Christmas time is almost upon us and, for us, one of the best parts of festive prep is “decking the halls” and making our homes cosy, glittery and ambient. Unfortunately, with pets around, it’s not as simple. There are a number of hazards that standard Christmas decorations can pose, but don’t worry; with our handy hints you can make your house look like Santa’s Grotto without putting your pets in peril.
Fir trees are one of the most traditional Christmas decorations so we wouldn’t suggest for a moment that you shouldn’t have one in your home. What you do need to remember is that a Christmas tree can provide myriad dangers for a pet. Cats have been known to climb up them and knock ornaments off branches and my first dog, Major, actually knocked our tree down one year causing complete chaos; broken glass, spilled water, electrical cords and pine needles were all over the floor.
First of all you need to decide whether you’d like to have a real tree or an artificial one. Real trees do require more effort to make them safe so you’ll need to make sure that you have a wide, sturdy base that makes the tree very stable and blocks access to the water reserve to discourage your pet from trying to drink it. The wider the base the harder it will be to knock the tree over. You’ll also need to be prepared to vacuum clean regularly to pick up any dropped needles that might otherwise get stuck in a pet’s paw. An artificial tree shouldn’t drop needles and will usually come with a base, though you may want to give the tree a bit of a test once it’s assembled to make sure the base is sufficiently stable.
Decorations are another potential hazard. While glass baubles are beautiful to look at they do require special care with animals in the house. If you have glass baubles the safest place to hang them is from higher branches where they can’t easily be batted at by a playful cat. To make them as secure as possible it’s worth hanging them from a medium-gauge wire loop so you can thread it onto the branch and twist it until the wire makes a tight grip. This way, even if your tree gets bumped by a clumsy pet, the baubles should stay where you’ve put them. To avoid broken glass on the floor, consider only using wooden, plastic or paper decorations, at least on low-hanging branches.
As for fairy lights, you can buy clips in the shops that you can use to secure the cables to the branches. Try not to leave too many wires trailing from the tree to the plug and, if there are any, safely cover them with a pretty tree skirt or tape them down to avoid a tripping or chewing. You can find lots of coloured or printed tapes on the market so you needn’t be restricted to the standard black or white.
If you have a pet at home you should NEVER use “fake snow” spray to decorate anything a pet would have access to as it is poisonous. If you’d like to bring a sense of a snowy winter wonderland into your home then why not make paper snowflakes to hang? These are much safer and can be a fun project for a chilly winter evening.
You might remember “angel hair”, a fibreglass product that was once popular but was officially withdrawn from shelves because it was dangerous. Despite the fact is causes skin irritation, has been proven to be cancerous and has similar harmful properties to asbestos people still try to buy this product and it can be found online. It’s best to avoid it altogether, for your own health as much as your pet’s!
If possible it is safest not to let you pet into the room with the tree without supervision as you can never be sure what might happen. Consider closing the door or installing a baby gate.
Open flames are clearly not the safest things to have in a house with pets, especially if those pets are very energetic or likely to climb up onto surfaces. If you can’t bear the thought of a Christmas without candlelight consider candle holders that are a bit heavier and harder to knock over, like a hurricane lantern or solid tea light holders. Long, thin taper candles are easier to upend so try not to use them. You should never leave a lit candle unattended.
There are also a wide variety of safety candles that are battery operated and heat-free. These will still give out the same comforting glow without the fire risk and will last far longer than a traditional wax candle. You can even find some that operate on a timer system so you won’t even need to move them once they are programmed and in place!
Every year more and more people embrace large displays including lights and inflatable characters like reindeer and Father Christmas. They may be fun to look at but there’s a chance they’ll prove a little too tempting for a dog to pass up and your carefully assembles display could end up getting trashed, chewed or popped. If you are keen on the idea of a large display like this then ditch the inflatables and get something a bit more solid. They’ll last longer and be harder for your pet to chew up, knock over or unintentionally swallow.
Christmas decorations are a wonderful way to get into the spirit of the season. With a little caution and inventiveness you can made a spectacle that’s seasonal and safe.