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Tips to manage your pet around the holiday season

The most wonderful time of the year!

The holiday season is a fantastic time to see loved ones and overindulge in delicious foods. However, it can be a very stressful time for our pets as the holiday season can mean large changes to their lives. Due to lockdowns and restrictions, for many pets this will be their first year with the festivities in full swing in a very long time. Equally, for many younger dogs and cats, this will be their first time experiencing the holiday season.

Preparing your pet for the holiday season is incredibly important. Unfortunately, the majority of dog bites occur around the holiday season, likely due to high stress from the dog being put into unusual or stressful situations. This blog will talk you through how to best guide your pet through the holiday season for as stress free a day as possible!

Preparation is key

In order to coach your pets through the holiday season, it is important to be as prepared as possible. For example, try to outline any commitments that may mean changes for your pet to their routine and manage them as best you can to avoid frustration. As much as possible, try to leave your pets routine unchanged, especially around walking and feeding.

Safe Spaces

If your pet doesn’t have one already, it is important to set up a safe space for them so that they can remove themselves from the celebrations where necessary.

Creating a safe space for your dog

  • Set the space up in advance to allow your dog time to get used to it. Aim for somewhere that your dog can access with ease but has very low foot traffic

  • Often, dogs will like to have somewhere covered, such as a crate or a bed with an overhang. The space should contain comfortable bedding and access to fresh water. Start to build a positive association with the space by leaving tasty treats and chews for your dog to find.

  • Try to encourage them to use the space by rewarding calm behaviours around it.

  • Introduce an Adaptil plug in near to the area to help your pet to feel more relaxed

Decorating for the big day

Decorating for the holiday season can be great fun for you and your family, however it can be very stressful for even the calmest of pets. Putting up your Christmas tree can mean the removal of furniture, a change to routine, and a large unfamiliar object in the home. Ideally, the pet should be introduced to the new tree in stages, with lots of positive interactions around this new item. Flashing lights can be distressing or distracting for your pet, and so it may be best to set your tree to static.

When decorating the tree, it is important to make sure all your decorations are pet safe. Avoid glass decorations that can smash or chocolate that your pet may be tempted to eat. If you are absolutely desperate to use these, it is important to make sure they are in an area your pet cannot access, such as high up. This also applies to snow globes, as these often contain antifreeze which is toxic to pets if ingested.

With all pets, it may be worth having some form of boundary around the tree to prevent access, such as a playpen. This is especially true of cats, who may attempt to climb the tree and injure themselves, and so where possible it may be better to place your tree into a room where they don’t usually have access. Regardless, the tree should be securely anchored to the floor. No pet should be allowed access to the room with the tree unsupervised. This also applies to other holiday decorations, including Menorah candles.

Equally, if you choose to have a real pine or fur tree within the home, it is important that you do not allow your pet to ingest any of the needles as they can cause stomach upsets. Regular cleaning should be undertaken to avoid this issue. This is especially important if you plan to keep other holiday plants, as poinsettia, mistletoe and holly can all be toxic for pets.

Regardless of what type of tree you choose to have, it is important that any gifts under the tree are kept behind a barrier and ideally, out of sight. This is especially important for dogs that have resource guarding tendencies as the additional stress around the addition of items may result in presents being guarded.

Having visitors

The holiday season often comes with an increase in socialising and more people entering our homes than usual. If you have a nervous pet who may not enjoy greeting visitors, they should be encourage into their safe space before arrival. Remember, this isn’t a punishment or a time out space, and if they choose to leave to greet your guests, where safe to do so this is acceptable. It is important they are not forced to interact, and always have the option to remove themselves should they choose to.

It is important that all visitors who enter your property over the holiday season are pre-warned not to interact with your pet unless the pet specifically approaches them, and even then, to do so in a calm and quiet manor. This is especially important of any children who enter your home, and all interactions should always be supervised.

Equally, if your pets are visiting other peoples homes this holiday season it is important that the space is set up in advance for your pet to succeed. This is especially important if you are planning to leave your pet in the care of other people, as consistency will be key.

If you and your guests sit down to a big meal on the day, it can be tempting to pull out all the stops, however some traditions are best avoided for the mental wellbeing of our pets. For example, though crackers are fun and exciting for you, they can be a loud and unpleasant surprise for your pet. Consequently, it may be best to leave the crackers in the box and celebrate in other ways instead.

Finally, it is important to consider the behavioural history of your pet and how your guests may interact with them. While you may be used to management and training with your pet, your guests may be and so it is important to anticipate and prepare for this. For example, if you have a pet with a history of scavenging or guarding food, it may be best they are settled in another room while you eat in case your guest inadvertently places food within reach!

Taking care around the kitchen

Though it can be tempting to allow your pet to overindulge on food around the holiday season, it is important to ensure than nothing they consume contains anything toxic! Many of the foods we consume around Christmas time are bad for pets, including onion, garlic, fruitcake, blue cheese, nuts and chocolate. Equally, though it can be tempting to give your dog a turkey bone to gnaw on, this is best avoided as the bone can splinter in their mouth and could be fatal. If you really want to give your pet a special Christmas food, a small amount of white turkey meat could make a tasty treat.

Fancy dress

With Christmas Jumper Day just passed, it is very tempting to get one for your pet too. However, if you would like your pet to wear a jumper, it is important to treat it like any other item you may ask your dog to wear and break it down for them first. This is especially important if your pet is naturally nervous or has previously disliked wearing items, but it is an important step for even the most confident of pets.

If you wanted to get your pet comfortable with their jumper, this would take a few weeks of work. It would be best to start with rewarding your pet when the jumper is presented, then escalating to movement of the jumper. It would also be important to practice the jumper going back and forth over your pets’ ears as well as practicing lifting their paws in order to put them through the jumper.

To wrap up...

The holidays can be a very magical time of year but it is important to support our pets through this time. By having as predictable routine as possible, creating a safe space within the home and asking visitors to give your pets space, we can make the holiday season as enjoyable for our pets.

Written by Hannah Burton our Clinical Animal Behaviourist at The London Vet Behaviour Clinic

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