Christmas is a wonderful time of year filled with fun, family time and food. It can, however, be an incredibly stressful experience for our pets due to several factors, which are easy to overlook in the midst of the seasonal festivities. Unfamiliar visitors, moving the furniture, increased noise levels and a change in routine can all contribute to making your pet feel uneasy.
In this blog we help you spot the signs that your pet is feeling anxious and provide a number of tips for reducing your pets stress this Christmas.
What are the signs of stress?
There are a number of outwards signs of stress which are easy to identify. These include whimpering, aggression, destructive behaviour, and refusal to eat. Other signs such as pacing, panting, yawning and excessive drooling are more subtle and can be difficult to spot.
We recommend monitoring your pet’s behaviour and looking for any changes. As their owner, you will be best placed to decide what is and isn’t normal, which will allow you to act quickly on anything that is out of the ordinary and make appropriate changes to the environment.
How can I reduce stress for my pets this Christmas?
Give your pets time to adjust to visitors
One of the most common causes of stress for pets over the Christmas period is an increase in the number of people in your home. Most families have visitors or family coming to stay, who smell and sound unfamiliar. Even owners can act differently during the merriment, which can be unsettling for pets.
When visitors arrive at your house have them greet your pet, maybe with one of their favourite treats. Let your pet sniff them and go at their own pace. If your pet chooses to take themselves away from the visitor, ensure that they have a safe space to go to, which we will cover later.
There tend to be more children around over Christmas, which some animals may not be used to. Children are loud, excitable and often unpredictable, so make sure they are aware of how to interact with your pets and set clear boundaries. Never leave young children and dogs unattended, especially with toys or food. When pets become stressed, they can act out of character.
Maintain a consistent routine
Most animals are creatures of habit and are used to being fed and walked at a similar time each day. Throughout the festive period, pet owners are at home more and tend not to follow such a regimented routine. To reduce stress, try and maintain a consistent routine throughout the Christmas and New Year, wherever possible.
Create a safe space
Creating a safe space away from the frivolity is an excellent way to help reduce your pet’s stress. Provide a place to retreat and remove themselves from the stressful situation, should it get too much for them. Cats enjoy confined spaces above ground level and away from the noise. Try and ensure they have a designated room, which contains food, water and a litter tray, preferably in a quiet part of the house. Even using a cardboard box, or their cat box, covered in thick blankets, can provide them with shelter from both noise and interference.
If you do not have a designated room, try and cordon one area of the house off using a stair gate or by shutting doors. Not only will this give them pets a place where they feel comfortable, it will also keep them away from potential Christmas hazards, such as decorations and festive food.
Occupy them with toys
Try and ensure your pets have plenty of toys to keep their mind active and prevent them from getting bored. If they’re occupied, they will be less interested in what’s going on in the house and are less likely to become stressed. We recommend pet puzzles and treat mazes to keep them amused. Always ensure the toys are safe for pets and do not have any removeable parts that could be a choking hazard or that might cause an obstruction.
Ensure your pet is exercised regularly
Exercise is an excellent de stressor, and can help to make your pet feel at ease. If you’re planning a large social gathering try to take your dog for a long walk before the event. This will tire them out and help burn excess energy, which should mean they don’t get too excited during the celebrations.
Give your pets plenty of attention
Christmas can be chaotic, especially if you’re in charge of the cooking! This can mean that we don’t give our pets the attention they are used to. Try and make time to give them a cuddle and spend some quality time together in a safe space.
Introduce new animals slowly
Visitors staying over the Christmas period may bring a pet with them. Having another animal in their safe space can be stressful for your pet. When introducing dogs, ensure you do so slowly. Let them meet at their own pace with plenty of space. Feed them separately and try to supervise play, so that there are no scuffles over toys.
Let your pet adjust to unfamiliar surroundings
If you’re travelling with your pets this Christmas, be mindful that the change in environment may be unsettling. Try to take familiar items from home such as their bed or favourite toys. If you’re travelling by car, take regular breaks and always make sure they are safely restrained.
Move small animals
Small household animals such as hamsters, guinea pigs and birds can become stressed by the increased noise levels. They should be moved to a quiet room where they are not disturbed, especially if they’re nocturnal. House rabbits can be very territorial, so it’s best to give them space.
Preparation is key
As is the case with most situations, prevention is better than cure. Try to take these tips for reducing pet stress into consideration before the big day and have everything in place ahead of time. Careful planning means you will be able to act quickly on any situations that may unfold before they have the chance to escalate.
Unfortunately, despite your best efforts we know that accidents happen and things don’t always go to plan. Make sure you are aware of your vets Christmas opening times and have their emergency number on hand should it be required.
Please get in touch with our team if you require any more advice on reducing stress for your pets this Christmas.