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From mid-November to mid-January, many children and pets crawl on the floor and sip from the Christmas tree stand. Parents and pet owners are often concerned if there is a Christmas tree preservative in the water.
Commercial preservatives typically contain some kind of fertilizer, some type of sugar, and perhaps fungicides. The amounts usually consumed by children, cats, and dogs are not poisonous. There may be some stomach upset and even vomiting, but no serious problems are expected.
Home-made preservative recipes contain anything from lemon-lime soda, sugar, and corn syrup, to aspirin, bleach, even whiskey. Some contain both bleach and vinegar or lemon juice; this combination can form a poisonous gas called chlorine. Aspirin is not recommended for children, even in non-toxic amounts, nor is it safe for many pets. Alcohol, in the form of whiskey or any other alcoholic beverage, can be dangerous for children if swallowed.
Bacteria can grow in the stagnant water in Christmas tree stands, whether commercial or home-prepared Christmas tree preservative solutions are used. Drinking a contaminated solution could cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea in children and pets.
The National Christmas Tree Association recommends using ONLY plain water in tree stands – and plenty of it! These professional tree farmers specifically recommend against using anything other than plain tap water.
There are many reasons to keep children and pets away from Christmas trees. They could break or chew on ornaments, swallow tinsel, trip over light cords, or tip the tree and suffer an injury. It’s best to keep the tree behind a closed door or gate. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals recommends keeping the bottom of the tree covered to minimize the chance of pets taking a drink.
If someone does drink from the Christmas tree stand, get Poison Control guidance by using the webPOISONCONTROL® online tool or calling 1-800-222-1222. Poison Control help is available twenty-four hours a day, even Christmas day.
- Christmas tree preservatives aren’t necessary.
- Commercial preservatives may cause stomach upset and vomiting in children and pets who swallow them.
- Home-made preservatives may contain ingredients that are harmful to children and pets.
Rose Ann Gould Soloway, RN, BSN, MSEd, DABAT emerita