ALERT: Christmas Trees Can Prove Injurious to Your Pet’s Well-Being!

by Dr. Doug Pernikoff, DVM

Who would ever have thought that those beautiful, warm Christmas symbols, the Christmas Tree, or Chanukah Bush, can be such a concern for our beloved family pets?!?!? Let me explain why!! The potential concerns arise in relation to behaviors that are innate to our family critters. Whether they are puppies, kittens, dogs or adult cats, critters explore their world. That may translate into sniffing and inhaling materials; licking and chewing; or, downright eating and swallowing!

One frequent issue regards pets chewing on an electric cord that lights up the tree. The obvious result is not a good one. Electric burns to the lips and tongue to more complete electrocution and possibly death. It happens every year. Just ask any emergency veterinary hospital and you will undoubtedly hear recounting of such issues. The best idea is to cover the cord as it traverses from the wall plug to the tree base, and do your best to keep the Christmas lighting from dangling too close to access for our inquisitive little ones.

The nature to explore and chew on linear items, swallowing and eventually obstructing oneself, is a common holiday scenario for kittens and cats, especially. Twine or ribbon encircling Christmas presents that drape the base of the tree, or reflective tinsel gently swaying in motion from the tree branches, are natural items of interest for cats. Again, they tend to grab and begin to milk the linear item into their mouths and eventually swallow them into their stomachs. Over time, the string item is propelled by intestinal contraction, downwards through the gastrointestinal tract. The bulk of the string mass stays bunched in the stomach and as the linear extension of the entity attempts to be carried down the line, the gut wall starts to bunch along the item and begins to tighten and cut through the bowel wall. The results are either obstruction of the bowel lining and/or laceration of the bowel with infection of the abdominal cavity, a serious and life threatening condition called peritonitis ensues. To expect folks to remove these items completely from the holiday experience, is not logical. The option must be to exercise caution and surveillance to be sure your pets’ exposure or opportunity to chew and swallow, is minimized.

How about those chocolate treats we love to adorn the branches of our Christmas tree. Remember that chocolate contains a chemical called theobromine, a derivative of caffeine, that is particularly toxic to dogs. Symptoms usually begin with intestinal upset like vomiting and diarrhea. More exaggerated presentations may include lethargy, or yes, even death, usually secondary to cardiac or heart toxicity. Both the types, and amounts of chocolate ingested will influence the degree of disease presented. Cooking chocolates tend to be more concerning than other sweet chocolates, but all products should be kept out of your dogs.

One other concern surrounding the Christmas tree adornments are the ingestion of ornaments. Glass items can crush and cut the soft tissues along the oral cavity. Other textures may be swallowed and obstruct the bowel, obligating you as pet owner to visit the veterinary emergency clinic and spend a ton on behalf of emergency surgery to save your pet. The bottom line and the lesson to be learned is that an ounce of prevention is certainly worth a pound of cure!!! So, be happy and stay healthy. Enjoy the Christmas and New Year holidays. Protect your pets by simply applying good common sense principles on their behalf.

Fondly, Dr. Doug Pernikoff
Clarkson-Wilson Veterinary Hospital