The tradition of bringing evergreen trees indoors has been a cross-cultural practice for much of human history. Pagans decorated their homes with tree branches during the winter solstice, Romans decorated temples with evergreens during the festival of Saturnalia, and today we identify the indoor, decorated tree as a “Christmas tree”, under which Santa Claus leaves his gifts. But as familiar as this perennial symbol is to our collective human consciousness, it is not always so easy for our four-legged family members to understand.

Cats are naturally curious and will be interested in examining, exploring, and potentially knocking over your seasonal decorations. To keep your cat from climbing your tree you may create obstacles surrounding the tree: barricades or even just putting material under the tree they cannot dig their claws into (aluminum foil, double-sided tape, etc.). But cats may find ways to hop onto your tree from other furniture, so put this into consideration when placing your tree in the room. There are natural and commercial “feline repellants” to discourage your cat from approaching the tree, such as orange peels, diluted vinegar, or hot sauce, but these things will need to be reapplied regularly as they lose their potency.

You’ve just spent all this time training your dog to only pee outside…and now you’ve brought outside inside. Can you blame them for being confused? If your dog has difficulty grasping this idea that your live tree is not an indoor restroom, you will need to supervise them in much the same way you would when housebreaking a puppy. Take note of when it looks like they may be getting ready to go and get them outside immediately.

Supervising your pet around the Christmas tree is the simplest but best advice. Dogs and cats may want to chew on branches and sticks, but the fir tree oils can be irritating and vomit-inducing. Swallowing pine needles can potentially cause internal obstructions. Tinsel is pretty, but if you’re a pet owner you may reconsider using any for fear of intestinal obstruction (or at the very least, keep it far from your pet’s reach). When putting lights on your tree, avoid the lowest branches, and always keep an eye out for frayed wires where your pet may have bitten them. Be aware of the symptoms of electric shock.

Elaborate, festive decorations are one of the great joys of this time of year, but safety always comes first. By following this advice on how to help your pet and your decor coexist, you are bound to have a happy and safe holiday season.

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