DAY 6: Ornaments & Other Tree Decorations
From cuts on paws from those that break to gastrointestinal obstruction from those that get ingested, ornaments and other Christmas tree decorations pose a wide array of hazards to your pets. It’s this scope of problems and the prevalence of such decorations in homes this time of year that make Christmas tree decorations the 'poster children' for Day 6 of our The 12 Days of Christmas: Pet Hazards Series.
Cats are probably most at risk of sustaining injuries from these festive decorations, what with their propensity to bat down and play with things that dangle in front of them. This isn't to say that dogs aren't at risk of injury or illness from that which adorns your Christmas tree. After all, once a dog's tail gets wagging, nothing in its path is safe, and dogs being dogs, they're also probably the ones more likely to try to eat an ornament once its been knocked off a branch.
But honestly, how many cats do you know that can truly resist the opportunity to 'hunt' a dangling Christmas bell or shiny ball? There aren’t many, that’s for sure!
A special note and warning about salt dough ornaments: these are a popular DIY craft for kids around the holidays. While they may be an easy and fun activity, it's important to note that they need to be kept well and truly out of reach of your pets. As discussed in this article, salt dough and homemade playdough are very dangerous for cats and dogs. These doughs contain a high quantity of salt, which can cause some very serious neurologic problems for the pet unfortunate enough to eat them. See one family's sad Christmas experience with a homemade salt dough ornament.
Know the signs
Ingested ornaments can lead to irritation, bleeding, obstruction, and puncture of your pet's digestive tract. Some will put your pet off their food for several days, some may land your pet in the hospital for treatment of the irritation and lacerations they can cause, and others may even necessitate surgery for their removal from your pet’s digestive tract. When you really think about it, aside from perhaps some good chuckles and some entertaining video footage that you can post on YouTube, nothing very good can come from your pets playing with the Christmas tree decorations but plenty of bad can.
These little wire bits that can easily become lodged within, or puncture through your pet's digestive tract. Fortunately they often show up readily on x-rays, sadly though they also often require expensive surgery or endoscopy for removal. Punctures of your pet's digestive tract can lead to a debilitating condition called septic peritonitis, this is a fatal condition without timely and appropriate surgery.
It’s not the popcorn here that causes a problem for your pet, although that is what typically attracts them to play with these fun-to-make and festive decorations in the first place. Rather it's the string, often fishing line, which keeps the popcorn pieces together that can wreak havoc with your pet's digestive system and land them on the surgery table. As was discussed in the post on the dangers of tinsel (Day 1 of this series), popcorn strands can lead to a linear foreign body obstruction in pets mischievous or curious enough to eat them.
What to do if they've injested an ornament or its hanger
If your pet has ingested an ornament or an ornament hanger, it’s best to take them for immediate veterinary evaluation. The two main reasons being that…
- If the ornament has broken, the veterinarian can fully evaluate your pet's mouth for signs of trauma or embedded pieces.
- If the ornament needs to come out surgically or endoscopically, sooner is always better than later when it comes to mitigating the damage that the ingested ornament can do, as well as the costs associated with removal and aftercare.
If your pet has sustained a cut on their paw from a broken ornament, typically the best first step you can take is to evaluate all of their paws carefully for any embedded pieces of the broken ornament and then apply direct pressure, with a towel or rag to stop any bleeding. After the bleeding has stopped, clean the area with warm water and an antiseptic solution, such as povidone iodine or chlorhexidine (DO NOT use hydrogen peroxide or rubbing alcohol).
You must then monitor the injury very carefully for signs of infection or residual embedded foreign material. If there is any persistent swelling, discharge, or lameness, your pet must be evaluated by a veterinarian for further treatment. It’s also important that you protect the cut paw with a sock or bootie (see the range of booties made by Ruff Wear and the Healers dressings made by Bowserwear) to keep it clean whenever they go outside and that you also prevent your pet from licking at it (E-collars often work very well for this purpose).
Another important thing to do if your cat has sustained such a cut on one of their paws is to change their litter type until the cut is healed - use shredded newspaper or paper towel rather than a clumping clay type of litter. The clumping clay can become impacted in the cut preventing healing or even encouraging infection.
If your pet eats a popcorn strand or if you see string protruding from their rectum (their butt), read this! The question of "to pull or not to pull?" is answered in this article.
*Three very important notes regarding the use of socks, booties, or bandages to protect a pet's injured paw
- It's very important that the covering is not too tight. If a bandage is applied too tightly it can interfere with the flow of blood into and out of the paw and lead to tissue damage, pain, infection, and loss of the paw. For this reason, it is always advisable to have a veterinarian apply bandages to your pet's paw or limb (or at least have them show you how to do it).
- If you are using a protective cover that is not breathable, such as a recycled fluid bag or other plastic bag, it is vitally important that it not be left on constantly. Such coverings should always be removed once your pet is back in the house where ground moisture is no longer a problem. The reason for this is that such types of bandage covers trap moisture in and can therefore lead to bandage problems or infection and death of the skin under the bandage.
- Don't let your pet chew or ingest the covering, this can cause a relatively simple case of a cut pad to turn into a more complicated and expensive case of gastrointestinal foreign body surgery.
Prevention is the key
Some simple steps can help you protect your pets from the dangers that Christmas tree decorations can pose to them.
- Don't let your pet climb in or play in the tree. (If your cat has a habit of doing so, it’s also wise to secure your tree to the wall with a sturdy rope or wire.)
- Either elevate your tree or don't hang your ornaments on the lower branches. Certainly don't hang any jingly bells within easy reach of curious paws.
- Pick up fallen ornaments before your pets can play with or ingest them, and be sure to clean up the pieces of a broken ornament.
- If you have pets in the house, don't use popcorn strand decorations.
- Don't leave ornament hooks lying around. Don't forget to exercise caution especially when decorating and un-decorating the tree.
- Don't let your pets have unsupervised access to the tree or ornaments.
There's no doubt that ornaments add a wonderfully festive and beautiful touch to holiday decorating, but its also important for you to appreciate that they can also cause injury and illness to your pets.
Here's to a wonderful, joyous, and safe holiday season!
Ornaments are Day 6.
Just to be safe check out all the other "naughty" days in the 12 Days of Christmas Pet Hazards series.