cat christmas tree

Claim Christmas trees are toxic to children and pets is Mostly False

Ferret Fact Service | Scotland's impartial fact check project

During the Christmas period, stories about potential dangers related to the holiday surface in British newspapers. 

A regular focus of news articles is risk related to Christmas trees. The Daily Express published a story on 2 December about Christmas trees being potentially toxic to animals and children.  

Ferret Fact Service looked at this claim and found it Mostly False.

Evidence

Christmas trees we see inside homes over the festive period are typically firs, spruces and pines.

There are many varieties, including the Nordmann fir, Balsam Fir, Fraser Fir, Douglas Fir, Norway Spruce, and Scots Pine. These are prized for various qualities, such as retaining their needles and their traditional ‘Christmas tree’ fragrance. 

Approximately eight to ten million trees are sold in the UK each year, according to the British Christmas Tree Growers Association. It estimates that around 80 per cent of the trees sold are Nordmann Fir, while another 15 per cent are Norway Spruce.

Are they toxic to pets?

The oils in some Christmas tree types are mildly toxic to pets and can cause irritation to an animal’s stomach or mouth. This should only occur if an animal consumed a considerable amount, which is unlikely.

There is also a risk that a sharp needle “could cause internal damage if swallowed”.

If needles were caught in an animal’s intestinal tract, it could puncture the lining or bunch together causing an intestinal obstruction. According to PetMD this “can have deadly consequences”. They recommend limiting your pet’s access to the tree.

Another potential danger could be from any ornaments or lights decorating the tree, which may be made from toxic materials or have small parts which could damage an animal’s insides. 

What about danger to children? 

Common Christmas tree varieties such as pine and firs are safe to eat and regularly used in cookery, and should not cause any problem if consumed in small amounts.

While there is unlikely to be any significant sickness from ingesting a small amount of Christmas tree, there is possibility of young children choking on small needles. 

Some studies have linked Christmas trees to an increase in mould related allergy symptoms.

A 2011 study analysed clippings from 28 Christmas trees and found 53 mould species, of which 70 percent were potentially harmful. However, unless you suffer from mould allergies, you are unlikely to notice any difference. 

For those who do suffer with such allergic reactions, it is recommended that trees are kept inside for a limited period, and living spaces are kept clear of other sources of mould. Reducing damp by lowering humidity levels should also have a positive impact on symptoms.

An article in the British Medical Journal on Christmas hazards included a few examples of tree-related harms, such as a needle that penetrated a young boy’s “bronchial tree” causing breathing difficulties, and a corneal abrasion caused by a branch poking someone in the eye.

However, the article “did not find strong evidence of widespread adverse effects” from any of the hazards mentioned. 

Ferret Fact Service verdict: Mostly False

Popular Christmas tree varieties can cause a mild irritation to pets if they consume a considerable amount and sharp needles could result in internal damage, however both are unlikely. They are not poisonous to children, although could be a potential choking hazard. There is some evidence that mould from trees could trigger symptoms of some people who suffer mould allergies. 

This claim is Mostly False

Ferret Fact Service (FFS) is a non-partisan fact checker, and a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network fact-checkers’ code of principles. All the sources used in our checks are publicly available and the FFS fact-checking methodology can be viewed here. Want to suggest a fact check? Go to ideas.theferret.scot, email us at factcheck@theferret.scot or join our Facebook group.

Photo thanks to iStock/Katie_Martynova

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