Are Christmas Trees Poisonous to Cats and Dogs?

Picture of dogs a cat by Christmas Tree

With the holiday season just around the corner, families are starting to turn their attention towards decorating their homes for Christmas. The holidays are fraught with many different plants that pose hazards to our pets including holly, mistletoe, and poinsettia. With so many new sights and sounds in our homes over the Yuletide season, many pets are drawn to investigate. While some pets limit themselves to a cursory sniff, others aren’t satisfied until they have taken a chomp out of the plants, flowers, or tree, a practice that could lead to a visit to the emergency room and an expensive veterinary bill. We know that many popular Christmas plants can be toxic to dogs and cats, but what about the beloved family Christmas tree? Are Christmas trees poisonous to dogs and cats?

Potential Problems with Family Pets and Christmas Trees

With so many Christmas flowers and plants firmly on the no-no list, many families wonder if having a Christmas tree in their home is safe for their pets. Generally speaking, Christmas trees pose little risk for dogs and cats. If consumed, neither their bark nor their needles are poisonous.

However, simply because the Christmas tree is not toxic if ingested does not mean that it cannot pose a danger in a home with pets. Here are some of the problems which can occur if care is not exercised in keeping dogs and cats at a safe distance from the family Christmas tree:

Pine needles

Pine needles can be sharp to the touch. Though artificial trees possess needles that are much duller and unlikely to be a concern, real trees shed their needles regularly. If a dog or cat is in the line of fire of shedding needles or jostles the tree and cause a windfall to occur, it is possible that one of the needles could come in contact with the pet’s eye. Pine needles can scratch the surface of the eye, causing painful lacerations which could later affect vision.

The oils emitted from fir tree needles can also cause irritation of the mouth, throat, and gums if eaten.

Most Christmas trees will yield at least a little sap throughout the holiday season. Though this sap is not toxic, it is rich and can cause gastrointestinal distress in dogs or cats that choose to sample a bit.

For families whose pets find the Christmas tree irresistible, an artificial tree may be the way to go.

If permitted to get too close to your tree or to play rambunctiously around it, it is possible your dog or cat could knock it over, causing ornaments to spill to the ground. Though some of today’s ornaments are made of lightweight plastic, others are constructed from delicate glass which will shatter on impact. These flying pieces could become embedded in your dog or cat’s coat or eyes. If stepped on, lacerations of the feet could occur, or shards of glass could become lodged in sensitive paw pads.

Most ornament manufacturers have moved from traditional wire hooks to the use of ribbon, yarn, or even twine. Wire hooks pose a particularly dangerous hazard for pets. Swallowing a hook could lead to a dangerous tear in the throat or intestines. If stepped on, hooks can easily become embedded in flesh, causing painful tears.

Tree water
Though the fresh water that is added to the Christmas tree is safe for pet consumption, some Christmas trees are treated with preservatives, fertilizers, and even pesticides to keep the tree healthy and to encourage longevity. Aspirin is also a common additive which can help increase a tree’s life cycle once cut. Though these items are helpful for the tree, they can cause serious health problems for your dog or cat. It is recommended that all dishes containing tree water be properly covered to prevent your pets from drinking it and becoming ill.

Christmas lights
It isn’t so much the lights themselves as what they are attached to that can cause problems for our dogs and cats. The bulbs themselves do heat up over time and could cause painful burns for pets that get too close to them. However, the greater hazard comes from those pets that see a plastic cord and think it is a good idea to give it a good old-fashioned chew, a practice which could lead to a fire, painful burns of the skin or mouth, or electrocution.

Chewing on exposed wires is also a leading cause in fluid accumulation on the lungs which is most often fatal.

Tinsel is one of the most dangerous things you can add to your Christmas tree. Since tinsel comes in long, fibrous strands, it can easily become tangled around intestines if swallowed. If this should occur, surgery will be necessary to remove the tinsel and save the dog or cat’s life.

Common symptoms of tinsel consumption include reduced appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, and extreme fatigue.

Gift wrapping
Though some dogs and cats are attracted to unwrapping gifts under the tree long before Christmas Day, it is the paper, bows, and gift cards placed on the present that are of a greater concern for pet owners. Dogs and cats are particularly drawn to playing with wrapping paper remnants, pieces of ribbon, and even small parts and pieces from toys, etc. Many of these items can easily be swallowed leading to discomfort at best and serious health complications at worst.

Keeping the Christmas Tree and Family Pets Safe

The best course of action to keep both the Christmas tree and all family pets safe during the holiday season is prevention. There are several approaches you can take. The easiest way to keep the tree and all pets apart from one another is by placing the tree in a room that can be closed off from pet access when you cannot be present to provide proper supervision. If you want to keep the doors open to enjoy the holiday decorations all throughout the day, you can install baby gates in each of the entrance points to keep dogs and cats far away from the tree.

Some families like to make use of ex-pens (a type of indoor wire fencing) to place around their Christmas tree. Though this mars the overall look to a degree, it is one means to ensure that the Christmas tree remains intact, and all pets are free from potential harm.

If you are unable to be within the house to provide appropriate supervision, dogs and cats should be crated or restricted to an area where they cannot access the tree.

Are Christmas trees poisonous to dogs and cats? Though eating pine needles or sap can cause some gastrointestinal distress at the worst; no, Christmas trees are not toxic to family pets. To keep each member of the family safe this holiday season, employ one of our top tips to keep Fido and Fifi from getting up to mischief this Christmas.



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