Everyone Have a Happy Holiday (Pets Too)!
Holiday gatherings are here at last. Our pet dogs and cats are a part of the holiday, so consider what your pet needs as the season gets underway. My office receives a lot calls about shaking, "grouchy" dogs and cats when entertaining family during the holidays. There are ways to decrease stress for your pet - and you too!
First consider the age, health and temperament of your pet when guests are expected. Older pets that are arthritic or blind will have difficulty getting out of the way at a holiday party. A dog may be lying comfortably in their own bed, but they are resting with one eye open, on the lookout for toddlers, clumsy adults or other visiting pets. This causes tension and apprehensive about the whole gathering, resulting in pain from holding their body tense, or constantly moving around. Young pets may be very excited jumping and running around, which can add to people and pet stress. Both dogs and cats of all ages need to stick to their routines. When their routine gets messed up, so do the pets. Be sure to maintain the feeding, walking, play times no matter what your guests want.
Toddlers are especially at risk of being bitten by even the friendliest dog. Toddlers are at the height of many dog's faces or put their face into the dog's face. Few dogs like this. A good dog tolerates it and it is one of the most common way children get bitten. Children under 5 years old do not follow verbal instructions from adults very well, and it seems the more adults there are at a gathering, the fewer eyes are on the child. Toddlers have high pitched voices and who can tell what they are going to do next? Certainly a dog or cat can't. An older dog is likely to be tense around active little humans. If a cat feels cornered by a toddler, the cat may scratch or bite. If the owners have not made a quiet place for the dog or cat to go, there is a big risk of a bite.
What about the furry guests? When your family brings along their beloved pet, it is a direct competitor to the food, beds, and attention. Often the host pet may act "jealous" but they are not. Competition for resources is a normal feeling when a new pet comes in - kind of like your sister coming in without her own clothes, toothbrush or food to eat. I bet you would feel a sense of competition when she starts sitting in your chair, using your tooth brush and eating off of your plate. Have the visiting pet bring their own suitcase with food bowl, bed, food and toys.
If your dog/cat goes under the table, behind the chairs, gets "grouchy" or cannot settle down, -they are very anxious. Not a little nervous - they are very nervous!!! If guests are coming over just once a year, then board your pet for the day. If that is not possible, set up a room far away from the action with food, water and any suggested treatments to reduce anxiety. Play the radio on a rock or pop music station to muffle out all the sounds. If someone wants to visit your pet, you decide if it is okay. Younger, well socialized pets may do fine with visitors, but after a few hours they have usually had enough and need a quiet area. Put your pet there if you notice them avoiding people. Constantly going from room to room, is a way of an animal trying to find a place to get away. Your dog or cat will thank you for this. Believe me, they do not see this as punishment- rather a relief.
For guest pets, be sure to provide separate (in separate rooms or areas) food and water dishes, lots of individual play and attention and do not leave pet food in the bowls. For toy time, be sure the dogs are not stealing each other 's toys. Keep the host dogs number one by feeding, petting and allowing this dog outside first. Maintaining this hierarchy will reduce the likelihood of "grouchiness" and problems. Guest pets may be a challenge to the “host” pet in ways that are hard for us to see. Tensions may be escalating unnoticed until a scuffle occurs. Often veterinary emergency clinic have to treat the case of the guest dog or cat fight, so don't bring your pet unless it is invited.
Keep the little people and furry family members safe and happy. Baby gates are a great way to insure safety for pets and kids. Have the gate up creating easy way to separate dogs from the family areas that are noisy and chaotic. Toddlers can toss treats over the gate to reward dogs and cats. I cannot count the number of calls I have had over the years about bites to active toddlers from dogs or cats being followed and reached for. For cats, make high places off the floor for them to get away. No decorations on top of the sofa table, the entertainment center or book case. Be sure there is a way for the cat to jump up on these places as well. Cats need escape routes and cubbies to hang out in.
You are a loving parent/grandparent to separate your pets from the guests that stress them. Don't feel guilty - you are being responsible for yourself, your pets and your guests. If your pets are really upset, or your guests unpredictable, get your boarding appointment now. Boarding facilities fill up fast so do not wait. If that is not an option, set the rest room up now and have your pet stay in there for an hour or 2 starting a week before the big day. Maybe you will want some alone time there too!.
Pick up some Adaptil canine mother dog pheromone spray for your stressed dog or Feliway feline pheromone spray for your cat during the holidays. This is available at veterinary clinics, some pet stores, and our online pharmacy. You can find more information on using pheromones for stress at my website. Adaptil works by the dog inhaling the product, goes directly to the calming center of the brain. Feliway spray works best when your visitors spray the Feliway on themselves, especially the hands. Also spray this around the doorways and family areas. This product helps the cat feel like they have rubbed up against, or marked that person which to the cat means they belong in this space. Use these products early and often. They work best when applied before the guests arrive.
Be sure to keep an eye on your older pet. If they are moving slow or grouchier than normal, that is a sign of pain. For a dog or cat, this is high level pain. Pets do not limp or cry until they are at a 9 out of 10 in pain typically. Do not delay - get them in for a checkup and some pain relief from your veterinarian. I have seen many older pets attempt to bite when they did not want to get up after a day with a visiting young dog. Cats too, can become more irritated after a day of either hiding under the bed, or constantly moving from room to room to avoid people.
Have a happy and safe holiday with your pet. Following these tips can make a much happier holiday for everyone.
- written by Dr. Sally J. Foote