It’s a highlight of the Christmas season: finding and decorating a Christmas tree for your home. Perhaps you put it up as early as Thanksgiving weekend, with the family all assembled for that first special lighting. Or maybe you’re a strictly Christmas Eve person, letting your tree shine bright for just a few magical nights. But there’s a downside for pet owners, as an elegant Christmas tree can also be an invitation to chaos—nothing spoils your festive mood quite like puppy shattering that heirloom ornament or kitty getting sick on candy cane reindeer.
While those of us who live with dogs or cats know it involves sacrifice (I know I’ll never have a pristine white couch, or a black sweater that’s not covered in a veil of yellow fur), there are things we can do to prevent our pets from fussing with our Christmas trees. We’ve compiled a list of tips and tricks that’ll have you and your pets singing “O Tannenbaum” in harmony this holiday season.
1. Avoid low-hanging, breakable ornaments and dangling lights.
According to Shell Meador, owner of Oklahoma City holiday decorating company Ms. Christmas, low-hanging ornaments are asking for trouble with pets in the house. “Pets like to lay underneath the tree,” she says, “and low-hanging ornaments will get broken and tangled.” It’s best to hang heavier, more breakable ornaments up high, and to avoid lights or garlands that dangle too low. Cat owners beware: if you’re worried your feline friends will still be able to get to your ornaments, consider un-breakables. “Opt for plastic bulbs instead of glass,” advises holiday expert Felicia Ramos-Peters, founder of GetHolidayHappy.com.
Not a fan of plastic? Celebrity pet and family lifestyle expert Colleen Paige favors more organic alternatives. “A good choice is handmade paper ornaments or dried fruit like apples and oranges hung by thin twine,” she says. These ornaments won’t hurt your pets if chewed or ingested (though they could pose a choking hazard), and they’ll give your tree a homey, rustic appearance.
2. Stay away from candy and nuts on or around the tree.
While dried fruit is unlikely to attract pets to your tree, more appealing treats—like candy, nuts and cookies—certainly will. “I recommend no edible ornaments or gifts under the tree or in stockings until Christmas morning,” says Meador. “No gingerbread men, no candy canes and no chocolate in the stockings.” If there’s candy on or under your tree, your pets will do what it takes to get it, even if they knock the tree down in the process. And more concerning still is the potential for poisoning: chocolate is extremely toxic to pets, as are some nuts—including macadamia nuts. Be vigilant with these foods, as the last thing anyone wants is a Christmas morning trip to the vet!
While avoiding hooks and ribbons may sound overly cautious to some, it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to our precious pets—after all, they’re part of the holiday fun, too. “Safety comes first in my book,” says Paige. If you’re a pet owner, she advises against the metal hooks commonly used to hang ornaments, as well as bows or ribbons “that a pet could get tangled in and possibly choked by.” To hang your ornaments, she recommends using “twine or string that can be more easily digested if ingested.” This is just as easy to use as hooks, and has the added benefit of more securely fastening ornaments to the tree so they can’t be knocked off.
4. Just say no to tinsel.
“Tinsel is really pretty and cats and dogs seem to be very attracted to it,” Ramos-Peters says. “It can be a real danger if they consume it.” If caught in a dog or cat’s intestines, tinsel can cause problems and require expensive surgery. If you want a little bit of sparkle (and I think we all could use a little!) try it in smaller flourishes that are harder for pets—particularly curious cats—to access. “Stick to garland that is wrapped around the tree really well,” says Ramos-Peters. This adds a bit of sparkle without being too enticing, plus you don’t get tinsel all over your living room. It’s a win-win!
5. Elevate and secure your Christmas tree to avoid pet interference.
To keep small pets like puppies away from your tree, elevation is a great solution. “Now you can buy tree stands that look like pots,” Meador says. “Those will elevate your tree around 28-36 inches off the ground. That will definitely keep your puppies and smaller pets out of the tree.” Prefer to elevate your tree without buying a new stand? A low end table can work in a pinch. “Just put your tree skirt over the top of it,” Meador says. This can get wobbly, but Paige has a strategy for keeping your tree upright. “Use wire or fishing line to secure your tree to the nearest wall, or even the ceiling, to prevent the tree from falling over on your pet,” she advises.
6. Keep the area under your tree safe and off-limits to pets.
If you’re worried about dogs and cats drinking tree water, messing with electrical wires or chewing on branches, it’s best to make that cozy under-the-tree spot off-limits. “Putting a pretty protective wooden gate around the front of the tree is a great way to keep a pet from coming into contact with it,” says Paige. For her clients, Meador takes a more DIY approach, stuffing grocery or Ziploc bags with tissue paper and placing them under the tree skirt for a pretty, flouncy look. “It works to keep pets out,” she says, “and it doesn’t look so flat and plain under the tree.” While you’re at it, it’s also important to make sure your electrical cords are orderly and outlets not overloaded. “The biggest issue I see is people overloading their electrical outlets during the holidays,” Meador says. “I think that’s dangerous for pets, people, babies—everything.”
Maura McAndrew is a freelance writer based in Oklahoma. She also writes for Paste Magazine and HelloGiggles.