Parties, long days, late nights, house guests, travel, separation from owners, and more can wreak havoc on the well-being of our pets during the holidays. Signs of stress might include stomach upset, scratching, shedding, growling, restlessness and avoiding eye contact. Also be mindful of that very slow, low-hung tail wag (cats do it, too), because that can mean something is going on with them–not every tail wag means happy.
Here are five tips to help you get your pets through the Thanksgiving to New Year’s period happily and healthfully.
1. Keep their routine as close to normal as possible. Make sure they get plenty of sunlight and stimulation. If you know you’re going to have a long day, ask a trusted friend, someone your pet knows and likes, to walk him or her, or even use your lunchtime to go home to spend a little time with them. You can also employ a pet sitter, but just be sure the animal knows him or her beforehand.
2. Plan Ahead. “This isn’t the time to introduce someone new to your pet,” said Jillian Pagano, DVM, West Chelsea Veterinary in New York City. Be sure to plan ahead. If you think you might need some help during the holidays, be sure your pet is familiar with any pet sitters, groomers, dog walkers, or day care. Ask a lot of questions and leave instructions and phone numbers. Don’t be embarrassed about asking questions–pet sitters expect it– but if anyone seems annoyed by them, you have your answer to not use them!
3. Make sure there’s a special room, or area, where your pet can go to get away from it all if you have house guests or if you’re having a party. Include any special items, such as blankets, toys, water, a few grains of dried kibble, maybe an article of your clothing.
My Westie, Baxter, loved his crate so much I always kept it with the door ajar so he could go in and out as he pleased. Baxter saw the crate as his room, a place of his own where he could get away from it all. Once I had a house full of guests so he just let himself into the crate and shut the door with his nose. “Did he just do what I think he did?” asked one of my guests.
4. Monitor diet. Avoid table food, and a good alternative is to put a handful of dried kibble in your pocket so you can give a grain as a “treat.” “They really only care about being rewarded” said Dr. Pagano, “They don’t care about the types of food or the amount; the reaction will always be the same.”
When you buy pet biscuits or treats, read the labels as you would for your human family. You want to be sure the crude fat content is very low, or non-existent.
It’s not just weight gain we need to think about. Added Liz Luboja, the practice manager at West Chelsea: “Overeating can also lead to things like pancreatitis, and we often see an upsurge of this on the days after Thanksgiving or Christmas.”
Whatever you do, don’t forget also that some food items can be toxic to an animal, namely chocolate, onions, raisins, grapes and macadamia nuts. Chocolate-covered nuts are often in those boxes of holiday candy so be sure your pet can’t get into it. Ask your veterinarian or local ASPCA for a complete list of harmful items. Some Christmas plants, like Amaryllis, or Yew trees (an evergreen) or holly berries are toxic. Play it safe; again, ask your veterinarian or local ASPCA for a complete list.
5. Exercise. This is a must, both physically and mentally, as it will help stimulate them and get them through any stress. How much should your pet exercise? “It really depends on the breed and the health of the animal,” said Dr. Pagano. Generally, you may want to walk your dog ½ hour or a full hour a day. If it’s a cat, try to aim for five to 15 minutes of play.