Deck the Halls: A Festive, Furry Guide for Celebrating the Holidays with Pets


Do you write letters to Santa on your cat’s behalf? Do you and your dog proudly sport matching holiday pajamas? If so, then this guide is for you!

For many of us, our furry, scaly, and feathered friends are just as much a part of the family as anyone else. Of course, nothing can spoil holiday celebrations like a trip to the emergency veterinary clinic. This Q&A guide is full of tips (and purr-fect puns) you can use to keep the winter holiday season safe and festive for all.

How can you pet-proof a Christmas tree?

With shiny ornaments and twinkling lights just begging to be played with, it’s no wonder your cat loves the idea of scampering up the Christmas tree. Curious dogs and cats will of course want to explore the odd tree that suddenly appeared in their home.

A tree-mendous Christmas starts by anchoring the tree securely to keep it from crashing to the floor when a cat or dog tries to jump onto or into the tree. A heavy, wide-based tree stand works best for tip resistance. The eyebolts of the tree stand should hold it firmly in place, and you can add extra security by anchoring to the wall or ceiling with an i-hook and fishing line.

Another way to keep your four-legged friends at bay is to set up a barrier around your tree. Furniture works in a pinch, while Christmas tree pet gates secure seasonal décor in style. When it comes to your feline companions, be sure to set up the tree away from tables, chairs, and other items that can be used as a launching point for a curious kitty.

It’s important to note that both artificial and live Christmas trees pose various risks, and neither is more pet-safe than the other. Both can drop needles, so keep a vacuum nearby to reduce the risk of your pets chewing on or eating them. For live trees, be sure to completely block access to the tree water, which may be stagnant or contain additives that can cause upset stomach in furry friends.

How can you keep pets safe around decorations?

You say ornaments, but Fluffy and Fido see potential toys just waiting to be claimed. To keep the holidays pawsitively meowy, keep these decorations away from your pets:

  • Tinsel and ribbon. Pets are naturally curious about crinkly ribbon and sparkly tinsel, but eating these trimmings can cause indigestion, vomiting, or a gastrointestinal blockage.
  • Snow globes. A broken snow globe is dangerous, and not just because of broken glass. Some snow globes are filled with ethylene glycol (the same chemical used in antifreeze), which is highly toxic to pets.
  • Breakable ornaments. Keep glass and other fragile ornaments high up in the tree, away from wagging tails and swiping paws. Shattered ornaments can cause injury if your pet eats or steps on them. To avoid this issue, many pet owners put only sturdy, non-breakable ornaments within their pet’s reach or leave the tree’s bottom section bare.
  • Potpourri. Filling your home with scents like pine, nutmeg, and cinnamon is a great way to lift Christmas spirits, but potpourri, scented oils, and candles all pose safety risks for furry companions. A safer alternative is to use scented room sprays (away from pets) to fragrance your home.

May your days be meowy and bright

The holidays are a time of year where we have more exposed light strands and cables throughout our homes. Pets will be naturally curious about Christmas lights, so keep them out of reach to prevent them from getting tangled in the cables or chewing on electrical cords.

You can cover cords with a rug or pet-proof covers, and keep curious pets at bay with a bitter spray that will keep gnawing at a minimum. Wherever possible, opt for cool-to-the-touch LED lights. Be sure to unplug light strands before you leave the house or go to bed at night, and always check cords for signs of damage before plugging them in.

But wait—there’s myrrh! It’s important to balance holiday fun with your pet’s safety. Before you go decking the halls with boughs of holly, know that popular festive plants are often toxic to cats, dogs, and birds.

Make sure to keep such plants well out of reach, or swap them for safer alternatives or artificial replicas of your holiday favorites:

  • Swap mistletoe for a Christmas cactus (or keep it securely out of reach if you need it for those holiday kisses)
  • Instead of poinsettias, add holiday cheer with vibrant red roses.
  • Amaryllis is beautiful but toxic. Keep the bright red blooms but ditch the danger with an achira plant.
  • Get all the fa-la-la-la-la of holly with a much safer autumn olive.

How can pets stay safe during holiday celebrations?

Celebrating the holidays and eating good food go hand in hand. It’s hard to say no to those puppy eyes, but many holiday foods aren’t safe for sharing. Fatty, oily foods like turkey skin and gravy can give your pet a stomach ache or worse.

Eat, drink, and be meowy safely with the following tips:

  • Chocolate can be toxic to both Fluffy and Fido, so don’t leave it under the tree (wrapped or not), and be sure that everyone keeps desserts away from low-lying tables or countertop edges.
  • While you’d never give your pet alcohol, take care to keep wine glasses, cocktails, and even alcohol-infused desserts out of reach. Creamy cocktails like eggnog are appealing to cats, but they’re pawsitively off limits!
  • Any amount of raw bread dough can put your pet at risk of obstruction and alcohol poisoning. The first is due to the raw dough expanding in your pup or cat’s stomach; the second is caused by the activated yeast fermenting and producing ethanol alcohol.
  • Cakes, pies, and puddings might contain a host of toxic ingredients, such as citrus fruits, nuts, and raisins. Store them securely to keep pets safe.
  • Don’t pass the stuffing—this holiday staple contains a host of ingredients that pets can’t handle, including onions, garlic, chives, and salt.

When entertaining holiday guests, all the fun and excitement may be too much for your pet. During cold weather, keep your pets inside and give them a safe space to take a break from the festivities. A separate room is great, but you can also keep them comfortable using a kennel crate, scratching post, or other suitable space. If you have overnight guests, be sure that they keep their suitcases closed to keep curious critters at bay.

With a little preparation, you can make the holidays a safe, wonderful time for every member of your household—including your pets.