Tis the season to be merry but for our pets, the holidays can often cause stress and anxiety. We deck our Silicon Valley homes with décor that may be unsettling and there may be more visitors—possibly even other pets—in our homes than usual. The normal routines of our furry friends are disrupted as we are away from home shopping, visiting family, or at holiday gatherings. Our pets may not be getting enough activity or attention, which can cause them distress.
Here are some tips to help make the holidays less stressful for you and your furry companions.
Practice basic training
Useful primarily for dogs, it is a good idea to teach your pup some rudimentary commands such as sit, stay, down/no jumping. This can go a long way toward them remaining calm when greeting guests or during much more frequent package deliveries.
Gather essential equipment
Baby gates are an ideal way to block off a doorway and keep your dogs safe inside a designated room. Inhibiting their ability to roam freely throughout your home, especially when you have visitors, will help them remain calm and reduce their anxiety and yours. Most cats will easily be able to scale a baby gate, so odds are, you will have to shut the door to keep them safe.
Many dogs and even some cats feel safest in a crate. This den mentality calms them and lessens nervousness. If your animal hasn’t been crate-trained, this could take more time and effort but for those that are, it can significantly reduce their level of stress.
Treats and toys are a must to keep your companions occupied. Most cats enjoy jingle balls and toy mice while dogs typically love squeaky and chew toys. KONGS filled with a preservative-free nut butter is a sure bet to keep them happy and satisfied. It is the holidays after all and now is the perfect time to introduce some new playthings.
Establish a safe space
All pets can benefit from a separate space in your home that makes them feel comfortable and secure. Though they may normally be cuddled up in the Family Room or kitchen, when your home is bustling with visitors, a different location is probably a better choice. In the weeks leading up to the holidays, spend time with your pet in this new space. Let them become accustomed to spending time here. Give them treats to show them that this location is indeed a good place. Over time, place them here without you so they get used to being alone without becoming anxious. Be sure their new hangout has things in it that they enjoy and are used to, such as favorite toys, crates, and bedding.
Just as with people, music can be a calming influence on our furry family members. Spotify has a channel called iCalmDog or you can buy tunes that have been culled especially with your canine in mind from Through A Dog’s Ear.
Line up a pet sitter or dog walker
If you will be away from home for an extended period or out of town for a few days, now is the time to schedule your pet sitter or dog walker. Your pets will appreciate the companionship as well as the exercise while you’re away. Activity and exercise is an important aspect for minimizing anxiety and stress for our pets. If their normal exercise routine is disrupted due to the holidays, be sure to have someone fill your shoes, coming by to play with your cat or take your dog to the park. If you don’t have a regular dog walker, services like Wag.com or Rover.com are fantastic options, allowing you to book quickly and easily from your smartphone.
And now for some tips on preparing your home to receive furry holiday guests:
- Put together a welcome basket with treats and special toys. This will also help alleviate your pet’s anxiety over their new housemate borrowing their favorite playthings.
- Create a separate safe haven for guest pets. This can help the transition and introduction of your animals with the newcomers as well as alleviate food guarding and aggression and the possibility of anxious guest pets chewing on furniture or using your rugs as potty spots.
- Ensure vaccines and flea medication is current. Your guests should safeguard their animals and yours by having their pet’s shots other medications up to date.
- Bring favorite beds, toys, and food bowls. Having familiar items from home will help your furry guests settle in more easily. Establish a separate area to feed your animals and your visitor’s companions with their normal food and water dishes.
- Pet proof your home. Put any toxic foods or plants well out of reach as well items that might get damaged out of harm’s way.
- Keep introductions slow and supervised. Allow your pets and your visitor’s pets to spend time apart from each other as well as humans for while before making gradual introductions. Be sure to watch for signs of aggression, unease, or stress including lack of eye contact, hissing or growling, tail between the legs, raised hackles, or ears pinned back in all pets when you do bring them together. Always supervise young children’s interactions with animals to ensure their safety.
Bringing the entire family together, furry and otherwise, can make the holidays a very special and enjoyable time as long as precautions are taken to ensure your animals and those of your visitors are made to feel safe, comfortable, and happy.