Are Christmas Trees Toxic for Cats and Dogs? How to Keep Your Pet Safe

Christmas trees, whether real or artificial, can be a hazard for homes with pets during the holiday season. Here we look at the dangers to look out for and how to keep your cats and dogs safe around the festive trees.

Christmas trees can be toxic

Watch out for fallen Christmas tree needles which "are not digestible and can be mildly toxic depending upon your dog's size and how much she ingests," Hartz, the pet care company, said.

"The fir tree oils can irritate your dog's mouth and stomach and cause her to vomit or drool excessively. Tree needles also can obstruct or puncture her gastrointestinal tract," the company added.

Extra care should be taken with artificial Christmas trees as they become more brittle with time. "Small pieces of plastic or aluminum can break off and cause an intestinal blockage or mouth irritation if ingested by your dog," Hartz said.

Blue Cross for Pets, the United Kingdom pet charity, warned: "There is a very small risk that sharp pine needles can cause internal damage if swallowed, or can get into eyes or ears—but cases are extremely rare. If you are concerned about this, and want to have a real Christmas tree, you could consider purchasing one of the non-drop variety.

"The oils produced by some real Christmas trees are also mildly toxic if consumed, causing minor irritation to a pet's mouth and stomach," the charity added.

Several festive holiday plants found in the house around Christmas time can also be hazardous for pets.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) noted: "Amaryllis, mistletoe, balsam, pine, cedar, and holly are among the common holiday plants that can be dangerous and even poisonous to pets who decide to eat them. Poinsettias can be troublesome as well."

See a full list of poisonous plants for dogs and cats at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) website.

Tree water can be dangerous

Christmas tree water can be dangerous for your pets as it is often treated with preservatives, pesticides, fertilizers or other agents, including aspirin.

The AVMA warned: "Water additives for Christmas trees can be hazardous to your pets. Do not add aspirin, sugar, or anything to the water for your tree if you have pets in the house."

The National Capital Poison Center noted: "The amounts [of tree water] usually consumed by children, cats, and dogs are not poisonous. There may be some stomach upset and even vomiting, but no serious problems are expected.

However, some homemade preservatives "contain both bleach and vinegar or lemon juice; this combination can form a poisonous gas called chlorine," the National Capital Poison Center added.

The ASPCA warned: "Stagnant tree water is a breeding ground for bacteria, and your pet could end up with nausea or diarrhea should he imbibe."

Blue Cross for Pets noted: "Also be wary of using any fertilisers or plant food on your tree if it's potted, as many are toxic to cats and can seep into watering trays."

Use a covered dish for your Christmas tree water and anchor your tree to a secure structure to keep it from toppling over and to prevent its water from spilling onto the floor where it can be consumed by pets.

Be careful with tree decorations

Decorations including tinsel, ornaments and Christmas lights also pose a hazard for your pets.

The AVMA warned: "Tinsel and other holiday decorations also can be tempting for pets to eat. Consuming them can cause intestinal blockages, sometimes requiring surgery. Breakable ornaments or decorations can cause injuries.

"Broken ornaments can cause injuries, and ingested ornaments can cause intestinal blockage or even toxicity. Keep any homemade ornaments, particularly those made from salt-dough or other food-based materials, out of reach of pets," the AVMA added.

Christmas tree lights can be dangerous if your dog or cat chews on the electrical cords and lights due to the risk of mouth burns and electrical shocks. "Chewing on wire also can cause pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs) which can be fatal," Hartz warned.

All electrical wires for Christmas lights should be taped firmly to either the wall or the floor. The cords should be monitored regularly for chew marks or other punctures in case your pet might have consumed portions of the wires.

Blue Cross for Pets advised: "Ensure you cover any exposed wires leading to the tree with plastic or cardboard tubes, and switch lights off at the mains when you're not around to supervise your cat. Battery powered LED lights are also a good option instead."

Christmas tree France boy with dog 2013
A young boy opening presents under the Christmas tree next to his dog on December 25, 2013 in town of Dinan in northwest France. Christmas trees can be dangerous for dogs and cats if your pets consume their needles or ornaments, drink the tree water or chew on the Christmas tree lights. Philippe Huguen/AFP via Getty Images