Pet owners are being warned about the potential dangers of flocked Christmas trees after a devastated woman lost her two beloved cats.
The woman, believed to be from the US, claimed her pets were sleeping inside the faux fir's box earlier this month and "ingested the white flocking dust" before dying shortly after.
"My heart is broken. My two cats passed away on December 8 last week," the woman shared on Facebook. "They were only six-years-old and very healthy. I can’t believe this happened. Please be careful if you have a flock Christmas tree," she warned.
Flocking refers to the "fake snow" added to a bare tree and is usually done by applying a white powder to its branches. As a preferred choice for many at Christmas time, the woman's warning sparked panic among other pet owners who expressed fear about the popular design. Her post has now been shared over 46,000 times by worried animal lovers.
"Be careful with flocked Christmas trees. This is so sad," one person wrote re-sharing the post. "If you have a Flock Christmas tree, GET RID OF IT!" another warned. "This is so devastating."
Others urged family and friends to "be careful of toxic snow on artificial Christmas trees". While thousands more expressed their condolences for the woman's cats.
Is a flocked Christmas tree dangerous?
While flocked products are technically non-toxic, they can still cause harm, Dr Tim Hopkins from Sydney's Small Animal Specialist Hospital (SASH) told Yahoo News Australia.
"It's the physical properties that pose a risk," Dr Hopkins explained. "There is a risk of intestinal obstruction and aspiration." After being eaten or inhaled, flocking swells up after "absorbing fluid from the lungs and gut". This can cause breathing difficulties or discomfort.
"But for that effect to cause illness, [the animals] would have had to have ingested or inhaled a large amount," the veterinarian said. With 30,000 animals being treated at SASH in any one year, they're yet to see an instance where this has occurred.
The RSPCA said this is a good reminder for pet owners during the holiday season. "New and unfamiliar objects can be present in households and these can sometimes pose dangers for pets," a spokesperson told Yahoo News Australia.
These include tinsel, baubles, Christmas lights, real Christmas trees, additives in water used for the Christmas tree or flowers/plants, many flowers (such as lilies and poinsettias, both common in bouquets given at Christmas), snow globes, wrapping string or ribbon, foods, not to mention falling Christmas trees or decorations.
"We encourage pet owners to be mindful of what they bring into their house this Christmas time, keep anything dangerous or harmful out of reach, and closely supervise their pets around any unfamiliar objects."
Pooja Mehta, a Poisons Information Consultant at the Animal Poisons Helpline, told Yahoo News flocking snow is usually made up of five components: Flocking agent, fluidising agent, propellant, binding agent and solvent.
"The majority of these substances are regarded as low toxicity and minor ingestion will generally only result in minor gastrointestinal signs such as retching/vomiting," she said. "Other risks with this product are associated with it being a foreign body that can potentially cause an obstruction of the gastrointestinal tract if a large amount is ingested, or airway injury or obstruction if the powder is inhaled."
Pet owners are urged to call the Animal Poisons Helpline for advice about any specific product or if their pet has ingested something they’re concerned about. The helpline can be reached on 1300 869 738 (AU) or 0800 869 738 (NZ).
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