Christmas decorations are beautiful, interesting and often designed to move and twirl in the breeze, a perfect combination for attracting your four legged family members. Since your dog is very likely to investigate all these cool new additions to the household it is important to make sure the decorations you are using are the safest possible to avoid any last minute emergency trips to the vets on Christmas Eve.
The most important consideration in Christmas decorations that are safe for dear Fido is not as much in decorations that move however, it is more closely related to decorations or items that simply smell too good to resist. A dogs sense of smell is up to one thousand times more sensitive and accurate than that of the average human. In a dog's nose there are over 220 million olfactory receptors that detect, encode and transmit messages to the brain regarding different scents in the air. Humans have less that 5 million of these olfactory receptors, making dogs much more efficient at sniffing out scents than we can ever be.
Keeping this in mind it is essential to use decorations that don't contain any type of food item or have not been used to keep food in, even at Christmases long gone by. This means that decorative ornaments that may have contained candy canes or Christmas chocolates may not smell good to us, but to a dog they can be very enticing. When these items are used on a tree or in a decorative centerpiece, dogs are more likely to try to jump up to investigate. This can cause serious injury if the tree or table falls over on the dog or with the dog. Many broken legs, cuts, abrasions and injuries occur each and every year as dogs end up underneath whatever piece of furniture they were jumping up on.
Avoid using any type of edible ornaments on the tree, no matter what level you place them at. This includes popcorn on a string, candy canes hung on branches or even the foil wrapped chocolates that are popular with children and adults alike. Any of these types of decorations will prove just too tempting for your dog at some point in time. Dogs are incredibly athletic and you will be surprised how high they can jump and climb to get to even the mid to top branches on your Christmas tree.
The tree itself can also be made very safe. If you have a real tree, always use a tree skirt to completely enclose the water container at the base of the tree. This water, once it sits with the coniferous truck submerged, can become potentially toxic for some dogs. Even if the dog does not have a toxic reaction, drinking this water will lead to significant problems with vomiting and diarrhea, often causing additional stress on the family to try to figure out what is wrong with the dog.
Safely anchoring a real or artificial tree is also important. Remember that your dog may brush up against the truck or even jump up or pull on a branch, so always have the tree tied and secured in some fashion.
Ornaments that include anything with strings, ribbon or small loose pieces should be avoided, particularly on the lower branches of the tree where you dog could possibly reach them. String and ribbon is fun to play with, but if swallowed it can form a sodden mass in the esophagus or the digestive system, leading to the possibility of choking or intestinal obstructions. Both of these conditions can be life threatening and can occur very quickly after the string or ribbon has been swallowed. Tinsel is very dangerous to dogs of all sizes because of choking, but also because some tinsel may also contain small amounts of lead that can be toxic.
Safer ornaments for the lower sections of the tree include the more solid plastic types of ornaments that won't shatter or snap if the dog does play with them. Soft ornaments and the hard molded plastic can also be other options, however the soft ornaments can also pose choking hazards with medium to larger breeds that could swallow the whole thing.
Puppies and dogs that are new to the family and the holidays are most likely to be curious about the tree and the decorations. Puppies and small dogs are also at greater risk for injury from falls and jumping, but that doesn't mean they won't try to get at interesting or good smelling decorations. All decorations should ideally be placed on tables or surfaces that are above the average reach for your dog, keeping in mind some dogs are excellent at jumping and climbing.
One way to keep your dog occupied during the holiday season is to get a couple of toys for him or her that they can have in advance of Christmas. A new ball, Kong or Nylabone or even one of the motorized dog toys is a great way to keep them occupied. Praise the dog for playing with the new toys and be sure to find time to just play with the dog and the toys. This should reinforce that they have their own things to play with and minimize the desire to play with all the decorations.
Providing plenty of exercise and outside time when the Christmas decorations are up in the house is also a good preventive strategy. Dogs that continue to have routine or a bit more than average exercise are less likely to be getting into everything in the house.
Outside lights and decorations also need to be dog safe. This means ensuring any and all plugs and cords are well away from where the dog can chew or paw at them, as well as keeping all lawn and outside decorations out of the dog's area and space. Since some of the older outdoor ornaments may have been painted with lead containing paints, be sure to check this or coat the ornaments with a plastic coating to prevent any possible consumption of the paint or paint chips.