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10 Steps for a Cat Safe Holiday Tree

By: Dr. Debra Primovic

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The day after Thanksgiving kicks off the Christmas holiday season, and millions of homes sport either real or faux trees – glittering towers of beauty that can pose a threat to your pets. Before you put the tree up, take a few moments to go over some safety precautions.

1. Choose the Right Spot. Pick an area where the tree can be enjoyed by the family without becoming a "climbing toy" for your pet. The tree should be secured to the wall or ceiling, away from furniture that can serve as a springboard for your pet. Try to place the tree near an outlet so you don't have to run electrical cords long distances.

2. Prepare the Area. Lay down plastic sheeting or buy 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 as they fall from the tree – and prevent them from being chewed or swallowed by your pet.

3. Secure the Tree. Cats – kittens especially - love to climb trees. Many a tree has been sent swaying with a happy kitten on top. Kittens can be injured if the trees or ornaments fall and break. Dogs can knock over a tree by rubbing against or 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. The clear line is invisible.

4. Hide the Cords. Electrical cords are a grave danger to pets – especially puppies and kittens that chew on anything. Cords can cause electrocution and serious injury or even death. Secure the cords by positioning them higher than the pet can reach or hiding them with special covers.

5. No Hooks. 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.

6. Choose Safe Ornaments. There is no perfectly pet-safe bulb, as any ornament can be ingested and cause an intestinal obstruction. Pet "safer" bulbs would be plastic or wood. Glass bulbs on the lower limbs can be especially dangerous. If broken, pets can step on them and cut their feet or worse yet – treat the bulbs like a ball and chew on them causing them to break, resulting in mouth or throat trauma and bleeding. Many pet owners have learned the hard way not to place any ornaments on the lower limbs. Ornaments made of food may be especially attractive to pets.

7. Ribbons. Big red velvet ribbons are a lovely addition and may replace tinsel and garland that can be eaten by cats and dogs 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.

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

9. Sweep and Water. Sweep up the pine needles. Ingestion of needles can cause vomiting and gastric irritation. Keep the tree watered and only turn the lights on when you are at home. Risk of fire is always there with a live tree. Do not allow your pet access to the tree water to drink.

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

Consider these steps for a holiday safe tree. For other tips on holiday hazards, please click on Holiday Hazards.

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