I have great news for all inquiring minds: my tree is up, and so far two dogs, a cat, AND a human baby haven’t conspired to knock it over, eat it or pull the lights down. Let’s not underestimate how happy I am not to have had to cage my tree.
My favorite part of the holidays, a sentiment many pets share, is the tree. You have brought the outdoors in! You erected a giant jungle gym with shiny toys and then put edible presents under it! Honestly, what could be better?
The number-one thing that all households with ANY cats or curious dogs should eliminate is tinsel. I love tinsel in theory. I love the way the lights reflect off of it and turn your tree into a shimmering vision of joy. It makes everything glittery and fun. The one thing that it does NOT make fun is extensive gastrointestinal issues, veterinary bills and surgery.
It combines two of the things cats love most: shininess and swaying string. Tinsel wreaks havoc in the gastrointestinal tract and usually leads to surgery. Tinsel poop may be pretty, but not picking through it to try and count strands (do you even KNOW how many are missing to compare?)
There are simply no good animal and tinsel stories, unless it is about them gazing longingly through a window at it. If you cannot bear to live without tinsel, make sure that it is on the highest reaches of the tree that no pet can reach or jump to (but better yet, get a pet-less friend to put it up and just visit them.)
My cat actually likes to sleep on the floor versus climbing to high vantage points, but she is very strange in this. Most cats like to climb as high as they can. Do you know what is high and intriguing? A tree in the house. Instead of trying to fight a losing battle, make sure that your tree cannot fall over if there is a small animal climbing inside it. Foil or double-sided tape can be placed around the bottom of the trunk to discourage climbing. Remember that some cats love the feel of these things, and almost any cat can (and will) jump from nearby furniture or shelving to land themselves right in the middle of the tree (and usually send it swaying in the process.)
There are a lot of tree anchors which are a good idea for cats or small children.
All ornaments are fair game as playthings, so make sure that valuable or breakable ornaments are out of reach. This is also for the safety and sanity of humans who might step on shattered pieces. Pets have been known to eat ornaments and lights. By pets I obviously mean dogs, cats (99% of them) have more self-preservation than that. Glass shards are not comfortable to pass, cause serious intestinal damage, and often pieces can cut the mouth. If you notice your pet showing an unusual interest in the lights or ornaments, consider alternative decorations.
Pets can also be electrocuted by chewing on tree light strands. As always, be conscious of how your pet views new things in the household. Know that behavior changes are likely significant and warrant a discussion with your veterinarian (especially if they align with frayed light cords.) I know plenty of people who end up just putting their trees inside ex-pens to keep the animals at bay. If you have a lot of curious, chewing and jumping pets this might be the safest bet. In fact, I have a fence on stand-by just waiting.
Presents with chocolate can be a challenge, since the idea is that they are a secret. Often far-away friends and family will send chocolate arrangements without thinking about naughty pets. Options are keeping your presents elevated, or asking gift-givers to let you know if their present involves food so you can keep it somewhere else. This can also be a good way to eat candy all season long under the premise of protecting your pet.
On that note, trays, and counters full of bowls holding cookies, truffles and other goodies should be placed out of reach. While this may have the added benefit of helping our self control, it will definitely help avoid chocolate toxicities. Remember that macadamia nuts are also toxic, so mixed-nut bowls should be paid attention to as well!
I know we have plenty of other things to focus on this time of year, but the house can hold so many dangerous treasures for pets. Pay attention to how they are reacting to things before you leave them unattended with all of your holiday treasures.