The Challenge of Dogs and Holiday Decorating

The holidays can be very exciting even for your dog, with so many interesting new things to investigate. Up goes the tree and the ornaments. Down go the fancy, wrapped gifts and bags. Yet, decorating for the holidays when you have a dog can be challenging. Here are some suggestions to make the Christmas tree a safer experience for your pet.

Dogs like to chew, so electrical cords need to be made safe to keep your pet from being electrocuted. Pet supply stores may carry rubbery plastic tubing to go around the cables, but if you have a puppy of a strong dog who chews things he shouldn’t, get solid plastic electric wire encasements or computer cable conduit for better protection. If nothing else, you can tape the cords to the floor lengthwise with sturdy duct tape. 

To your dog, the tree stand is a watering hole. Find a stand that is wide to avoid being knocked over easily, with a deep-set water well that is covered or partially obscured. If that is not available, keep the tree stand covered with heavy aluminum foil, and keep it blocked from easy access. The standing water can contain tree pesticides, mold or bacteria. Don’t put in any chemicals, including aspirin or NSAIDs, in the water at the base. They can be dangerous-to-deadly if ingested.

The biggest reason to keep your dogs away from the tree is their tendency to want to mark trees. Suggestions include putting aluminum foil around the trunk of the tree at its base, or putting empty boxes wrapped as gifts around the trunk of the tree to keep your dog from getting near it.

Another thing to consider is that pine needles can scratch eyes, puncture soft paw pads, their oils can cause mouth and stomach irritation, they can get caught in the throat or puncture tissue, and they are not digestible. 

You might toss dog treats away from the tree as a reward to condition your pet to stay away from it. It’s good to teach your dog to settle down on a mat even in a busy environment, where she can watch the tree from a safe distance. Some pet supply stores have indoor fencing to surround and protect the tree and gifts. Small to medium dogs can be kept out of the room by simply putting a baby gate in the doorway.

Any gifts that include food, especially chocolate, nuts, raisins and currants, alcohol and deadly xylitol need to be put safely away in cabinets, far out of the reach of your dog. Dogs have a keen sense of smell and have been known to find ingenious ways to get to the goodies, including climbing on countertops. There is nothing like coming home from a party to find Bowser finishing off a box of chocolates. Then it’s off to the emergency vet for a night of stomach pumping or induced vomiting. 

It’s best to decorate the tree a little higher up than your dog’s height. Find a way to secure glass ornaments tightly onto the higher branches, or perhaps do without them until your dog is more mature. Use yarn tied in a loop instead of metal ornament hooks. Don’t use jingle bells (little or big), salt dough ornaments, tinsel, glass, candy decorations, strings of popcorn or cranberries, or any ornaments with parts that could be broken apart and swallowed. Although it may look pretty, spray snow flocking is poisonous if eaten, so if you are of a mind to have snow, perhaps only a smattering around the top.

Some interesting approaches to dog-proofing your Christmas tree that were found online: a string of bells to sound an intruder alert if your dog enters the tree zone, anchoring the top of the tree to the wall, or else anchoring the base with a sandbag, or make an aluminum foil tree skirt. 

Finally, please remember to clean up while the gift-giving is in progress. Leftover wrappings and ribbons, tiny toy parts, scattered batteries and opened food or candies can pose a threat to your dog while others are not paying attention. Your dog is a part of the family, and with a few adjustments, she can enjoy the festivities with everyone.

Heron’s Crossing provides end-of-life care for pets in the Metro Atlanta area. In-home appointments with compassionate vets are available. If you’d prefer a home-like setting away from your home, our Decatur office is also available by appointment.