Disaster-proof your home for the holidays


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – When decking the halls, don't forget to child and pet-proof them, too. Start with your Christmas tree, which can be the biggest danger of the season.

"If you have small children or pets it could be a really good idea to anchor your tree. Otherwise, you might walk into the room and find your tree is toppled over. You can do that really easily with a little hook and some twine connected to the ceiling or the wall behind the tree," advised Angie Hicks, founder of Angie's List.

"There are gates you can use to kind of surround the tree. If you got little ones that are crawling you wanna be concerned with the smaller type of ornaments, choking hazards," added child safety expert Kent McCool.

For pets, make electrical cords as unappetizing as possible.


"The area of wire that you have to expose use a little bit of lemon juice or bitter apple, something on there just to dissuade them. But again, I'd keep it unplugged when you can, but otherwise just put some kind of a bitter tasting product on the exposed wires," explained veterinarian Dr. Tom Buchanan.

Take special care to avoid decorations that are sharp or breakable and avoid trimmings that resemble candy or food.

"Around the holidays you introduce a lot of different choking hazards to your children and for pets. So, think about packaging material, plastic sleeves you might be using, as well as bows and wrapping paper. So, just be sure you keep things up and off the floor," said Hicks.

"Christmas time we see a lot of foreign bodies," warned Buchanan. "We had a kitty two years ago that ended up having to have most of its bowel removed because it had a ribbon it had eaten from a present and that caused a linear obstruction. Bulbs. We had a Labrador that ate a Christmas bulb intact that had to be removed from the stomach."

Table cloths and runne


rs usually hang at the perfect height for yanking or climbing, so you may want to skip those, along with certain holiday plants, which can cause health problems for pets.

"Lilies are something that people often don't think about, but lily toxicity is actually one of the more common ones we see and they're often around Christmas time. And so, they can cause kidney failure and acute kidney failure. We just had a cat in here within the last month that had that. So, be real watchful for that," said Buchanan.

When you're done decorating, it's always a good idea to double check your disaster-proofing efforts.

"You know getting down on your hands and knees. Kinda seeing things from their perspective. When a baby starts crawling you'd be surprised what you might see that could be dangerous to them," said McCool.

Holly berries and mistletoe can also be toxic to dogs and cats. While poinsettia plants have a bad rap, they're only mildly toxic. For more information on poinsettias and pets, go to petpoisonhelpline.com.

Angie's List Tips: Holiday Childproofing

  • Avoid heavy decorations. Make sure the decorations that are accessible to kids are safe, lightweight and portable.
  • Decorate in levels. Place delicate or dangerous items on the mantel or in other places where a child can't reach. Leave stuffed animals and other safe items where children can enjoy them.
  • Secure the tree. Tie the Christmas tree or otherwise secure it in a corner or to a wall so there's no chance a child can pull it down.
  • Cover cords. Test all lights for loose connections and cover any exposed electrical cords. Ways to cover include taping cords to the wall or covering them with a rug.
  • Use artificial candles. Consider battery operated or electric candles instead of the real thing when kids are around. If you do burn candles, set them out of reach and never leave them unattended.
  • Hang mistletoe high. Hang real mistletoe securely and out of reach of children, as some forms of mistletoe can cause illness if eaten.
  • Hire a child-proofing expert. Give yourself the gift of peace of mind by hiring a professional childproofer to go through your home.

    Angie's List: Decorate With Your Pet in Mind

    • Holiday plants – especially holly, mistletoe and lilies – can be toxic, cause vomiting or worse.
    • Candles, incense, and menorahs can all be dangerous to pets. Keep them out of reach of pets or have them supervised when lit.
    • Be careful how you attach costumes to pets. Pets can choke on rubber bands, string, ropes and ribbons. These items can also cause discomfort if put on too tight or left on too long.
    • Chocolates can be toxic and fatal to pets. Forgo nice displays of chocolates if they will be unattended and easily accessible to pets.
    • Provide healthy treats for guests to give pets.
    • Guests should be prepared by letting them know you have a pet or pets. It's important to let guests know whether it's OK or not to feed your pet, what to feed your pet and if children can be around the pet unsupervised. It's also a good idea to tell guests not to walk the pet outside the house without asking, as they might be unfamiliar with your neighborhood.
    • Make sure you are aware if any of your guests will be bringing a pet so you can offer them the same courtesies.
    • The holidays bring increased use of electrical cords, which can be chewed through and cause electrocution. Tape them over, put them under rugs, or spray them with a nontoxic, bad-tasting ingredient, such as Bitter Apple.
    • Many children's toys have small parts, which can be seen by pets as enticing play toys. Children should know the harm that can come to the family pet if they don't pick up and put away all of the pieces of their games and toys.


    Angie's List Tips: Reduce Your Pet's Holiday Stress

    • Secure trees to both the floor and ceiling, if possible, to prevent them from falling.
    • Consider what ornaments you will place on more reachable low-hanging branches. Place ornaments with string hangers vs. metal hooks down low.
    • Food on Christmas trees can tempt your pets. Consider whether or not hanging candy canes, ginger bread, popcorn or cranberries is a good idea.
    • Make sure pets cannot get at the water in the tree base. Tree water can contain fertilizers and bacteria.
    • Tinsel is attractive to pets and can block intestines or choke; consider an alternative decoration for your tree.
    • Strangers and large groups in the home can create excitement—and stress—for pets. Consider these methods for reducing pet stress during gatherings:
    • Reduce holiday stress for pets by maintaining regular exercise and feeding routines during the holiday.
    • Exercise dogs shortly before a party to reduce stress.
    • Provide a private room or area where pets can retreat to avoid the stress.
    • During a busy party or day, a pet placed outdoors (including by a well-meaning guest), can be forgotten and freeze. Make sure someone is assigned to each pet to check on them during regular intervals.
    • Dogs should be trained on how to greet guests—when greeting guests at the door, consider placing dogs on a leash.