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Managing Your Pet’s Anxiety During the Holidays

Recognizing the signs of stress in pets and implementing tips to maintain a stress-free household can help ensure a calm and enjoyable holiday for the whole family.

December 7, 2023 4 min read
Managing Your Pet’s Anxiety During the Holidays

Holiday festivities bring plenty of joy and excitement into homes each year. However, the holiday season can also be stressful! Like their human companions, pets can experience elevated stress when they are exposed to new stimuli or changes to their routines. While it may not always be possible to eliminate potential stressors, there are ways you can effectively manage your pet’s stress during the holidays.

Signs of Stress in Pets

If your pet is acting differently than normal during the holidays, stress may be to blame. Several signs could indicate that your pet is experiencing stress or anxiety, including the following:

  • Pacing – Some pets will walk a repeated path around the room or up and down the hallway when anxious.
  • Shaking – Similar to humans, some dogs may shake or tremble when exposed to a stressful situation.
  • Whining – Dogs that are stressed may whine or even express their emotions in other vocalizations, such as barking or howling.
  • Yawning – Oddly, some dogs that are stressed will actually yawn. This is often a prolonged, intense yawn, rather than a sleepy yawn.
  • Drooling and Licking – Dogs sometimes drool and lick excessively when they are stressed.
  • Physical Changes – Dilated pupils, rapid blinking, ears pinned back, or tail tucked under could all indicate that your pet is stressed.
  • Hiding – Pets that are stressed or fearful of their environment may hide or try to escape the area.

Tips to Reduce Your Pet’s Stress

For many pets, the holidays can mean a disruption to their normal life. To help reduce your pet’s anxiousness through the season, try the following tips:

1. Burn Off Nervous Energy

Animals that are full of pent-up energy are more likely to feel anxious in response to holiday activities. If you expect your home to be a little hectic, take time to exercise your pet early in the day. Take your dog for a walk or play with your cat for at least 20 minutes before having guests over or participating in an unfamiliar holiday tradition.

2. Create a Safe Place

Despite what you may do to keep things calm for your pet, some cats and dogs simply don’t like change. If your pet is experiencing extreme fear or anxiety during the holidays, have a safe space where they can go for comfort. This could be your bedroom where they can cuddle in the blankets. Or perhaps their kennel in a quiet room away from the chaos.

3. Prepare for Loud Events

The holidays are often associated with loud events, such as fireworks, Christmas music, and new toys for the kids that may make unexpected sounds. If possible, prepare your pet for these events with some comforting items. Using a pheromone diffuser or spray can help ease your pet. Calming music or a white-noise maker may also help drown out other sounds.

4. Provide Distractions

Pets are easily distracted, which can be a good thing during the holidays. Keep your pet busy with a new toy, such as a stuffed animal they can chew on, or a puzzle toy filled with hidden treats. Rawhide-free bones or chews can also keep your pet preoccupied during the holiday festivities, such as while you’re decorating the Christmas tree or building gingerbread houses.

5. Communicate with Guests

It’s common for families to have guests over for the holidays, whether they’re staying for dinner or an entire weekend. If your pet gets anxious when new people are around, speak with your guests about your concerns. Discourage them from approaching the animal and instead, allow the animal to come to them. As many pets can be territorial, do not allow guests to bring their own pets over for the holidays.

6. Stick with Your Pet’s Routine

Pets enjoy their daily routine and can become anxious when activities that they expect don’t happen when they usually do. If possible, try to stick to your pet’s routine, including meal times, bathroom breaks, exercise, and sleep times. Maintaining a normal routine will help your pet feel more at ease and less anxious when holiday activities occur.

7. Speak with Your Veterinarian

While some pets only experience mild stress during the holiday season, others can get extremely anxious and may even lash out at family members. If your pet becomes overly stressed, it’s time to speak with your vet. Your vet may prescribe medications to help reduce your pet’s anxiety. You’ll want to give your pet time to adapt to this new medication before the holiday festivities begin.

Keeping Your Pet Stress-Free During the Holidays

With the holiday season here once again, many pet owners are concerned about how their cats or dogs will respond to guests, Christmas traditions, and other events of the holiday season. Fortunately, most pets quickly adapt to these changes and enjoy the holidays alongside their favorite humans.

However, if your pet is prone to stress or anxiety, start planning ahead. Take the necessary precautions to create a comforting environment for your pet and speak to your vet about what you can do to keep your pet calm and happy throughout the holiday season.

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