How to Have a Stress-Free Holiday With Pets
The biggest holiday season of all is almost here and as much as we’d like for things to be “business as usual” this holiday, Christmas and New Year 2020 requires a little more work to keep everyone happy and healthy. The Holiday Season is a joyous time for everyone. From cooking, decorating, shopping for gifts, to hosting parties, there is a Holiday buzz all around.
While this is such a joyous time of year, it can also be stressful; and this year is even more so than before. With lockdowns and restrictions still going on in some areas, with family not being able to see each other over the holidays, with funds being extra tight for people whose jobs and livelihood was affected by the pandemic, this holiday season is definitely unlike any other. And while we may be feeling the stress and strain, our pets do too.
Most pets, especially dogs, are very empathetic and can sense the stress and anxiety all around them and this takes its toll on them too. Even solitary creatures like cats can get anxious when something disturbs their normal routine. Our pets mean the world to us, but we are also their whole world and we wouldn’t want our companion to be stressed now, would we?
First, it’s important to recognize what are the triggers that can get your pet anxious; especially during the holiday season.
Some of these triggers can include:
- Loud Holiday parties
- Unfamiliar people or large family gatherings at home
- Travelling on vacation or to see family
(regardless of whether you take them with you or leave them in a kennel or with a pet sitter)
- Taking your pet for pictures with Santa
- Dressing your pet up for the holidays
- New Years’ Fireworks
Long time pet parents may already be aware of what triggers anxiety in your pet, but if you you area new pet owner or even if you are a previous pet owner but just got a new pet, realize that each pet will react differently to these triggers. Their reaction will be a combination of their previous experience with the trigger, and your reaction to it.
That's right, if you stay calm it will greatly help your pet to stay calm as well.
Yes, pet anxiety is a real thing.
Just like us, all pets - from cats, dogs, birds, hamsters, and more can experience stress and it is up to us to help them manage their stress and anxiety, especially during the holidays.
How to Tell if Your Pet is Anxious
Your pet is hanging around you and cuddling a lot; and while you may love the extra attention, this may actually be a sign that your pet is nervous and looking for extra comfort from you.
Other pet anxiety symptoms to look for include:
- Depression and listlessness
- House Soiling
- Destructive behavior
- Continuous barking or whining
- Begging for food, or the opposite - not eating
Any behavior that is out of the ordinary for your pet can be a sign that they are not feeling safe. Even usually well-behaved pets can experience a little anxiety when their usual routines are disturbed.
The following simple tips will help you ensure your furry friends stay calm and enjoy the holiday season as much as you do:
Maintain a Routine
Oh yes, this is a big one! I know how challenging this sounds, since the essence of the holiday is not to have any routine. But, even if that holds true for us, it is critical for our furry friends that there be as little change as possible. No matter what, you have to stick to your pet’s typical routine. Take him for long walks, feed meals and give medications all at the usual times.
Get Some Exercise
- Just like us, pets benefit both physically and emotionally from getting fresh air and exercise. Exercise is a great stress relief for pets. It’s a great way to help your pet from getting anxious and should be done prior to any event.
- Take your pet for a walk outside, play a traditional game of fetch or chase. If you have a dog, take them to the dog park and let them socialize with other doggies so they are not just surrounded by people all day.
- If you are stuck inside, give them puzzles to solve, a fun dog toy like a ball to play with, or engage them in their favorite game of tug of war (if you have a dog) or catch the ball of yarn (if you have a cat). 😊
After all we can all agree that a tired kitty or pooch, one that has been kept busy all day, is much less reactive than an active one.
Give Them Space
When you were young and there was a time when all the relatives visited your place at the same time- How did that make you feel? Did you feel you have nowhere to go? Did you sometimes just feel like yelling “Leave me alone!”
If yes, then you already must know how your pets would feel with the commotion of all the visitors coming to the house.
Before the guests arrive, give your pet a place of their own. Find a quite bedroom, their crate, or some outdoor space and surround them with their favorite things:
- A cozy bed or blanket
- Calming music
We all need some quiet alone time, so watch your pet’s reactions and mood and respect their need to move away from the hustle and bustle and sleep or just to be alone.
If your pet is having a hard time quieting down, we have some suggestions for what can help with this – read on.
Whatever your holiday plans entail, try to keep your pet’s well reaction to the events in mind and plan ahead. Advance planning and preparation can make the whole event easier for everyone.
