This year, you may be celebrating the holidays in larger groups, catching up with family and friends who you have been unable to see over the last few turbulent years. While it is fun and exciting to gather together, we must not forget about the stress these seasonal celebrations can put on our pets.
Anxious cats, dogs, and Christmas do not always meld well together, so whether you are hosting the holiday or visiting others, we have collated useful tips and tricks to help keep your pet relaxed and comfortable throughout the festivities.
Before Christmas Day
Try to stick to your pet’s usual routine
Dogs and cats are very much creatures of habit and routine, any small changes to what they are used to can put them on high alert and increase their anxiety levels. You will likely be busy in the days running up to Christmas, but try to keep your pet’s feeding and exercise schedule as consistent as possible to help minimize preemptive stress.
Introduce your pet to groups of people and/or strangers
If you have got your pet within the last few years, they have likely had few opportunities to be around larger groups of people. Try bringing them out with you to places where you know there will be strangers or small crowds. Focus on reassuring your pet with treats and/or extra love to show them that these situations are not a threat.
If visiting a Friends’ house, stop by a few days before
This may not always be possible depending on how far you are traveling for the holidays, but if your destination is nearby and your pet has never been there before, it is a good idea to let them sniff around the house before the big day.
By allowing your anxious pet to get the lay of the land before the house is full of people, they may feel slightly less overwhelmed on Christmas Day. It will also provide an opportunity for your dog or cat to meet any other pets in the house under less stressful circumstances.
Make note of where your pet most enjoys spending time
On Christmas Day, you will want to set up a quiet, safe space for your pet. By taking note of where your cat or dog spends most of their time during non-stressful times, you will know the best spots in which to set up their space on the big day. Does your cat like to curl up on the top of your dresser? Does your dog enjoy napping on the rug in your bedroom? Do they willingly use their pet bed or crate?
Check-in with your veterinarian
If you know that your pet suffers from anxiety already, try talking to your veterinarian before the holiday to receive their professional advice on how best to manage your dog or cat’s anxiousness. Your vet knows your pet’s history and can provide specific recommendations based on your fur baby’s unique temperament and needs.
Try supportive products designed to help manage pet anxiety
Your veterinarian may recommend calming supplements to provide extra support for your anxious pet over Christmas. There are many products designed to help anxious pets maintain a more balanced mood in stressful situations. Some of these include special coats (similar to weighted blankets for humans), sprays, and even herbal-based calming supplements.
Christmas Day Morning
Exercise your pet a little more than usual
A longer or more vigorous exercise session in the morning can help tire out your pet, allowing them to relax or nap more easily throughout Christmas Day.
This additional exercise could be in the form of a longer walk for your dog (bring the whole family for some morning bonding time before you open presents!) or carving out an extra 15 minutes for active playtime with your cat.
Set up your pet’s safe space
Before any guests arrive or soon after arriving at your Christmas Day location, set up your pet’s safe space. This should include their bed, blankets, any favorite toys or chews, and their food and water bowls. Make sure it is in a low-traffic area of the house and easily accessible to your dog or cat.
Throughout the Holiday Celebrations
Ensure your pet has unimpeded access to their safe space
If your pet has retreated to the dedicated space, you have set up for them, instruct your guests to leave them alone for a while. If you are celebrating at someone else’s house, make sure you are consistently going to visit them as reassurance that their favorite human is still there.
Continually keep an eye on your pet and monitor their mood
Look out for any signs that they may be getting stressed over-anxious. These include:
- Increased vocalization
- Tucked tail
- Excessive Panting
- Chewing paws
- Aggressive/defensive behavior
- Destructive behavior
- Urinating or defecating inside the house
- Pacing or general restlessness
If you notice signs that your cat or dog is getting stressed during Christmas celebrations, ensure they have access to their quiet, safe space and spend some time alone with them there to calm down. Allow your pet to spend more time by your side and provide continuous reassurance until signs of stress subside.
Don’t forget to give them love and attention!
With the hustle and bustle of the day’s festivities, pets can easily slip into the background - especially if you are the one hosting. Oftentimes, anxious pets are quickly soothed by close contact with their human, so checking in with your fur baby regularly can help them feel more secure just knowing you are there.