We are in the last week before Christmas, a time can that be hectic for humans. Our busy schedules, last minute parties and holiday preparations, including Christmas shopping, often translates into irritability and stress. Be mindful that the furry friends which share our homes can take on the stress we often feel.
From frenzied moods to throwing together food, from gathered guests to giving gifts, we take on extra duties and extra stress during this special season of the year. Our pets take on the tension that radiates from us—they, too, can experience anxiety which can lead to health problems (giving you something else to stress about!)
Just like with us, pets stress for a variety of reasons; we have ways and opportunities to lessen our pets' stress. For example, provide a quiet space for your furry friend to escape the holiday hoopla. As you entertain with parties and dinners, keep in mind that your pets can become nervous with so many people and so much noise. We know why all these people are milling around our house, but our pets do not. To help your furry friend deal with the extra people and commotion, set aside a special room far enough away from the noise so your pet can relax. But, don’t desert him/her – visit your dog/cat in that quiet room so it doesn’t stress from feeling abandoned.
If, however, your pet enjoys the attention given by your guests, let it hang out with you awhile. But, first make sure your guests know you have a pet in the home (some people are allergic to animal dander and others don’t welcome fur on their clothing). Make sure your pets and guests will mix well by first reminding people that there are pets in your home.
Once that formality is understood and accepted, don’t let your guests feed table scraps to Fido or Fluffy. Human food can throw off your pet’s nutritional balance, and some foods, like chocolate, can be harmful to your dog's and cat's health. Setting down your furry one's supper while you and your guests sit down to dinner helps curb the temptation to indulge your pets with table scraps.
Guests that are fearful of animals can also be a source of stress for you, your guest, and your furry companions. Perhaps your guest is not actually fearful but unaccustomed to being around animals. Prepare your company ahead of time, telling them, for example, what type of dog you have and what its personality is like. If your dog has a loud bark, be sure to let your guests know to expect that when they knock on your door. If your cat likes to sit on people’s laps, warn your guests ahead of time – or confine Fluffy to a room away from your dinner guests. But, as mentioned, don’t forget her! Either yourself or your children should spend time with a pet that’s kept away from everyone during a holiday party or Christmas dinner.
Another source of pet stress during the holidays is travel. Maybe you and your family are driving to Grandma’s and planning to take Fido with you (Grandma has said it’s okay to bring your furry friend with you). Some animals get car sick. Vets estimate that one in six dogs experience motion sickness. Therefore, as a precaution, talk with your vet prior to traveling (especially a long distance) – s/he can provide a relaxant medication to help pets travel with less stress and less sickness. Warning signs that your pet is experiencing motion sickness include increased drooling, excessive swallowing, and too much panting.
If you are planning to be away from home during the upcoming Christmas and New Year's week and are not taking your furry companions with you, make sure you don't leave them alone. Arrange ahead of time for an in-home pet sitter (helpful websites to find such caregivers include https://www.rover.com/, https://dogvacay.com/, and https://www.care.com) or to board your pet at a kennel or with your veterinarian. NEVER leave your pet home alone while you're on vacation; even asking friends to "stop by and check/feed" is not the best idea, especially during the holiday season. Pets can be forgotten even by the most well-intentioned friend, or an emergency can call that person out of town. Pets left alone for extended periods of time can become destructive -- the last you want/need is to return home from Grandma's or Uncle Joe's in another state and find your furniture destroyed and your pet injured or worse. Talk about stress on you and your four-footed friend!
The holidays are meant to be enjoyed. We often experience stress and anxiety during this time of year; our pets can experience those feelings as well. So, do your best to reduce both your stress level and that of your furry friend this holiday season. Rest, take some down time, and enjoy your loved ones, including your furry companions – and ensure your pets have those same opportunities.
MERRY CHRISTMAS and HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Gayle M. Irwin is a writer and public relations professional who volunteers with various animal rescue groups. She enjoys sharing her books and her passion for pets and the environment with others.