Setting up a tall, freshly cut Christmas tree in our living room is something my family looks forward to every December. My husband and daughter love finding the tree with the best shape, and I love sorting through all the ornaments we've gathered over the years. While we've always been mindful of holiday decorations that could cause safety hazards for kids or pets, this year we need to pay special attention. Why? Meet Pepper, our very playful kitten, who will consider the tree his personal play land!

If you have your own ornery critters or young kids at home, keep these safety concerns in mind as you put up your decorations this year.

Setting up the tree

  1. Only decorate the top half. Many small children and pets can't help but find bright, shiny ornaments fun to play with or chew on. If you don't want a half-naked tree, put only inexpensive, soft or sturdy ornaments on the bottom to decrease the chances of losing a precious memento.
  2. Block access. Position pet or baby gates around the tree or, if you want something more decorative but still effective at keeping little ones from the tree, gift wrap big empty boxes and place them around the base.
  3. Anchor to the wall. If you're really worried about a family member accidentally pulling the tree over, anchor it to the wall with clear line.
  4. Try a small tree. Instead of a big tree that's too tempting to little ones, consider a tabletop size that you can more easily keep away from kids and pets.
  5. Keep pets from drinking out of the tree stand's water reservoir. Toxins from the tree, such as pesticides or preservatives, can taint the water and make them sick.
  6. Make light strands unattractive. If your cat chews on cords, hide them under the tree skirt or with gift boxes, or spray the cords with a non-toxic, bitter-tasting formula to discourage chewing.
  7. Don't put out edible decorations or gifts. Curious dogs can smell even tightly wrapped food (or dog treats!), and strings of popcorn or candy canes might be inviting to hungry toddlers.
  8. Avoid tinsel. There are many reasons to skip the tinsel: It can't be recycled, it's difficult to separate from the tree to reuse for next year, and you need to remove it before recycling the tree. Now here's another reason: If it's swallowed it can get wrapped in an animal's intestines, sometimes requiring surgery to correct.
  9. Wrap wisely. Similarly to tinsel, don't choose curling ribbon or other bows that encourage cats to play with and possibly swallow them. Try wrapping gifts with flat ribbon (no bow) or simply place the package upside down under the tree to hide the curly ribbons.
  10. Skip the toy train. Moving objects, such as Santa's sleigh or a train traveling around the base of the tree, will only entice a child or pet to play with them.

Around the house

  1. Hang decorations out of reach. Keep in mind how high your cat or dog can jump and place your garland and other hanging decorations a few inches higher than that. It's especially important to keep strands of lights away from small children, so they don't wrap the cords around their neck.
  2. Check for frayed cords. Before you set up lights or anything you plug in, make sure the cords and connections are in good shape. If you need new lights, consider energy-efficient LED lights.
  3. Look for loose parts. Wreaths and other decorations that are just coming out of storage may have loose parts that could fall off and wind up in someone's mouth. Take a close look at your kids' crafts to make sure everything is glued on well.
  4. Avoid poisonous plants. Keep your pets away from poinsettias, holly, mistletoe, potpourri, lilies and even pine needles. Reactions can range from stomach irritation to kidney failure.
  5. Keep candles out of reach. Also, don't set candles on tables or stands that could be easily knocked over or climbed.

Having small children and pets doesn't mean an end to elaborate holiday decorating. Just keep in mind a few precautions so the whole family – two- or four-footed – has a safe and fun time.

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