Updated: May 24, 2020
For many pets, the holiday season is anything BUT joyful. All too often the days leading up to and throughout the holiday pets are stressed, anxious, and afraid. This year, give your pets the best gift possible by making the holiday season as fear free as possible.
Be wary of stacking! No, not stockings....stacking! Stacking is when multiple stressors occur within a short period of time without adequate time to recover. For example, you are anxiously cleaning the house, burn the turkey and set of the smoke detector, hurriedly rush the dog through a scary bath, then shoo him away from his normal sleeping spot so you can set up the card table. Each one of these events may be moderately stressful alone that your pet may normally be able to handle, but, when stacked together, they can become time bombs of anxiety, fear, or even aggression. Such situations often result in statements like "he's never done anything like that before!" Remember, if stacking is the culprit: your dog isn't snapping at your grand kids because hates all kids. Running and screaming children were just the final straw, in a series of straws that all stacked up together over time. Each straw was the problem, not just the last one.
Quiet, Safe Space
Give your pet a calm, quiet place away from all the activity. Limit guests from visiting them, and don't allow any visits during the loudest parts of the evening. Provide breaks as needed and appropriate. Classical or soothing music (NOT talk radio or TV) can help mask all the noise. Provide entertainment, such as a food dispensing toy or stuffed and frozen Kong. Their favorite toys and bed can also help.
Supplements and Meds
Consider natural calming aids like CBD oil or calming chews - WITH vet approval. Be sure to test them out before the big event, so you are able to observe your pets' response. You may need to adjust dosage or try another brand or formula as needed.
For pets with more serious behavioral concerns and when the above doesn't cut it, talk to your vet about appropriate prescription options. Be sure to also test these out before the big event, so you are able to observe your pets' response and adjust dosage or try another option as needed. Remember, supplements and medications should only be given under vet supervision.
Get Away From it All
Sending pets elsewhere for the whole day or even a few days is sometimes the best thing for the pet. However, avoid going from the kettle to the fire by just dropping them off at a stressful, brand new place - that may be worse! Choose a place they know and love, like grandma's house (though grandma will likely be at your house). Try a few practice sessions where your pet stays there alone, while you run errands with grandma. If their first time alone at grandma's is ON Christmas day and there has been days of stacking going on, you may come back to find your pet had a panic attack while you were gone. You still have time to help them adjust, so prepare ahead with day trips to find and get used to a great, low stress option. Cats can be more difficult to find a place to stay, so consider checking out The Happy Cat Hotel in CT for low stress stays.
For many pets (and humans!) the best possible and least stressful solution is - don't host! Your anxiety during prep can set your pets up for issues long before the first guest arrives. It's a great excuse to catch up on the Great British Baking Show so you can perfect your dessert and bring it to someone else's house, and save yourself AND your pet the stress. Just say "Katenna said I should!" I'll take the heat from Great Aunt Maria.
For More Info
For more info, check out my upcoming workshop "Dealing with Your Pets Fear and Anxiety" on Dec 20, in Warwick RI. Click for details or to register.
We will explore the development of fear in pets, review identifying and managing stress and anxiety, discover effective ways to address your pet's fear and anxiety.
Plenty of videos as well as a live demos if appropriate.
Both cats and dogs will be discussed.
Learn to Listen
If you're not sure how your pet is feeling, I've provided some useful resources below. Print them out, hang them on the fridge, and review them frequently. Low stress holidays are the very best gift you can give to your pets (and to yourself!).