Tips for Pet-Proofing Your Christmas Tree

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

pet safe christmas tree

Story at-a-glance -

  • A Christmas tree is a holiday staple for many homes, but it’s one that could pose unforeseen dangers to your pets
  • A medium-sized tree (about 5 feet tall) is less likely to be knocked over by pets than taller options
  • Avoid tinsel, which is attractive to pets and may obstruct their digestive tract if swallowed
  • Choose shatterproof ornaments made from natural materials like wool, silk and wood; avoid decorating your tree with foods like candy canes or cookies
  • Anchor your tree to the wall to avoid toppling and be careful with electrical cords, which pets may try to chew

A Christmas tree is the centerpiece of holiday decorations in many homes, and you may wait in anticipation of the day it’s finally fully decorated each year. In fact, so may your pet, and therein lies the problem. A sparkly, tinseled-up tree adorning a formerly barren corner in your family room may prove irresistible to your cat or dog, who may view it as his personal play thing, hide out or climbing accessory.

Dogs may chew its ornaments, cats may climb its branches and both species may subsequently knock it over during an overly rambunctious bout of play. The good news is it’s possible for your Christmas tree and your pet to co-exist peacefully — and safely — this holiday season.

10 Tips for a Pet-Safe Christmas Tree

1. Ditch the Tinsel — Rule No. 1 is to avoid this stringy, sparkly holiday favorite at all cost. Tinsel, with its light-catching abilities, is an attractive toy for cats and dogs, who may swallow it and end up with an obstructed digestive tract. Choose other forms of garland instead, preferably those made from natural materials and wrapped snugly around your tree.

2. Choose a Medium-Sized Tree — An unanchored Christmas tree is an accident waiting to happen if you have pets. This is especially true if it’s 7 feet or taller, according to holiday décor retailer Balsam Hill. “The taller the tree is, the greater the chances it has of getting knocked over by frisky pets,” they say, recommending a medium-sized (about 5 feet tall) tree instead of taller varieties for households with pets.1

3. Don’t Decorate With Food — It may sound cute to adorn your tree with candy canes and gingerbread cookies, but what you’re really creating is a smorgasbord for your pet — one that could potentially make him sick or invite him to knock over the tree. Even seemingly innocent food items, like popcorn garland, should be avoided, as your pet may ingest the string along with the popcorn.

4. Choose Shatter-Proof Ornaments Made With Natural Materials — Glass ornaments are easily breakable by pets, especially if they’re on low-hanging branches, which could pose risks of cuts and scrapes to your pets. Shatter-proof ornaments should take priority if you have pets; look for those made of natural materials, such as wool, silk or wood.

According to Balsam Hill, “Simple twig or paper decorations dyed with food coloring are inexpensive and safe ornaments … Silk Christmas ornaments are a great alternative to glass and rarely get damaged when played with by curious pets.”2

5. Consider an Artificial Tree — Your dog or cat may be drawn to the pine needles of a real Christmas tree, and could get an upset stomach if he ingests too many. Your cat may also be inclined to climb the real tree trunk, even more so than one on an artificial tree, which could cause it to fall over. Wrapping the trunk in foil may help prevent this.

Real trees also pose the problem of standing water, which breeds bacteria; if your pet drinks it, he could suffer from nausea or diarrhea. If you do have a real tree, be sure the water basin comes with a cover.

6. Anchor Your Tree — The best way to ensure your Christmas tree doesn’t topple if your pets decide to get frisky is to anchor it to a wall or even the ceiling. A strong, sturdy base will also help to prevent mishaps.

7. Be Careful With Electrical Cords — Long extension cords or other electrical wires pose the risk of electrocution and burns if chewed and may also pose a risk of entanglement. Remove the temptation for your pet to use cords as a play thing by using short extension cords, rolling up any slack and taping any loose sections down to the floor or wall. There are also extension cords available that will shut off if they’re damaged — a must for pet owners.

8. Place Heirloom Ornaments at the Top — For ornaments that were expensive or those that hold sentimental value, place them out of reach of your pets. Usually, this means near the top of the tree, where they can’t be easily knocked off should your pets come near.

9. Attach Ornaments Securely to the Tree — If you’re using metal hooks, be sure to form them securely around the branches. You may even want to ditch metal hooks entirely (they could be swallowed by your pet) in favor of twine or string that can be fastened to branches.

10. Make Your Tree Inaccessible to Pets — If your pets are particularly persistent when it comes to exploring, damaging or risking injury to be near your Christmas tree, consider making it completely inaccessible to your pets. You may use a baby gate to keep your pet away, put the tree on an elevated stand (which will make it out of the reach of small pets and puppies) or place it in a room where your pet is not allowed.

Once you’ve tackled pet-proofing your Christmas tree, you’ll probably realize that it’s just one potential hazard to your pet come the holidays. For more ideas on how to keep your pet safe, be sure to read these holiday safety tips for pet lovers.