Q: I’d like to decorate the barn the holiday. I was thinking about wreaths made of fir boughs and holly, poinsettias, and maybe even some mistletoe over my horse’s stall door (even though I don’t really need an excuse to kiss his cute muzzle!). I’m a little worried that some of the horses might try to eat the decor, though. Should I be concerned?
A: It sounds as though you are really getting into the festive swing this year! It is good to take a moment and make sure such decorations won’t cause unexpected problems. The short answer is that some of the things you mention are fine and others I would give a miss.
Most pines and spruce are fine to use around horses. Keep in mind, though, that they can drip sap which if it gets into manes and on the coat can be a real pain to remove. Sap might also cause mild mouth irritation, so be sure to hang any decorations using fir and spruce well out of reach of curious lips.
While your number one concern is, of course, the horses in the barn, it’s also important to remember that a lot of barns have a barn cat or dogs that come to visit. While some decorations might be fine for horses they could pose a risk for cats and dogs. This is the case with holly, whose leaves and berries are toxic to cats and dogs and can cause severe gastrointestinal upset. Holly is also mildly toxic to horses.
One I would avoid, as it can cause more severe problems, is mistletoe. In cats, dogs, and horses it’s been associated with gastrointestinal disorders, cardiovascular collapse, dyspnea (difficulty or labored breathing), bradycardia (an abnormally slow heart rate), and erratic behavior. If you want to kiss your horse under mistletoe, perhaps bring it to the barn with you, give him a quick smooch, and then take the mistletoe home with you.
One urban myth is that poinsettias—a Christmas favorite since the 16th century are poisonous to people. Not true. This plant is, however, mildly toxic to pets, but they would have to consume quite large quantities of it.
Despite the mild issues associated with most of these plants, I recommend placing all decorations well out of reach of any horses. Avoid decorations, such as tinsel, that could cause blockages if consumed. Remember too that cats love shiny things! Other decorative considerations include electrocution hazard to horses from Christmas lights, as well as potential fire risk. Make sure that any decorative lights used in the barn are UL-listed (meaning it meets certain safety standards) and made for outdoor use, and avoid using extension cords and overloading circuits. Consider using LED lights, which are cooler when left on for long periods.
If you have a real Christmas tree in the barn make sure it’s regularly watered to reduce the risk of combustion. Artificial trees might offer a safer barn-decorating option. Look for one labeled as nonflammable or flame retardant.
With common sense, it’s possible to have a festive and safe barn this season.