Wednesday, November 28, 2012

How to keep your pets safe this Holiday Season

With Thanksgiving behind us, millions of homes are now preparing for the bedecking of a Christmas tree, not realizing that these sparkling towers of beauty can pose a threat to their pets.

Before putting up your tree, consider these safety precautions.

• Pick an area where the tree can be enjoyed without becoming a "climbing toy" for your pet. The tree should be secured to the wall or ceiling, away from furniture that can be used as a springboard by your pet. Many a tree has been sent swaying by a happy kitten. Cats can be injured if the tree or ornaments fall and break. Dogs can knock over a tree by playing under it. You can place the tree in a corner and secure it from two sides to small hooks in the walls. Another trick is to place a small hook in the ceiling above the tree and use clear fishing line from the top of the tree to the hook; apply gentle tension and tie.

• Place the tree near an outlet so you don't have to run electrical cords long distances. Electrical cords are a grave danger to pets - especially puppies and kittens who chew on anything. Cords can cause electrocution, serious injury, or even death. Secure the cords by positioning them higher than the pet can reach or hiding them with special covers.

• Sweep up any pine needles that fall. Ingestion of needles can cause vomiting and gastric irritation. Lay down plastic sheeting or a "tree bag." This is an extra-large trash bag used for live trees. Center the tree on the bag. When the season is over and you have removed the tree ornaments, pull the bag over the tree. This will catch the pine needles and prevent them from being chewed or swallowed by your pet.

• Check your ornaments and replace hooks with a loop of string tied in a knot. Ornaments often fall from the tree and pets may catch their mouths on or swallow the hooks.

• There is no completely pet-safe bulb. Pet "safer" bulbs are plastic or wood. Glass bulbs on the lower limbs are especially dangerous. If broken, pets can step on them and cut their feet or play with the bulbs and chew on them causing them to break, resulting in mouth or throat trauma or an intestinal obstruction. Many pet owners have learned the hard way not to place ornaments on the lower limbs. Ornaments made of food are especially attractive to pets.

• Big red velvet ribbons are lovely and may replace tinsel and garlands that could be eaten by pets and caught in their intestine. Cats are especially attracted to the bright shiny tinsel. Ingestion of this material can cause intestinal obstruction that may require surgery.

• Dogs and cats love to investigate and most don't understand that presents are not meant to be opened before Christmas Day. Decorative ribbons and string can be ingested and gifts can be destroyed by a playful pet. Consider storing presents in a safe area until right before the holiday or make sure your pet is always supervised while searching for his special gift.

• Keep the tree watered and only turn the lights on when you are at home. Fire is always a risk with a live tree. Do not allow your pet to drink from the tree well.

The safest thing to do is to allow your pet access to the tree only when supervised. Pets who continue to bother the tree should be encouraged with positive reinforcement to leave it alone. Bitter apple can be sprayed on low branches for persistent chewers.

Ed Boks is the executive director of the Yavapai Humane Society. He can be reached at or by calling 445-2666, ext. 21.