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 a number of 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 can be 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.
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.
There tends to be more children around over Christmas, which some dogs 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, which can be confusing and unsettling for your pet. To reduce stress, try and maintain a consistent routine throughout Christmas and New Year.
Create a safe space
Creating a safe space away from the frivolity is an excellent way to help reduce your pets stress. This will help them feel secure and provide a place where they can retreat and remove themselves from the situation, should it get too much. 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.
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 a place where they feel comfortable, it will also keep them away from potential Christmas hazards, such as decorations and festive food.
Ensure your pet is exercised regularly
Exercise is an excellent de stressor, which 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. Similarly, before guests begin to arrive, spend some time playing with your cat.
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 are 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. Always ensure the toys are suitable for pets and do not have any removable parts that could be a choking hazard.
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 to a holiday cottage or to see family, 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 to a quiet room
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. This will ensure your pet receives the best care to reduce stress.
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. Don’t forget, if you’re travelling to see family you may need to stock up on medication before you go.
Please get in touch for more advice on reducing stress for your pets this Christmas.