Behavior training

How Does Holiday Stress Affect Pets

How Does Holiday Stress Affect Pets

Ah, the sights, the sounds and the smells of the holidays! For some pets, the holidays are a cornucopia of joy. A friendly dog loves the hustle and bustle; new people, new things and, best of all, good food stream into the house. For all he knows, the show is being put on for his benefit. It's like a never-ending car ride.

But the family cat views this as bedlam. She also sees it like a never-ending car ride. Her routine shattered and her peace of mind disturbed, she has precious few, if any, places to which she can escape.

The holidays put a lot of stress on everyone involved, some of it good and some of it bad. Our pets have to withstand any number of unusual circumstances that are novel each year because they don't have the chance to get used to them. These are just a few of the situations our pets have to deal with:

  • A constant stream of company. Friendly pets may go through a paroxysm of joy because they have an ever-changing audience to applaud and adore them. However, shy or fearful dogs and cats will see their once safe haven overrun with strangers.
  • Lousy eating habits. One of the side benefits to all that company is the chance to sneak some snacks, either from the floor or from a surreptitious hand under the table. This usually isn't healthy. Or in the hectic days that lie ahead, your pet's feeding schedule may get disorganized. Either way, her nutritional balance may get thrown off track. She won't know when to expect her next meal.
  • Less exercise. How much exercise have YOU been doing since the holiday season began? At least you have to huff stuff up and down stairs, in and out of cars, not to mention hike all those miles in malls and supermarkets. Your pet has come to expect and enjoy a certain level of activity. Depriving him of exercise is stressful. (Think about how you feel about it.)
  • Foreign objects. Your cat or dog isn't going to understand just what the heck this tall green thing, sitting in the middle of the living room, is meant to do. Is it a toy? Food? Furniture to climb? Lacking your aesthetic tastes, your pet doesn't appreciate seasonal décor. Then there are the objects under it, as well as the other things around the house that mark the holiday season. (And let's not mention the consternation caused by the singing, swaying Santa Claus or Hanukkah Harry dolls.) Worse even, dogs and cats are often discouraged from exploring.
  • Frequent scolding. Many pets like being where the action is - which is you struggling to carry bags of gifts or groceries into the house. Some dogs and cats don't understand your frequent scolding or cursing, not necessarily at them but at the fact that you had to drop the bag containing three dozen eggs. Your emotions can add to the stress level.
  • Frequent trips. Your dog loves car rides but your cat prefers the window sill. In fact, she demands it by yowling whenever you take her out to the car. The holidays often mean traveling for pets, which is a HUGE amount of stress for the whole family.
  • Kenneling. The other side of traveling during the holidays is putting our pets into a kennel. For a dog, a good kennel should be like vacation, with a lot of activities to keep him occupied (although he's still going to miss you like mad). But for cats, being moved from home to a strange place is like a catastrophe, no matter how nice the accommodations.

    So what can you do to ease the burden? Three words: routine, routine, routine. Keeping as close as you can to your pet's normal schedule is the best antidote to holiday stress. Stay consistent with feeding times and amounts, and be on guard against illegal snacks.

    Maintain his exercise, walking schedule and playtime. A tired pet is a happy pet. This advice, by the way, goes for people too. Exercise is a great stress reliever. If time is precious, combine your exercise with your pet's by setting aside a specific amount of time each day - 20 minutes for instance - for you both to play and work up a little healthy sweat. Staying in shape improves attitude and behavior in pets and people.

    Getting your pet used to crowds in the home also helps. Bring your friends or family over to get your pet used to it, and reward him if he behaves correctly. Learn more points of etiquette and safety by seeing the story on guests and pets.

    It is important to reserve a room for your pet to retreat to, equipped with his favorite toys, a bowl full of fresh water, some food perhaps, and clothing or blankets with your scent on it. This gives your pet a safe comfortable place to which he can retreat from the madness.

    As for Christmas trees and holiday decorations, there are a lot of hazards your pet faces - it's important to know what to look for and how to secure your home.

    Traveling during the holidays is stressful whether you bring a pet or not. Dogs usually travel better because they are by nature in love with car rides. Cats normally despise it, and who can blame them? Pre-planning is an absolute must, whether by car or by airline.

    If you decide to put your pet in a kennel, don't try to find one at the last minute. Research the facilities in your area and ask around. A kennel should see to your pet's emotional needs as well as to his physical requirements. Be prepared to ask many questions when you visit a kennel in person.