By Malcolm Mayhew
‘Tis the season for good cheer, lots of food and quality family time. For many, though, the holidays can be stressful, not just for us humans but for our pets, too.
“Any change in the home or daily routine can be a stresser for pets,” says Dr. Genna Mize, a Consulting and Reporting Veterinarian supporting the pharmacovigilance team at Virbac. “So you can only imagine what sort of dissonance the holidays can introduce into their lives.”
If you’re celebrating the holidays this season, in ways large or small, it may be impossible to completely shield your pet from stress. But here are a few tips on how to make their lives a little easier during this fun but hectic time of year.
Make your holiday tree “pet friendly”: When it comes to holiday trees, cat owners may have it a little tougher than dog owners. Naturally curious, cats and kittens love to try to climb colorfully decorated trees; bat around ornaments and lights; and nibble on the needles. Because your holiday tree is all for them, right?
A few precautions are necessary in order for holiday trees and cats to co-exist. First, wrap the base of the tree in foil, then cover with a tree skirt. Cats don’t like the way foil feels on their paws.¹ Also, avoid using glass ornaments, which can break easily. Another good idea: Put a bell on your tree. It’s like a built-in alarm - you’ll know instantly when your cat starts messing with it.
Create a safe, private place for your pet: Some pets love to be showered with attention. Others, not so much. “If you have an anxious dog who is leery of strangers, give it a quiet, private space away from the party,” Dr. Mize suggests. “Safe places are great for shy pets who don’t appreciate holiday visitors.” The safe place should be a room with which they’re familiar - a bedroom, for example - and perhaps filled with some new toys to distract them.
Here at Virbac, we offer products designed to calm the nerves of our pets. Supplements such as ANXITANE® (L-Theanine) Chewable Tablets are available for both cats and dogs. We also offer ZENIDOG® Brand Products made specifically for dogs, including a long-acting collar and a gel diffuser.
Try not to disrupt their routines: Keep their feeding, walking and playing schedules as normal as possible.
Don’t feed them from the table: As tempting as it is, and no matter how adorable they look while they’re begging for food, refrain from slipping them pieces of grandma’s cooking, Dr. Mize says. It can be harmful to their health, and some common holiday ingredients such as chocolate are even fatal.² “It is of utmost importance to keep food and other typical non-edible temptations away from your pets' reach,” she says. “Ensure all food is securely stored when your pet is not under direct supervision and that any potentially dangerous objects cannot be accessed by your pet. This includes harmful festive plants which, at a minimum, can cause gastrointestinal upset.”
Avoid loud noises: Who doesn’t love fireworks? Most likely, your pets. Fireworks are often the star attraction at New Year’s Eve celebrations but the sudden bursts of noise they create can make pets jittery and agitated. Keep pets inside, ideally in a quiet room, while fireworks are in use and periodically reassure them that everything’s OK.
Consider hiring a pet sitter: If you’re too swamped with your holiday preparations, consider hiring someone to walk your dog or care for them while you’re preoccupied. This can be a family friend or a professional service that you can find online.