Making Pets Part of the Holidays

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For pets, holidays can seem more like a holidaze: they can be stressed by all the to-ing and fro-ing, the visitors coming and going, the strange decorations, the increased number of package deliveries, and even the enticing aromas of holiday baking and roasting.

Here are some steps you can take to make the holidays pleasant for your dog or cat.

Prepare a place for your pet to go for a little R&R when feeling stressed by all the goings-on. Good choices include an unoccupied bedroom, den, basement, or little-used guest bath. Set it up with food and water dishes and a plug-in pheromone diffuser. You can get a diffuser that’s specifically for dogs or cats. Both types are copies of naturally occurring pheromones that help to moderate anxiety in dogs and cats. (And don’t worry, you can use them together.) Think of it as a sanctuary room or “spaw.”

Think of indoor activities to keep pups occupied while you’re wrapping gifts. Dogs love games of hide ‘n seek. If you or the kids are too busy to play along, hide treats around your home or get a toy with treats stuffed inside. 

Some pets are social butterflies, others not so much. A constant flow of relatives or other guests can be stressful to some pets. Don’t force them to interact with Aunt Jane and Uncle Tony if they don’t want to. Instead, let them hang out in the aforementioned sanctuary room. Offer brain-teasing food puzzles or stuffed toys for them to play with and play classical music, reggae, easy-listening tunes, or music especially composed for dogs and cats.

If other family members are bringing their pets, make sure those animals have a separate sanctuary room unless they have all met previously and you know they are friendly toward one another. Even if they have, supervise at first to make sure they remember their manners. No pet should be allowed to bully another.

For pets who don’t mind the throng of friends and relatives, but are thrown by you being gone more often, and feeling stressed, the answer might lie in a squeaky toy, tennis ball or peacock feather. While you may not have time for that long walk, let’s say you’re ending the day watching one of your favorite shows. At commercials, bring out your pet’s favorite toy for a quick play session. An advantage of playing with the dog is that it’s likely equally as effective a stress buster for you as it is for your dog. Remember, pets do pick up on stress.

From your cat’s perspective, Christmas trees may be the best gift ever. Except for elderly or obese cats, expecting that kitty won’t scamper up the tree is just not realistic. Reduce your own stress about this by not hanging fragile antique or glass ornaments on the tree. Display these somewhere else. A small latticework fence around the base of the tree will prevent most cats from being able to climb. Or secure the tree to the ceiling or wall with fishing line so that you don’t have to worry about it falling over if she makes a leap for it.

As the family gathers to open presents, include everyone, even those with fur, feathers or scales. Oftentimes, pets will easily sniff out which gifts are for them. Moreover, you’re teaching the children in the family that all lives are special and worthy of consideration.

Steve Dale, CABC (certified animal behavior consultant), hosts two national pet radio shows and is on WGN Radio, Chicago. He’s a regular contributor/columnist for many publications, including CATSTER, Veterinary Practice News, and the Journal of the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America. He’s appeared on dozens of TV shows, including Oprah, many Animal Planet Programs, and National Geographic Explorer. He has contributed to or authored many pet books and veterinary textbooks such as “The Cat: Clinical Medicine and Management” and co-edited Decoding Your Dog, by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. He speaks at conferences around the world.