Many people are aware that certain holiday plants, such as mistletoe and holly are poisonous to pets but wheat about the most common holiday “plant,” the Christmas tree. We worry about pets tipping over the tree or tearing open presents but what about those pets that choose to eat the tree?

Christmas trees are considered to be mildly toxic. The fir tree oils can irritate the mouth and stomach, causing excessive drooling or vomiting. The tree needles are not easily digested; possibly causing GI irritation, vomiting, gastrointestinal obstruction or puncture.

Even thought the question refers to live trees, artificial trees are also dangerous when eaten. The principal thing to worry about are toxin release from the artificial material and intestinal obstruction (not digestible).

As noted, the amount of trouble depends on how much is consumed. Many times, pets do not consume mass quantities of tree material.

We would recommend confining your pets away from the tree when you are not home. This will allow you to be able to “supervise” any tree or plan eating activity.

What to look for:

If your pet has chewed on the Christmas tree or other plants, monitor for any changes of behavior (excessive licking, salivating), appetite, activity, water consumption, vomiting or diarrhea.

Additional concerns:

  • Consider the tree water. Preservatives, pesticides, fertilizers and other agents, such as aspirin, are commonly used in the tree water to keep the tree fresh. These may have harmful or deadly consequences for cats and dogs (and children) that drink the water. A covered tree water dish is safest.
  • Christmas lights on the tree and elsewhere in the home pose a hazard to curious pets. Chewing cords and lights will cause electric shocks and burns in the mouth. Check cords regularly for signs of chewing and general wear. If you notice that your pet is reluctant to eat, drooling or showing signs of pain in the mouth (i.e. avoiding favorite toys) is sure to rule out electrical burns in addition to dental and other diseases.
  • Holiday ornaments also pose risk. Ingestion of ornaments can cause gastrointestinal blockage or rupture. Depending on the ornament material, toxicity may result if ingested.

Be careful and have a happy holiday season!