Household Pets and Christmas

By Catherine Haug, Dec 9, 2014

The following is transcribed from an Oregon Humane Society Newsletter article by Tanya Roberts, winter, 2014 (1). I’ve added a few of my own notes in square brackets.  This article includes hints regarding:

  • Stress/anxiety relief for pets
  • Food safety, etc
  • Holiday plants and decorations
  • [Artificial trees (by Catherine)]

When planning a holiday dinner or party, what can you do to keep your pets safe and happy during this time?

Stress/Anxiety relief for Pets

To help your pets stay relaxed and prevent them from getting overexcited when guests come over:

  • Prior to the party, take pets on a walk or run, or have a play session.
  • After they’ve expended some energy, your pets will be better behaved and less stressed during your dinner/party.

If your pets are nervous around strangers, provide them with a safe haven:

  • This should be a comfortable, familiar place to settle into before the first visitors arrive;
  • Offer your pets long-lasting food treats or puzzle toys to keep them occupied;
  • Crate-trained dogs can be kept in their crates in a quiet room of the house;
  • Provide everything the pet needs to be comfortable (food, water, bedding, litter box);
  • If possible, leave on a TV or radio in this room to mask outside noise.

Other ways to help reduce stress (at any time of the year, for any occasion, such as travel) include:

  • Using the calming pheromones Feliway for cats, or Adaptil for dogs; and
  • Adding flower essences such as Bach Flower Remedy to your pets’ water.

[Cat’s note: I have two cats and can attest that both the Feliway and Back Flower Remedy work. I used to have an older cat with diabetes who needed insulin shots every day. At that time I was living part-time in Portland and part-time in Bigfork, so I took my cat with me in the the car when I moved from one residence to the other, and used both these remedies to keep him calm and comfortable during the trip.]

Food safety, etc.

>> Common holiday foods can upset pets’ stomachs or cause blockages requiring an emergency visit to a veterinarian. The more common foods to be avoided include:

  • Chocolate (especially baking chocolate)
  • Candy
  • Nuts
  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Artificial sweeteners

>> Other suggestions:

  • Make sure all snacks are out of your pets’ reach and be especially careful if you leave the room, even for a second, as this signals to pets that you are done and food is now free for the taking.
  • Keep a close eye on food, or better yet, keep you pets comfortably contained in a different area.
  • Rich foods (or foods your pets aren’t used to having) can also cause stomach upset.
  • Keep trash bins covered and secured.
  • Ask your guests not to feed your pets.
  • Make sure leftovers are put away.

Holiday plants and decorations

[Popular plants displayed during the holidays] can also pose a danger to pets if ingested. Consider displaying imitations instead. These include:

  • Poinsettias
  • Mistletoe
  • Holly

It’s also a good idea to check ASPCA toxic and non-toxic plant list when bringing any new plants into your home, [at any time of the year].

[The following] decorations and other holiday items should all be kept completely out of pets’ reach:

  • Plastic wrappers
  • Christmas lights
  • Tinsel (both metal and plastic) should be avoided altogether – the tiny strands are too tempting for pets to chew and swallow.
  • Take care with electric cords
  • Avoid popcorn string garlands – they are very tempting to bat at and chew on.

Artificial Christmas trees, garlands and wreaths

[This section is added by Catherine]

A few years ago I decided to get a small artificial tree, rather than killing a tree for my decorations. My cats were just as tempted to play with/on the artificial tree as they were with/on real trees in the past. Plus I happened upon an article about the toxic danger inherent in the materials used to make the fake needles and branches, especially in older trees: PVC (Polyvinyl chloride) and lead.

PVC is most commonly used to make water and sewer pipes for modern homes, but its quality degrades with time, making the product more prone to poison your environment.

From Global News (2):

A 2008 report (3) from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that artificial Christmas trees made of PVC degrade under normal conditions, and when an artificial tree gets to be nine years old, “dangerous lead exposure can occur.”

“Recent studies have found that as plastic trees age, they can start to release a kind of lead dust into your home. That alone could have a real impact on how long we want to keep an artificial tree before replacing it – perhaps with a live tree,” said Jennifer Smith (4), horticulturist with Kansas State University.

Some newer artificial trees – especially the ones that cost more than $200 – may not be made from PVC, but from my research of the scientific literature, I have concluded that NO PLASTIC IS SAFE. And when it comes to pets who like to chew on things, the risk is even greater than for adult humans who simply coexist in the same room with these toxic plastics.


  1. Oregon Humane Society, winter 2014 newsletter article by Tanya Roberts (see, but the Winter 2014 issue is not yet available online, as of this writing)
  3. Environmental Health Perspectives, Oct 2008 article:
  4. Kansas-State Research and Extension article, “Artificial Christmas Trees Not Eco-Friendly”:

Comments are closed.