All That Glitters


Pretty and Shiny, but Dangerous

In December we decorate our homes and yards to make them warm and homey. However, with all the decorations come some risks for your pets.

“O Christmas Tree…”

When we start to decorate in December, one of the first things many people think of is the Christmas tree. Once the tree is in place and decorated, it is fun to watch pets react to this “intruder”. We watch our puppy explore under the tree for the first time or our kitten pawing at those dangling decorations. The scene is cute and gets videoed and maybe even posted to Facebook or Instagram.

However, for the pet there are several dangers lurking under and on the tree.

Ribbons, Bows, and Tinsel 

Something about the shiny tinsel strands hanging on the tree drives kittens and cats wild. While it is fun to watch them swat at the tinsel on the tree, it is no laughing matter if they succeed in getting it down. If they swallow tinsel it can be deadly!  A piece of tinsel can cause what is known as a linear foreign body. One end of the tinsel strand can lodge in the stomach or intestine while the rest of it tries to pass through. Normal contractions in the intestine will cause it to bunch up and actually cut itself. The prognosis gets worse as time passes before your pet is diagnosed and has surgery. Symptoms may include vomiting, diarrhea, depression, abdominal pain, and fever.

Strings, ribbons and bows used to wrap presents can also cause linear foreign bodies. Also, wrapping pa can be eaten and cause a blockage or even a toxicity.

Water for the tree

A real Christmas tree requires water to keep from drying out. Usually the tree stand reservoir has chemicals added to the water to keep a tree healthy as long as possible. Stagnant or chemically-treated water can be major problems. Read the label on what you added to the water to make sure your pet stays safe.

Christmas Lights and electrical cords

Those sparkly lights are so festive and add to the holiday mood. However the lights also are tempting for your pet to chew. If chewed the cords can cause your dog or cat to get electrically shocked. Electricity can cause numerous problems to the body – from burns and breathing difficulty to heart arrhythmias, unconsciousness and even death.

To prevent electrical shock, check all cords for fraying or wear. (Even power cords not damaged by your pet can short circuit.) Check cords and plugs for signs of chewing. Use grounded “3-prong” extension cords.  


Ornaments just hang there on the tree and tempt your pet. Broken glass ornaments can cause cuts or other injuries. Ingested ornaments can cause injury as they pass through the gastrointestinal tract or even a blockage. Also, some ornaments will cause toxicity because of chemicals in them.

Poinsettias, Holly & Mistletoe 

The flowers and greenery we decorate our homes with is also appealing to your pet. They appreciate you bringing the outdoors in for them. Poinsettias are common and their sap can be irritating to your pet. Plants in the lily family (such as amaryllis, lilies, paperwhites) can be extremely toxic and cause g-I upset, cardiac or kidney issues, tremors, seizures, or even be fatal. Mistletoe can cause g-I upsets and blood pressure  & cardiac problems. But some of the greenery we use can cause issues for your pet. Holly, pine, fir, and cedar (among others) can cause problems for your pet from gastrointestinal problems to topical reactions from the oils in the sap.

Also, just because you chose to use artificial plants does not eliminate your risk. Fake plants can contain toxic materials for your pet or cause foreign body/obstructions in their stomach or intestines.

Candles and Potpourri

To make our homes more inviting we also want to make them smell ‘Christmassy’. Candles make the home smell wonderful and the flames warm our hearts.  The flickering candle flames attract attention, especially cats. Your furry friend can easily get singed or burnt directly by the flame or even the hot wax, besides accidentally starting a fire. Never leave your pet unattended with an lit flame.

Potpourri also has dangers for your pet. Some types of potpourri have unknown chemicals which can be toxic to your pet. Also, if using liquids potpourri on simmering pots these chemicals can be made easily inhalable by your furry friend.


This is not an exhaustive list of decorating hazards for your pet. One of the best ways to avoid trouble in your home is to limit access by your pet. Simply shutting a door can prevent a problem. Baby gates can limit access to dangerous areas.

If you have any questions, ask your veterinarian. And, most importantly - if your pet is exposed to harmful or dangerous, call your vet to assess their level of risk!

Holiday Foods

Check out Part One of Holiday Hazards for food-related risks to your pet.