Keeping pets safe during the Christmas season

Mom blamed us kids but we knew better. Our family dogs ate a good half of the fresh cranberry and popcorn garlands we made for our Christmas trees, but we never could quite catch them at it.

If you have pets, you know decorating for the holidays can be a delicate balance between keeping the holiday spirit pretty and not making last minute panicked vet trips. Here are 10 tips to keep everyone safe:

1. If you have a live cut Christmas tree, plan on giving it extra water twice a day. I don't know anyone who can keep a dog, or cat, from regularly drinking out of the tree stand, regardless of how many other freshly-filled water bowls are around.

2. Silver tinsel may be traditional but some pets eat the shiny strands. Hang the tinsel high, or skip it altogether.

3. Same thing goes for holly with red berries and fresh mistletoe. Those berries are poisonous so keep them where pets and children can't reach them.

4. Although poinsettias have the reputation for being poisonous, they are not. I would still keep the plants away from inquisitive noses; eating the white sap "latex" can lead to a bad tummy ache.

5. It's not just plants. One year I made gingerbread cookies and tied them all over my artificial tree. Mom came to visit and brought one of her foster dogs, Raven, a lovely well-behaved black lab mix with her. The next morning, Mom said Raven wasn't feeling well. One look at my tree and we knew why. Raven had consumed various parts off most of the low-hanging gingerbread cookies.

6. If you add edibles to live wreaths and table swags, make sure they are not within pet reach, or close to burning candles. Cats and dogs are tempted to chew on greenery and can loose whiskers if they get too close.

7. If you decorate outside bushes with popcorn garland, don't be surprised if you find neighborhood dogs, squirrels or wild turkeys dragging them off.

8. Tree skirts are also an invitation for mischief. Place a towel under it to collect splashed water, and make sure you have a couple of heavy gifts to anchor it. One of my cats will hide for hours under the skirt and then get tangled in the tree stand as he tries to pounce.

9. Speaking of gifts, I can't remember the last time any of my presents ended up with their original ribbons. My cats will spend hours prying off those stick-on ones. I now remove them myself. No point in making their new favorite napping spot under the tree bumpy.

10. Every cat I've known will also try to, at least once, climb the Christmas tree. When she was a kitten, my oldest cat Margaret would hide half way up the tree and bat at me as I walked by. I tried to act surprised but a very white cat in a very dark green tree can be seen for miles.

Now that she's older, I still let Margaret check out the tree before I decorate. That way if she wants to try to climb it, she gets it out of her  system.
Well, that's the theory...

Charlotte Ekker Wiggins shares her  gardening adventures at Copyright 2012 used with permission by Rolla Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Contact Charlotte at