Deck the Stalls with Boughs of Holly: Holiday Safety Tips For Decorating Your Barns and Stalls

The holidays are in full swing now and for most people this means pulling out the decorations and stringing them through our homes and barns, but there are some precautions you should take if you plan to decorate your hooved friend’s barn, stall, or fences.

Greenery can be very pretty, but you should proceed cautiously.  While the pine and spruce cuttings that are generally used in wreaths and garlands are not necessarily poisonous, they can cause mouth and gastrointestinal discomfort if your animal decides to take a nibble.  Plus, sticky sap is no fun to try and comb out of a mane or tail.

Along with the beautiful wreaths, generally comes some type of red berry.  If a berry called Yew is included in your holiday greenery, be cautious to keep it away from horses, cows, cats, dogs, and even your children.  The Yew berry grows in a landscape bush commonly found throughout the United States and it’s bright color is what generally draws people to include it in floral arrangements, but it is extremely toxic, causing cardiac distress and seizures.  This berry is so toxic that even a small amount can cause distress in a horse and its effects come on very suddenly so it is best to just avoid it all together if it will be in an area that is often unattended.

Who doesn’t love a smooch under the mistletoe?  While your horse is sure to appreciate the extra affection and the lovely decoration above their stall door, mistletoe and holly pose another risk if consumed.  As with the Yew berries, the berries often found on mistletoe and holly arrangements are also toxic. Additionally, holly plants have sharp pointy leaves that can cause gastrointestinal injury if eaten or eye injuries if they rub their heads up against it.

I’ve always heard to keep poinsettia plants away from my (barn) cats, but what about the horses?  Poinsettia is actually quite safe, however, you should still proceed with caution. The milky white sap that comes from the stem when cut can cause a contact irritation.  This could be especially problematic if it were to get in the eyes or be ingested. The irritation is typically short lived and resolves itself, but care should still be taken if you plan to place some plants throughout your barn.

By now you’re probably thinking “I’ll just avoid the worry and use fake decorations”, but if you happen to have a busy chewer you’ll still want to be careful about the placement of the decorations.  Most wreaths and garlands are made of a plastic material and if you’ve ever fluffed a fake Christmas tree, you’ll know the feel of those fake needles on your hands isn’t very pleasant. Now imagine that in your mouth or throat.  It doesn’t sound like a fun time, does it? Proper placement, out of your horses reach, will ensure that no injuries come from a curious nibble.

String lights can pose a whole other risk if they have a battery pack.  If a battery is swallowed it can cause awful chemical burns in the esophagus and may require a costly surgical removal.  Plug in lights should also be kept out of chewing reach so as to avoid electrical shocks, not to mention the potential for a fire hazard.

If Santa leaves your horse a stocking on Christmas Eve, make sure he knows to be careful when choosing treats.  Homemade dough-type ornaments have too much salt for our smaller bodied friends and if your horse just can’t wait to dig in, consuming all of the other treats in their stockings, no matter how safe they are, too quickly may result in colic.  The jolly man should also be aware of any friends who may be insulin-resistant and avoid sweet treats including carrots.

If you plan to dress your equine friend up for pictures or a parade, all of the above cautions should still be advised or at least closely monitor your animal while in close contact with these holiday decorations to avoid any accidents.

All precautions can be followed, but accidents do happen.  In the event of an emergency, our on call doctor can answer any questions or examine your equine or bovine animals.  There is also a national Pet Poison Helpline available 24/7 to assist you with any concerns for animals of all species; small, large or exotic at 800-213-6680.


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