It’s that time of year again! The holiday season is upon us, and families everywhere are decorating the houses. With seven animals (two dogs and five cats) living in our home (Dr. Perry Jameson), we must keep them in mind when we make any changes.

Our pets get just as excited as we do when we put up the tree, place the decorations, and start baking. They are curious about the change in scenery and smells, and often it seems like they are right in the middle of the activity, “helping.” But with each ornament we place and light we hang, their safety has to be considered. What is beautiful and harmless to us can be dangerous to them. So to make this a safe and happy holiday season, we are going to keep the following precautions in mind as we transform our home.

Tinsel

We have stopped putting tinsel on our tree due to the number of cases we have seen over the years with it as the cause of vomiting and GI distress. Tinsel is bright and shiny when dangling from your tree. For a cat, it is hard to resist the temptation to bat at it and pull it down.

Unfortunately, it is easy to swallow, and the tinsel can obstruct their stomach or intestines. The sharp edges also can cut through the intestines, requiring emergency surgery to repair the tear and hospitalization to treat the resulting infection.

Ribbons

The ribbon used to decorate gifts can result in the same problems as the tinsel. Any gifts left out should be inspected regularly to make sure they are not missing ribbon.

In our house, it is not usually the ribbon on the gifts but rather the ribbon thrown on the floor after the gift has been opened. Our cats like to pounce on the bundle as they would a mouse. So, as gifts are unwrapped in our house, the trash is immediately put in a bag and not on the floor.

Electric lights

Decorative lights that are wrapped around our trees and homes also pique our pets’ curiosity.

When exploring new things, most animals tend to do it with their mouths and paws. A bite into an electric cord can cause severe oral burns, and if severe, breathing problems can develop due to fluid accumulation in the lungs. We see this most commonly in puppies and kittens who chew on everything. Remember to keep electrical cords up high where they cannot be reached.

Candles

I must admit that my cats do get up onto the kitchen counter, bars, dining room table and any other elevated surface. This is the same place where holiday scented candles are often burning.

Candles can be hazardous to both your pet and your home. Their fur can catch on fire, and both the flame and hot wax can cause burns. If a candle is knocked over, a fire can be started.

This year, when you are getting into the holiday spirit, make sure all candles are put in a place where your pets cannot get close to them.

Plants

It is rare that we see patients presenting with problems associated with the common plants used to decorate homes, such as fir trees, holly, poinsettias and mistletoe. While all of these can cause vomiting and diarrhea, the clinical signs if any are usually self-limiting.

Ornaments

Ornaments hung on low branches of the tree can easily be knocked off by dogs and cats. They can break as they fall, resulting in possible lacerations or they can be played with and even swallowed.

Some ornaments are small and look like toys that your pet might play with normally. Any ingested toy has the potential to cause a gastric or intestinal obstruction requiring endoscopy or surgery to remove, and the glass ornaments can break into sharp pieces, causing oral lacerations. Try to hang breakable or smaller ornaments higher on your tree.

Christmas trees

The danger associated with a Christmas tree is not due to the risk of ingestion, but rather what could happen if the cat climbs it or the dog pulls it over. Either scenario could result in the tree falling and damaging your home, the ornaments and potentially injuring your pet.

To prevent this from happening, you can try securing the tree to a wall for additional stability. We do this by tying fishing line around the trunk about one foot from the top and attaching either end to two hooks we have placed in the wall.

The holiday season is a special time of the year when everything is enhanced.

Trees, candles and ornaments are all essential parts in the creation of a setting for celebration. Remembering these hidden dangers and taking the time to prevent them hopefully will ensure that you have a safe and happy holiday.

Dr. Henri Bianucci and Dr. Perry Jameson are with Veterinary Specialty Care LLC. Send questions to petdocs@postandcourier.com.