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Keeping your pets safe at Christmas can be a bit of a nightmare. You simply can’t tell a cat to clamp down on their natural instincts to climb a Christmas tree, or a dog to stop sniffing out the edible goodies around the house. But you can take extra precautions to make sure that your home is as danger-free for pets as possible.

1. Non-edible Christmas tree decorations

Many pet owners don’t realise just how serious it can be when your pet, especially your dog, gobbles down a load of chocolate. Chocolate (particularly the unsweetened dark/baking kind) is highly toxic to dogs, containing a poisonous chemical called theobromine. The symptoms can vary between vomiting, signs of fever, right through to a cardiac arrest and death (depending on how much is ingested).

If your dog has got hold of some chocolate and eaten a large amount, it is important to immediately consult medical help from a vet.

However, this can be prevented by buying non-edible decorations and making sure that foodie gifts are not placed underneath the tree.

2. Keep wires out of the way

Wires, especially to smaller pets like rabbits and guinea pigs, look like a fantastic chew toy. And even to bigger pets, something new and unfamiliar like a Christmas lighting wire looks ripe to play with and bite into.

To prevent any unwanted electric shocks befalling your four-legged friends, tidy away the wires around the tree with cable ties and tape. You might even save yourself the humiliation of accidentally tripping over them!

3. Hang glass ornaments up high

Through the eyes of a cat, your Christmas tree ornaments look like a fun plaything and plenty of cat owners have many tales to tell where the whole tree comes crashing down because the cat simply couldn’t keep his paws to himself!

If you own a cat, prepare for a few ornaments to come clattering down on the first few days of erecting your Christmas tree. But if you have some cherished items, especially glass baubles which can shatter into thousands of razor sharp filaments, then hang them up high out of sight and reach of your cats until the initial shock of the Christmas tree has come and gone.

4. Protect the tree

If your cat simply can’t resist the alluring charm of attacking the Christmas tree in some form or manner, consider putting up a small guard or gate around the base of the tree to keep the kitties at bay.

Other methods include putting down unpleasant textures on the floor around the tree, like tin foil that crinkles underfoot – which cats dislike.

If you need any stronger methods, perhaps consider repellent smells (make sure that they are non-toxic) like sharp acidic orange and citrus aromas.

5. Vacuum the floor

Pine needles, stray pieces of tinsel, thread and ribbons can end up inside your pet’s mouth (always seems to be the case!) and then will accidentally be ingested. These items, sharp and spiky in the stomach, and can’t be fully digested and can lead to complications in the gut, including twisting in the intestine. A thoroughly unpleasant experience.

But this can be avoided if you regularly check the floor around the Christmas tree and house in general for any pieces of tinsel, ribbon or threads that may have gone astray, and hoover up any pine needles.

6. Keep candles away from ledges and curtains

You might be quite confident that any sensible-minded person wouldn’t nudge a candle when it’s in a said position… but you need to remind yourself that your pet is not a sensible-minded person! Cats in particular, if unfamiliar with fire, will be drawn to the small flickering light and predictably might try to bat it with their paws. Equally predictably, when they discover that fire burns, they might accidentally knock the candle out of its position in shock, pushing it dangerously close to curtains or even onto the floor.

7. Mistletoe no-no

Much alike chocolate, there are several Christmassy plants and flowers that contain chemicals in their biological makeup that are poisonous to cats, dogs and even us. Mistletoe in particular, is poisonous to all. If you hang it above your doorway as you do, be wary that leaves and berries might drop off and will need to be picked up and discarded of before your pet decides that they look tasty.

Other flowers and leaves to watch out for are poinsettias, holly (particularly the berries), amaryllis and fern. Even pine sap from the Christmas tree is toxic.

8. Refrain from feeding your pet leftovers

If prepared correctly, and not done in indulgence, cats and dogs love a small bit of chicken or turkey. But feeding your pet a wing of meat still on the bone is dangerous. Chicken and turkey bones are hollow, and prone to splintering if chewed on, which can lead to your cats and dogs choking or pierced stomach/intestine lining.

Other foods that should never be fed to cats and dogs include: Christmas pudding/cake/mince pies (contains raisins and sultanas, which are poisonous to dogs, brandy in the cake mix, and suet in the pastry, which can induce stomach problems), grapes (poisonous), nuts (especially macadamia nuts), and last but not least alcohol (it sneaks into all our Christmas food!).

9. Watch out for signs of stress

While your pet might be very well behaved and know not to attack the tree, eat food that is not theirs and not chew through wires, sometimes the whole festive season can be a little overwhelming with so many sounds, colours, smells and other stimulations all at once.

When your pet is stressed out, it can cause them to do uncharacteristic things. For example, an indoors cat who is usually very placid and gentle, might make a mad dash for the outdoors. A dog who rarely ever barks or bites, will suddenly do both of these things in the presence of children.

Detecting the signs that your pet is either stressed or unhappy can prevent a whole host of problems.