need us to protect them from the hazards of our world.  More than 100,000 companion animals are treated each year for some type of poisoning.  One of the biggest reasons for this is toxic plants. To be on the safe side try and avoid having them in your house and if you do, ensure all these plants are kept out of paw’s reach.

Table 2. Holiday plants that can be toxic to pets

PlantSymptomsPets at risk
HollyVomiting, diaorrhea, difficulty breathing, low heart rate. Internal injury from leaves. Holly contains saponins, which can cause severe stomach upset.Toxic to both dogs and cats.
Mistletoecardiovascular collapse, difficulty breathing, erratic behaviour, vomiting, and diarrheaToxic to both cats and dogs.
Lilieskidney failure from grooming pollen from fur, gastrointestinal upset, heart arrhythmias, and convulsions. Cats are highly sensitive to lilies. 
Amaryllissalivation, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, decreased appetite, lethargy, and tremors Affects both dogs and cats.
Poinsettia Causes irritation in the stomach and mouth if ingested. Not generally life-threatening. Affects both dogs and cats.
IvyVomiting, abdominal pain, drooling, diarrhea. Foliage is more toxic than berries.Toxic to both cats and dogs
LilyKidney failure Toxic to cats, non-toxic to dogs. This plant, in particular, is highly toxic to cats and can cause death. 
Aloe VeraVomiting, lethargy, diarrhea. Poisonous to both dogs and cat.
Table 2. Holiday plants that can be toxic to pets
Are Christmas Trees dangerous to Cats and Dogs?
How to keep your cat safe at christmas

Tips on how to prevent Christmas tree and plant dangers to your pets

  1. Make sure plants are out of reach of dogs. Put them on shelves, tables and even better close the door when you are not in the room.
  2. If you know your pet likes to chew, then choose artificial plants over real ones s they contain less oils and toxinz,but they can still hold many hazards so never leave your pet alone in the room with them.
  3. Cats can jump really high and easily knock plants off shelves, or sit and have a quiet chew on leaves when you are  not looking, so keep them away from the plants.
  4. Put your Christmas tree on a small table or put up a temporary barrier (we use an old fireguard – or your could use a baby playpen) to stop pets wandering underneath and chewing the tree, or presents.
  5. If you suspect your pet has consumed any bits or plant, tree or decoration then seek veterinary advice immediately to be on the safe side.
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Potential foods toxic to pets at Christmas

At this time of year there are lots of lovely foods and nibbles available and it’s tempting to share them with your pets, but a lot of them will not be good for them. 

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Here’s a helpful guide from Davies Veterinary Specialists about potential food hazards at Christmas time.

Table 3. Christmas foods that are dangerous for pets.

FoodHazard and symptomsVeterinary Tip
Can cats and dogs eat chocolate?This is an absolute NO, at any time of year. There is a chemical in chocolate called theobromine. It triggers vomiting, diarrhoea, hyperactivity, tremors, seizures, problems with the heart, and can be fatal. The darker the chocolate, the more severe the effect.TIP: Don’t put chocolates on or under your Christmas tree, and never leave them lying around.
Can cats and dogs eat mince pies?Again, this is a NO. Grapes, currants, sultanas, and raisins are all poisonous for dogs. For dogs, even the smallest amount of Christmas pudding can cause severe kidney failure. It is unknown if these foods also pose a risk to cats, but it is advisable to avoid.TIP: Keep mince pies, Christmas pudding, and any other food with these ingredients well away from your pets.
Can cats and dogs eat macadamia nuts?These nuts are often found in biscuits and used as snacks at Christmas time. They can bring on weakness, vomiting, tremors and hyperthermia in dogs.TIP: Say no to macadamia nuts for your pets.
Can cats and dogs eat stuffing?It is best not to feed your pet leftover stuffing since it often contains onions and/or garlic which are both toxic to dogs and can cause stomach upset.TIP: Simply don’t feed your pet leftover stuffing.
Can cats and dogs eat cheese?If your pet has a healthy diet then morsels of cheese as an occasional treat are acceptable, but be aware that some types, such as blue cheese, can produce toxins that cause rapid onset convulsions in dogs.TIP: Cheese as a treat only in moderation but to be avoided if your dog is lactose intolerant.
Can cats and dogs have leftover bones?All bones, even big ones, have the potential to cause problems if swallowed. Bones can splinter when chewed and there is the risk that fragments may get stuck in the oesophagus or cause damage to the throat and stomach. For a safe way to give the benefits of bones to your pet check out our recipe for Turkey Carcass Bone Broth

We hope that you have a very Merry Christmas with your family and pets. If you’re feeling creative, check out my post on 20 Christmas Decorations to make at home this year.

Are Christmas Trees dangerous to Cats and Dogs?