The 12 days of Christmas: pet safety edition

5 December 2023 - 6 min read
This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding your pet’s care, treatment, or medical conditions.
Drawing of a cat on top of a knocked down Christmas tree

As the holiday season sparkles into life, our homes transform into a wonderland of lights and decorations.

At ManyPets, we often handle claims for pets who've gotten into holiday hazards, ranging from chocolate-covered espresso beans to tinsel. (Not so jolly.)

This calls for a pet-savvy spin on the festive season! Let's unwrap the 12 Days of Christmas - pet safety style - so we can keep our fur babies safe and happy this year.

Party foods and drinks

Our German Shepherd turns into a covert operative whenever there's the scent of chicken in the air - which means come Christmas time, he’s in his element.

Keep an eye on those sneaky paws around chocolate, cheese, alcohol, and other festive foods to avoid poisoning, pancreatitis, blockages, and all types of un-fun ailments.

A jolly idea: During parties, set up a pet zone with safe snacks and toys. A quiet room in the house is ideal, and it's great for even the most laid-back dogs to get a break from the noise and chaos.

Santa's cookies

Those cookies left out for Santa might be a hit with him, but they're a big no for pets.

Chocolate and nutmeg, common in Christmas biscuits, are toxic to dogs and cats.

Store Christmas treats in pet-inaccessible areas, and regularly check counters and tables for any tasty toxic morsels to prevent accidental ingestion.

A jolly idea: Make your pet their very own festive (and safe) treats to celebrate the holidays.

A pug looking longingly at a plate of Christmas cookies

Peppermint oil

This holiday scent is toxic for cats - even if it's just inhaled.

When diffusing essential oils like peppermint, ensure it’s in a pet-free area and your furry friend isn't showing signs of respiratory distress.

A jolly idea: Try Frankincense oil in your diffuser. Some believe it's actually beneficial for pets. (You'll still want to keep it out of reach, by the way.)

Tinsel, garlands, and lights

Typical holiday decorations can be irresistible to curious pets. Unfortunately, swallowing tinsel or chewing on lights not only dampens the festive spirit but can lead to serious health issues and an un-holly-jolly emergency vet visit.

A jolly idea:  Keep decking the halls, but consider replacing potentially dangerous decorations (glass ornaments, for instance) with more pet-friendly ones. If you have £70 to spare, please buy this felted cat Christmas tree and send us pics. There’s even this Gingerbread House cat scratcher, or this adorable sprout hideaway.

Cat playing with Christmas lights

Ice and snow

Winter walks are incredibly beneficial for you and your dog (or even cat) during the winter, but you'll need to take precautions. Ice melt products, salt, and antifreeze are out there, and they can be toxic or irritating to your pet's frosty paws.

A jolly idea: Use pet-friendly ice melts and clean your pet’s paws after outdoor time. Even better, get your pup - or leash-trained cat, perhaps - some boots to protect their feet from cold, snow, and ice. Bonus: You won't have to clean their feet every single time you come in from a walk.


Gah, this one's tough. Candles are so cosy! Unfortunately, they can pose a burn risk and can be easily knocked over by wagging tails or curious kittens. And that could result in some pretty uncosy emergency scenarios.

A jolly idea: Consider using flameless candles to keep the glow and your pet safe. Bake biscuits and use diffusers (out of reach, of course) if you're missing those holiday scents!

Toys and wrapping ribbons

If you've ever had a present-opening session with kids, you'll know how quickly things can get messy. Those tiny bits from toys and wrapping materials can end up scattered everywhere.

And for our pets, these small parts can be more than just a nuisance; they're a choking hazard and can cause serious intestinal problems. Definitely not the kind of festive fun we want!

A jolly idea: If you're keen on having your pets be part of the gift-wrapping or unwrapping excitement but worry they might munch on everything in sight, here's a tip: Tire them out first with a good walk or playtime. Keep them by your side during the festivities, and make sure to clean up as you go.

Dachshund dog in Christmas wrapping

Rawhide treats

A note about those tempting rawhide bones decked out with ribbons: yes, they'd look super cute in your dog's stocking or under the tree. But it's better to avoid them.

Rawhide can be rough on your dog's stomach and may lead to blockages or other digestive issues - a consensus among many veterinarians.

A jolly idea: Your pup or cat can still have treats this year! There are plenty of safe rawhide alternatives out there, and you could always make your own healthy dog treats.

Glass ornaments

Those vintage glass ornaments? Absolutely stunning. But if you've got curious cats or dogs like I do, they'll find them just as irresistible. They'll try every trick in the book to nab these delicate and very breakable beauties, especially if they're hanging low.

A jolly idea: Buy unbreakable ornaments and hang them higher in your tree. Opt for those that aren't overly sparkly or enticing to pets (looking at you, feathered bird ornaments). Many determined pets can still find a way to nosh on your gnome ornament, but it may at least lessen the more immediate risk of broken glass + little bean toes.

Cat standing next to knocked over Christmas tree

Festive plants

While poinsettias get a bad rap, holly, mistletoe, and amaryllis are the real culprits to watch out for. Even small amounts can be dangerous, so put them out of reach, or...

A jolly idea: ...try something different! Ever wonder why every vet's office seems to have a spider plant? It’s because they are pet-safe! They're not quite as traditionally festive, but you could always liven it up with a ribbon or these adorable plant baubles. Can't bear to part with tradition? These are the most convincing fake poinsettias I've found.

Fake snow

Fake snow adds a touch of winter magic to our homes, but it's not so magical for our pets. It can be toxic if they lick or eat it, and some cats seem to have a taste for it. When you can, choose decor without the frosty touch or place it well beyond their reach (though that's easier said than done).

Handy Tip: Get some real snow! Just kidding. You can still use decorations bedecked with fake snow, just be extra careful. Keep them up high or in zones where pets can't reach them. And maybe skip the loose, scatterable artificial snow - it's a challenge to keep contained and away from curious paws.

Christmas trees

Getting a Christmas tree? Just be aware that your cat might turn it into their personal Everest, and your dog will probably treat the tree water like their personal water bowl.

And yes, both your cat and dog might eye those gnome ornaments.

The catch is that tree sap and the water in the stand can be harmful to pets. Even artificial trees have their risks (remember the bit about fake snow?).

A jolly idea: Still want to go for it? Same. Here are some tips to keep a dog or cat away from your Christmas tree:

  • Use a sturdy tree base to prevent tipping.

  • Block access with a pet gate or pen.

  • Keep enticing decorations, like tinsel and ribbons, higher up on the tree.

  • Provide lots of alternative play options to distract your pet from the tree.

The bottom line

As the holiday season unfolds, let's aim for a celebration that's joyful and safe for everyone—pets definitely included.

Keep an eye on those holiday hazards to make sure your festivities are merry and free from any unexpected emergency vet visits.

And just in case your furry friend encounters any unexpected accidents or illnesses, it's good to remember that pet insurance can be a big help in covering treatment costs.

Lewis Martins
Communities marketer

Lewis has worked in pet health since 2017. Before joining ManyPets in 2021, he led content production at VetForum and PetsApp. Lewis has collaborated with some of the world’s biggest vet groups and suppliers to write educational articles for vets and pet parents. His Instagram feed is 60% dogs, 40% cats.