Preparing your pets for the holidays

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The holiday season is a time of joy, celebration, and togetherness for families, including our pets. 

Whether you’re planning to bring your pets along for the festivities or entrusting them to a kennel, cattery or pet sitter while you’re away, it’s crucial to take steps to ensure their well-being and comfort during this potentially stressful time.

All these uncertainties such as new surroundings, a change in environment and possible house guests, plus upcoming loud events such as New Year’s Eve, can cause your pets to become extremely anxious, cautions Marycke Ackhurst, pet behaviour expert from Hill’s Pet Nutrition.

“If you already know your pet is easily spooked, it’s important to be informed of what you can do to relieve the stress they may feel – even something as benign to us, such as rearranging furniture, can stress out an anxious pet.” It’s also important to note that dogs and cats’ hearing is far sharper, and much more sensitive than ours so, even if there is loud noise quite a fair distance from your home, it could still trigger an anxious reaction.

Ackhurst recommends that pet parents look out for the following signs of anxious behaviour:

For dogs:

  • Nose or lip licking
  • Yawning
  • Excessive panting
  • Reduced appetite
  • Tail lowered or tucked
  • Ears pinned back
  • Cowering
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Increased vocalisations e.g., whining, howling, barking
  • Excessive attention seeking
Anxious dog. Image supplied by Hill’s Pet Nutrition

For cats:

  • Urinating in strange places
  • Scratching compulsively
  • Hiding away
  • Panicked meows or recurrent whining
  • Aggression
  • Sleeping more
  • Decreased appetite
Anxious cat. Image supplied by Hill’s Pet Nutrition

To help your pets during this potentially stressful time, Ackhurst suggests the following:

  • Keep familiar noises or sounds playing in the house such as the TV and some background music. The more it seems like an everyday, normal situation, the better.
  • Create a comfortable, smaller, space in the house for your pet to retreat to when they’re feeling anxious. As a distraction from any loud noises, provide them with a tasty chew toy.
  • Keep outside noises and bright lights at bay by closing the windows, doors and curtains at home.
  • For outdoor cats who come and go as they please, rather place a litter tray inside and close the doors and the cat flap, so they can’t go outside that evening.
  • If you can’t stay at home with your pets, make sure someone else they trust is there to calm and reassure them – the less changes during this time, the better.
  • If you’re dropping your pet off at the kennel or cattery for the holidays, make sure they have little pieces of home with them such as their bed, favourite chew toy and blankie. This way the change of environment won’t be as dramatic and stressful for them. You could also consider using dog and cat specific pheromone diffusers, collars and/or sprays to help them feel less anxious.
  • Ask your veterinarian about specially formulated foods which help alleviate stress such as *Hill’s Prescription Diet i/d Stress for dogs and *Hill’s Prescription Diet c/d Multicare Stress for cats. For severe cases, they may recommend certain medication.

*If you’re anticipating a stressful event, such as fireworks or even holiday kennels, it’s recommended you transition your pet onto a stress-reducing food four weeks beforehand. However, many pet parents have reported positive results as early as a few days. If your pet is a nervous type, you can consider this food for long term feeding.

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