- If you are the one planning the party, consider hosting the event outdoors. This gives your pet more room to explore and also leaves them with the option to come inside if the noise gets too much.
- Make sure that the other guests are aware that you have a pet. If anyone dislikes pets or is also bringing a pet that your kitty or pup has not met before, you’ll want to make sure to make them aware so that the situation can be dealt with before it escalates.
- Set the rules early on regarding what not to feed your pet. Some well-meaning friends who don’t have pets of their own can feed your pet human food that may not be safe for your fur baby. Letting everyone know what the rules are for dealing with your pet can prevent any issues down the road.
- Spend time with your pet prior to the event doing some of the things mentioned above in order to tire your pet out, but also to give them the attention they want before you get busy with family and friends.
- You can also help your pet feel more at ease by introducing them to the other guests at the party at the very beginning. Preferably do this one at a time so as not to overwhelm your pet with too many new smells and too much attention.
- Even if you are busy socializing, take time out to check on your pet and sit with them for a few minutes so they don’t get separation anxiety and feel abandoned. Pets (even cats) love attention and are happy when they are included as part of the group.
Holidays can be a particularly dangerous time for pets. In all the excitement, it is easy to miss your pet getting into some mischief, of even having someone leave the door open so your pet gets out.
Don’t compromise on their safety; keep your pet safe and prevent any emergencies by following these suggestions:
1. Keep gift wrapping supplies and decorations out of sight:
With so much decorating and gifts to wrap it is easy to miss that one small ornament or bow lying on the sofa. However, string, ribbons, or small decorations can all be potential choking hazards for pets. Small ornaments can emulate balls or yarn so are tempting for pets to play with but they are not safe and your pet could accidentally swallow it and choke. Glass ornaments can also break and cause injuries to your pet.
Tinsel is another common problem for cat owners. Tinsel is easy to ingest, but can cause a host of digestion problems for animals.
2. Prevent Christmas Tree and Christmas Plant Mishaps
If you are a cat owner, you know what is in store for you! Cats love to climb and jump on tall perches, and the Christmas Tree is no exceptions. Too often, however, this results in both tree and kitty crashing down to the ground if the tree is not secured.
If you have a kitty that wants to be the star of your tree, check out our Guide on keeping both cats and your Christmas tree safe from each other.
Traditional Christmas plants like Poinsettia should also be kept away from pets. While this plant was once considered poisonous to pets, it is actually not life-threatening and only mildly toxic. If your pet does happen to ingest a bit of the Poinsettia plant they will most likely react by vomiting, drooling or having some diarrhea. Regardless, it is still best to keep pets away from any plants and call your vet if your pet starts getting sick.
3. Use Care with Cords, Candles and Fireplaces
Electrical cords are hazardous for pets and although these are usually kept out of sight, during all the holiday excitement it is easy to forget to keep these away from pets; especially cords that have shiny lights attached to them.. Make sure to keep cords in PVC piping or special cord protectors so your pet is not tempted to gnaw on them.
Roasting chestnuts over an open fire may sound magical, but make sure to keep pets away from fireplaces and candles. Your pet may be drawn to the warmth of the fire, but a real fireplace or even an electrical one can get too hot and burn your pet if they get too close.
Candles should also be kept out of the reach of pets or use battery-operated versions instead
4. Make your Pet a Priority
Regardless of how many people are going to be celebrating the holidays, even if they are just a few friends or family that you can’t wait to catch up with or new people that you want to get to know, remember to keep an eye on your pet at all times. It’s easy to get involved in a conversation and miss your dog or cat going outside to get some space or because they saw a squirrel or shiny object they want to explore.
Whether it’s your home or you are a guest, make sure to ask others at the party to keep an eye out for your pet and keep all the outside doors locked to avoid any sneak out incident. It is always a good idea to make sure that your pet is microchipped, registered, and has a collar on with your updated contact information.
Be Prepared and Have Fun!
Managing your pets’ anxiety especially during the holiday season will make sure everyone including your pet has a good time. If your pet seems unusually stressed during large gatherings, you can speak to your veterinarian about treatment options.
There are also various natural remedies that will help calm your pet such as jackets or Thunder shirts that keep your pet calm, pheromone diffusers, as well as calming sprays such as BestLife4Pets Pet Relax, Calming, Anxiety & Stress Relief for dogs and cats. The spray comes in an easy to use travel size bottle that you can even take with you if you are going out or travelling with your pet; it’s also all natural and non-addictive.