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Dogs are naturally curious creatures, and the holidays offer the opportunity for them to investigate many new objects and foods. Christmas trees in particular can be intriguing to dogs—but pose a risk for a number of reasons. It’s critical to protect your Christmas tree and holiday decorations from your dog to avoid accidents that may result in injury or illness.
Why Should I Dog-Proof My Christmas Tree?
Given the opportunity, many dogs will gladly investigate a new, interesting object in the home. It can be frustrating when dogs disrupt the freshly decorated Christmas tree, but an encounter with the Christmas tree could also cause your dog to injure themselves—enough that a trip to the veterinarian is needed. If you notice your dog is injured or not feeling well after messing with the Christmas tree, contact your local veterinary clinic immediately.
Common accidents that can happen when your dog has access to the Christmas tree include:
Knocking Over the Christmas Tree
As dogs sniff, play, and investigate, they may accidentally get too rough and knock the tree over. As the tree falls, it can land on them and hurt them. Even smaller and lighter trees pose a risk to larger dogs, because they may jump or twist as they get startled and sprain or strain a muscle.
Ingesting Decorations and Ornaments
Everyone loves a decorated Christmas tree, but ornaments, tinsel, garland, candy canes, and foods hung from the tree can be hard to resist for most pups. Delicate glass ornaments and the hooks used to hang them can injure a dog’s mouth and, if swallowed, can cause injuries to the stomach and intestines.
Strings and tinsel can be fun to chew on but, if swallowed, can cause choking or obstruction in the gastrointestinal tract. If candy or food hung from the tree is ingested, a dog may end up with an upset stomach (vomiting, diarrhea, decreased appetite) or, worse, toxicity poisoning. Sugar-free candies that contain xylitol and artificial sweeteners, peppermint candy canes, gingerbread men, and salt dough ornaments can all cause harm to dogs and are best left off the tree.
Loose Tree Needles and Lights
Fresh trees and aging artificial trees may lose needles, which can be sharp. If a dog ingests a needle from the tree, the needle could poke through the stomach or intestines, resulting in serious infection in the abdomen.
In addition, lights strung from the tree may become hot and could cause burns on a dog’s mouth if touched or chewed on. Dogs can also electrocute themselves if they chew on electrical wires. This can cause burns and pain in the mouth or could result in irregular heartbeats, pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs), brain damage, or death.
Water from live trees may contain oils, such as fir or pine oil, which can cause irritation to the stomach. The water may also be treated with fertilizers, pesticides, or preservatives that could be toxic to a dog. Be sure to monitor your dog when around the Christmas tree to ensure protective measures are in place to avoid any injuries.
How To Protect Christmas Trees From a Dog
There are many things that can go wrong if your dog is left unsupervised with a Christmas tree, but there are things you can do to help keep your dog (and your tree) safe this holiday season.
Use a Fence or Gate for Protection
Try to limit your dog’s access to the tree by putting a gate or fence around the tree. Likewise, pens used to keep dogs confined are a great way to keep pups away from the tree. You may want to consider limiting access to the room where the Christmas tree is located by using dog gates. Even if your dog hasn’t shown much interest in the tree, it is best to not leave them unsupervised around it. When you’re away, consider keeping your dog in their kennel to keep them safe.
Keep your dog safe by tucking away wires and keeping them out of reach. Avoid stringing lights from the lower branches of the tree, keep electrical wires within the confines of a gate, and consider using special protectors designed to prevent your dog from chewing on wires.
Use Pet-safe Decorations
When decorating the tree, use trimmings that are safe for dogs. Avoid tinsel on the tree, use string or ribbon in place of metal hooks to hang ornaments, avoid using fragile ornaments, and avoid hanging food or candy. Avoid hanging decorations from lower branches where they can be easily reached.
Fasten the Tree and Ornaments
Fasten the tree to a wall or secure place to help keep it from falling on your dog. Make sure ornaments and decorations on the tree are securely attached as well. Ornaments can be tied to the tree using ribbon or string, or they can be fastened to branches using twist ties.
Maintenance and Cleanup
Make sure to sweep up needles and debris (both from artificial and real trees) frequently to help prevent curious pets from ingesting them. Keeping real trees watered may help decrease needle shedding, but take steps to prevent pets from drinking the water. An Elizabethan collar or E-collar can be placed around the tree stand to help keep pets out of the water. You can also get creative and find ways to cover the water with a plastic lid or foil.
Leave the Presents for Christmas
Don’t just think about what you are putting on the tree to keep your dog safe—keep in mind what you are putting under it as well. Avoid putting presents under the tree until you are ready to open them. If you do put presents under the tree, don’t place presents that contain food or interesting scents. Keep any presents under the tree within a pen or gate to prevent your dog from accessing them.
Set up a Camera or Alarm, Just in Case
Find a way to monitor the tree when you aren’t home (or when you are in a different area of the house). Put a pet camera on the tree so you can monitor if your dog is messing with it, or use an alarm system that alerts you or makes a noise if your dog gets too close to the tree. It’s also helpful for an alarm to notify you if a dog knocks down the gate or pen that is protecting the tree.
Keeping your dog and Christmas tree safe this holiday season may require a little creative thinking and some steps to teach your pet some new boundaries, but it will be worth it to avoid the injuries or illnesses that can result from inappropriate interactions with the Christmas tree. If your dog does get into trouble and is showing signs of injury or not feeling well, make sure to reach out to their veterinarian to discuss what next steps to consider.
Featured Image: iStock.com/Aleksandar Jankovic
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