FCVC understands being prepared to deal with Christmas holidays and stress for pets is one of the last things to check off your list. But you can have happier holidays with reduced excitement from your favorite pet friends through a little preparation. Everyone will enjoy the holidays!
Tips from our friends at ReadingEagle:
While everyone looks forward to the holidays, for cats and dogs it’s sometimes the HOWL-idays, as too much noise, too much exotic food and too many strangers take the fun out of pets’ daily lives and replace it with stress.
In general, dogs and cats are not depressed when January rolls around, veterinarians say, they’re relieved.
Causes of Holiday Stress for Pets
A few local veterinarians weighed in on the causes of all the holiday stress for pets during what many folks consider to be the most wonderful time of the year.
“Pets get stressed around the holidays because we change our schedules, we have other people coming over, there’s a lot of commotion, and while that can happen at any time of the year, a lot of it happens over the holidays,” said Dr. Michael Comalli, VMD, of the Conrad Weiser Animal Hospital in the 100 block of North Third Street, Womelsdorf.
“Anything different will cause increased anxiety,” Comalli said. “We’ll be cooking different foods and be in the kitchen for a longer time, there will be different music, and while those might be small differences, animals know that things are different than usual and they get anxious.”
Even putting up a Christmas tree in the house is a change in their environment and will cause anxiety to some degree in our little homebody companion animals, Comalli said.
Just how much anxiety depends on each pet’s temperament.
Holiday Stress for Pets – Cats Take it Harder
While dogs will be more forthcoming in their expressions of stress by barking and jumping, cats may just go and hide.
While that might appear to mean, “I just don’t want to be bothered,” in cat body language, more often the cat is terrified.
“Cats get more stressed than dogs,” Comalli said. “Cats will hide, and that doesn’t bother us, while dogs will pant, pace and become more vocal, and we notice that. But I think cats get more stressed than dogs.”
Hiding can lead to other problems, Comalli said.
“A lot of the physical problems cats get are precipitated by stress,” Comalli said.
That includes going outside the litter box.
Or, they could get an inflammation of the bladder, which could lead to life-threatening urinary blockage, Comalli said.
If owners see their cat straining to urinate, an immediate visit to a veterinarian is imperative.
With dogs, more stress-induced colitis is seen, with owners bringing their dogs to vets to cure a bout of diarrhea.
Solutions for Reducing Holiday Stress for Pets
If you have an active dog and company is on the way, there are a few things you can do beforehand, Comalli said.
Solutions can be as simple as taking the dog out to exercise before company comes, so he’ll be tired and will direct his energy toward sleeping, Comalli said.
“Secondly, put them in a quiet room; it’s beneficial for the dog to get him away from all the clamor,” Comalli said. “All dogs love people, but when people come over that they may not know, they get very anxious.”
Keep pets away from the kitchen and dining areas during cooking and during meals.
“Everybody is moving around and getting food, there are cooking smells, and it’s like waving candy in front of a child and saying, ‘You can’t have any,’ and that causes stress for dogs,” Comalli said.
Depending on how stressed your pet becomes, you might want to consider medical ways to help him, like a “thunder shirt,” Comalli said.
Thunder shirts (available at FCVC!) are thin coats that wrap tightly around dogs and help them to stay calmer.
“It decreases stress in some dogs, although we don’t know why,” Comalli said. “It’s like a hug.”
For your cats, consider buying a pheromone in a bottle, like “Feliway.”
“It has a calming effect,” Comalli said. “Put the defuser where the cats are, or spray on a towel and put it nearby.”
For dogs, a DAP collar has a pleasing pheromone that helps puppies and adult dogs feel calmer.
“These are ways you can lower your pets’ stress without any risk at all,” Comalli said.
Try to Reduce Stress Early
But whatever you do, try to help the animal before a stressful event occurs, he said.
“Stress is like a snowball rolling down a hill, and if you don’t address it early, it’s more difficult to stop,” Comalli said.
Dr. Alyssa Savage, BVetMed, MRCVS, of the Adamstown Veterinary Hospital, agrees that the holidays can be a difficult time for our pets.
“There’s some degree of difficulty for every pet, but it’s variable and some dog breeds are more genetically susceptible to stress,” Savage said. “Anxiety affects both cats and dogs, and cats will do a lot of hiding and urinate, while dogs will have a great variety of signals like shaking, cowering, getting over-stimulated.
“Sometimes it can be as simple as someone visiting; the doorbell rings and they have the desire to protect the house, and there’s also some ‘stranger danger’ feelings,” Savage said. “Even new Christmas toys that make noise; it can be a whole lot of things going on all at once.”
The most important thing is to make sure nobody gets hurt, Savage said.
When guests are expected, if your dog nips, you may want to let your guests know beforehand and you may want to take steps to change how the introduction of the guests goes, she said.
Having a guest bring a toy or a snack for the dog may help to defuse a potentially tense situation.
“The dog will think, ‘Oh, this is cool, they just gave me a toy,’ and it might help,” Savage said.
Meeting people outside with the dog on a lead can be helpful.
Another tip: Have guests avoid doorbells.
