Thanksgiving through New Year's Day can be a joyous time of the year, but our pets, just like us, can become overwhelmed and stressed. One of the best gifts we can give to our pets is a stress free holiday! It is important to think about the festivities through their eyes; everything we love about the holidays can be scary for them. So what can we do to help them?
A sudden change in appearance to a pet's surroundings can be stressful, so decorate gradually over a week or so. Be sure not to change the locations of litter boxes, bedding, feeding stations and such for your pets. Sudden change can cause unwanted destructive or urination behaviors, especially in cats.
If you know you are having guests over, set up a "getaway" place in advance (days to weeks is best) for your pet to go when they are overwhelmed. Have their "getaway" place in a room away from guests and ask them not to bother the pet when they are in their “getaway” place. Include a lot of familiar items and smells such as blankets, bedding, food and water, and favorite toys (also a litter box for cats). Using aids such as Thundershirts, pheromones such as Adaptil and Feliway, and calming music (Through a Dog's or Cat's Ear) can help decrease stress. You may use a crate as a "getaway" only if your pet is crate trained and loves the crate because crates are very stressful to those not used to them. Most important, have your pet in their “getaway” when guests arrive and do not let them out until all excitement has calmed down.
Never make a shy or nervous pet interact with guests anywhere in your house. Shy pets may be happier to bypass the festivities all together. Be sure you spend time alone with them in their stress free zone. Ask guests not to interact with shy pets (they greatly prefer being ignored) other than to toss treats to them. This will set up a positive association with guests and works well for guests staying several days.
Consult a certified trainer to help with preparing for the holiday. They can help with crate training, basic manners and setting your pet up for success during the holiday season, but be sure to start early. Make an appointment with one of our veterinarians to discuss possible medications that can help with pets who get especially stressed during the holidays.
KNOW YOUR PET AND WATCH FOR STRESS SIGNS
Keep an eye out for signs of stress in your pet. Watch for hiding, increased vocalization, accidents in the house, increased grooming, flattened ears, tense body, heavy panting, increased reactivity, and fear aggression or other changes of behavior.
Cats in particular are extremely susceptible to stress related illness. Felines who are subjected to loud noises, unfamiliar houseguests, boarding, diet changes, or travel can develop serious urinary tract problems, among other things. Provide a "getaway" room, stick to their daily routine as much as possible, and do not switch food or litter.
To learn more about what to watch for in stressed pets:
TRAVELING and PET SITTING
Some pets love to travel and some do not. Be sure that everyone is ok having your pet visit. It is never fun to find out your nephew is allergic to dogs or the family dog does not like other pets. Not all houses are dog proofed. Not all dogs and kids get along. Be prepared and err on the side of caution.
When traveling with your pet, make sure they are safe and secure in the car. Visit our “PET TRAVEL AND CAR SAFETY CHECK LIST” before hitting the road. If you must travel with a stressed pet, ask your veterinarian about medications to reduce anxiety and stress. Be sure to bring a photo of your pet, a copy of your pet's records including a vaccine history, and your veterinarian information when you travel.
Even if your pet is the best traveling companion, sometimes it’s not feasible to bring your pet with you. If this is the case, consider using a pet sitter or kennel. Research your pet sitter to be sure your pet is in good hands. For pets who have a hard time being alone, opt for a pet sitter to move in while you are gone rather than just stopping in. Cats in particular are more relaxed in their homes. If you are using a boarding kennel, check out the establishment ahead of time. Arrange an overnight or partial day stay to see how they do there before the holidays.
KEEP YOUR PET FROM GETTING LOST
With guests in the house, pets may accidently get out. Be sure all the guests know if your cat is an indoor cat. Hang a sign on the doors "Please do not let Fluffy out". Be sure all your pets have a collar, tags and microchip with updated information. Be sure to have a recent photo of your pet in case they escape.
HOLIDAYS ARE NOT THE BEST TIME FOR A NEW ADDITION
Think twice before bringing home a puppy or kitten. A large number of pets are relinquished after the holidays for a variety of reasons. The excitement of the holidays may create unwanted behaviors, or hamper training efforts. Never give a pet as a “surprise” gift, since the recipient should decide if and when they want a new pet in the household, and should be involved in the selection process. Instead, give a dog or cat toy and a gift certificate for a visit to one of the wonderful adoption facilities in town. Wait until the holidays are over and life is back to normal before bringing a new pet home. A quiet and stable transition will help start the new family member off on the right foot.
DON'T FORGET FIDO or FLUFFY
It is easy to be caught up in the festivities, but don't forget to spend time with your pet, regardless of schedule or weather. Keep to their daily routine. They need stimulation and exercise too. Going for a walk or spending time playing will help decrease stress levels in you and your pet. A little advance preparation will make a big difference in your pet’s stress level and make it a happy holiday for all!
KNOW WHO TO CALL: Be prepared!
Animal Hospital of North Asheville: 828-253-3393
ASCPCA POISON HOTLINE: 24hr a day, 365 days a year at 888-426-4435 for a fee
Trainers / Behaviorist: http://www.ahna.net/recommended-certified-trainers