When company comes, Savage agreed that keeping the dog in another room until the evening gets a little quieter is a good idea.
Savage stressed that owners make sure they always reward good behavior instead of punishing undesirable behavior.
Some guests may inadvertently encourage the dog to become “super-excited,” by lavishing too much hyper-attention on the animal.
“Sometimes dogs just need to be separated, and then, reinforce their good behavior,” Savage said.
For cats, owners may want to try soft music or white noise to drown out the louder festivities or give the cat something to distract, like a toy or catnip.
“It’s also common for the cat to try to sneak out the door and run away when company comes, so remember that and be careful,” Savage said.
Your veterinarian can prescribe a medication for anxiety to be given an hour or two before guests arrive.
“But we try to work with other strategies before we prescribe meds,” Savage said.
Too Much Rich Food Can Make Pets Sick
At holiday time, there’s also the chance that pets will be given richer foods than they can handle, Savage said, or even foods that contain ingredients toxic to your pet.
It’s well known that chocolate can be toxic to dogs, but so can onions, garlic, grapes and raisins.
“After the holidays, it’s common to get tons of pets sick to their stomach,” Savage said. “The holidays are tough for pets.”
Dr. John di Planque, VMD, of the Dog and Cat Clinic, 18 Heffner Road, Fleetwood, sees plenty of holiday food mishaps, including the dog who ate an entire half of a freshly baked cake.
After a trip to the doctor, he was OK.
“The dog might beg for food from guests, and they give him some, so the dog gets lots of different food that he doesn’t usually get, meaning we see a lot of post-holiday diarrhea,” di Planque said. “It’s fairly standard the weekend after Thanksgiving or Christmas.”
If families are planning to travel for the holiday, that’s stressful to the pet, too, di Planque said.
Even if you have a competent caregiver come to the home — the best plan — the dog’s family life has still been disrupted.
If families are planning to take their dog with them, it’s anybody’s guess how well that will turn out.
Much depends on the dog’s temperament and their capacity to be able to travel comfortably for a length of time.
“Stress for pets isn’t specific to the holidays, but there might be more of it at that time,” di Planque said. “It’s often when people visit; the dog likes his happy little home which means ‘mom, dad and me,’ so when strangers come by, it can be very upsetting.”
“With cats, it can get complicated if you go away for an extended time period and have strangers come to feed the cat and change the litter box,” di Planque said.
With increased holiday activity, people know life will return to normal, di Planque said, but pets don’t have that reassurance.
Keeping Pets Safe
The winter holiday season is the busiest time of the year for veterinarians due to pet owners not being aware of a number of dangerous, even toxic, risks to their pets, according to the American Veterinarian Medical Association.
Following is a list of eight risks of which you may not be aware, in order to ensure your pet has a happy holiday season, too.
Seasonal plants: Poinsettias, mistletoe, holly, Christmas cactus, balsam boughs and pine all make beautiful holiday decorations and all can cause poisoning if ingested.
Tinsel and ornaments: Many holiday decorations can pose a serious threat. Even a tiny bit of tinsel, or bows or ribbon can get lodged in a dog or cat’s intestinal system or can even create a choking hazard.
Sweet treats: The trouble with cookies and candies is that they may contain xylitol, an artificial sweetener, which can cause blood pressure to drop to dangerous levels in dogs and could also cause liver failure.
Chocolate: We know it’s not good for dogs, but did you know it can cause serious illness and even death? If you believe your pet has ingested chocolate, call your veterinarian immediately.
Holiday escapes: With guests coming and going, owners may forget to keep an eye on curious pets. An open door can result in the escape of a beloved dog or cat, or shy pets who are overwhelmed by all the activity may run outside to find peace and quiet. Be sure that guests know to keep doors shut, and talk to your vet about inserting a microchip or getting an ID tag that contains your address and phone number.
Table scraps: Depending on what scraps you give, this could result in stomach upset or a serious toxic reaction. Some items to avoid: garlic, onions, turkey bones, milk, raisins, or mints with xylitol.
Toppling Christmas trees: Dogs sniffing around the tree or drinking from the water bowl, and cats batting at ornaments or climbing up the tree are all behaviors that increase the chance of the tree toppling over on your pet. To secure trees properly, tie a wire around the tree trunk, near the top, and secure to a wall or other secure area.
Alcohol: Pets can become inebriated without you ever knowing the source, from a dog eating some rum-soaked fruitcake to a cat eating raw cookie dough that contains fermented yeast. Alcohol in any form can make your pet extremely ill and can lead to seizures and even respiratory failure.
At the holidays and all year long, a little preventive care can go a long way toward keeping your pet safe and happy.
FCVC vets really care about the well-being of your pet friends. We know you want to be good pet moms and dads. Ensuring that your pets can relate to the holidays with less stress will help you and them be healthier and happier. Try a few of the tips and avoid the bad foods list and you should come through the holidays like champs!
If you do have concerns with stress behaviors in your pets, please give us a call at 970-587-5140. We would be happy to discuss with you ways to help. ProQuiet and Thundershirts are examples that may be good options for your pets.
Attribution – from our friends at ReadingEagle
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