The holidays can be an exciting time. Many people are looking forward to good food, exchanging presents, and getting together with family and friends. While this can be a treasured time for us as humans, there is a unique type of family member we want to ensure enjoys themselves too: Our animal companions. Some of us have furry and feathered friends who thoroughly enjoy the guests and high-activity level in our homes, but plenty of us don’t and that can leave us wondering how we meet everyone’s needs in situations like these, including our own.
For many animals, the sudden change in routine and activity level (especially if their people are hosting) can be quite stressful. Of course for those who are wary of strangers, or maybe just don’t enjoy being the life of the party, we want to make sure we set them up for success. But even for animals who are generally pretty sociable, this sudden massive influx of people, noises, and overall merriment can be quite exhausting (let’s be honest, as fun as it is, it can be exhausting for the humans too).
While every pet should be treated as an individual, we’ve put together a preparation list that all pet guardians should keep in mind as they navigate through this time of year, especially if they’re hosting.
Downtime and safe spaces.
Even if your furry or feathered friend loves all people, you’ll want to ensure that these things are as planned and in place such as your meals and human-centric activities. Giving them downtime to decompress is a big deal, as rest, peace, and quiet is part of being able to regulate emotions in all beings. We all need it, especially this time of year. Also designate one or two safe spaces for your pet to go. These places should be areas where they are not interacted with by guests when they are there. It could be as secluded as a bedroom, a crate (provided it’s for an appropriate period of time and they’re actually comfortable in this space), or their favorite bed. This will ensure they get the time to wind down during all of the excitement. If your companion has their own room or space for this, playing relaxing music like Through A Dog’s Ear or Through A Cat’s Ear can be a nice addition. Also consider ADAPTIL or Feliway to help add to your companion's sense of calm.
Supervise with little ones.
With so many people and so much commotion, it’s easy for our pets to become overwhelmed. This can make any living being less tolerant than they typically would be. While we always advocate for pets to be supervised with children and we always want to make clear that pets are not jungle gyms or toys to be yanked on or teased, it’s worth noting that many people find it harder to monitor these interactions when they’re trying to be good hosts to a larger quantity of people. But it’s never been more important than in these moments. Most bites happen with children because kids aren’t aware that their advances for affection aren’t polite. Animals only have so many ways to communicate their discomfort, and adults often miss the early signs of stress. In fact, most of these bites happen when the human is sure that their pet would never bite, meaning guardians assume their pet is incapable of such an act as they believe it to be a sign of goodness. Check out our blog post Tolerance Does Not Equal Goodness for more on this topic. Consent from the furry and feathered ones is important when interacting with others, so no matter how cute it is that your grandchild or nieces and nephews love animals, the best way to foster a truly endearing relationship between them is to monitor interactions, separate them when you can’t, and educate yourself on body language as well as consent petting. You can also look for appropriate games designed for kids and dogs such as hide and seek that keep everyone safe and strengthen bonds!
Here you can find our canine body language series which contains short, digestible videos to help you understand your dog’s communication.
Here you can find a lovely article that displays various feline body language and its meaning.
Let sleeping dogs lie.
This saying has been around for a long time, and we’ve gotten away from its origins. As a general rule of thumb (but especially when we have an atypical social situation), it’s best if all guests know that when our furry or feathered family members are lying down, sleeping, or resting, they shouldn’t be approached. I know a lot of human beings who don’t love being bothered while they sleep, so it stands to reason that we should respect our companions in that way too. This means not going up and petting, hugging or kissing them unless they approach and solicit for it. Equally important, their mealtimes should be the same.
Don’t force interactions.
This is a huge one. Everyone has a friend or family member that is a self-proclaimed “animal whisperer.” They are certain your animal will love them because all animals love them. I personally love these people because they have the biggest hearts and the best intentions. I have no doubt they truly love animals. That being said, they also tend to be pushy about making friends. A great deal of animals can be put off by social pressure; this is why understanding subtle body language is so important. We should never force our pets to interact when they don’t want to., even if Uncle Bob is going to have hurt feelings over it. Letting your furry or feathered friend approach on their own time is the way to go, and the odds of it happening more quickly will skyrocket if everyone respects this rule. Skip having your guests put their hand out for your animal to sniff (trust me, they can smell them from across the room just fine and an outstretched hand can be intimidating), and instead have them remain neutral. If you’re a cat owner, you likely know that cats love gravitating to people who aren’t cat people. This is because those humans produce the least amount of social pressure since they don’t care to interact. This is extraordinarily comforting and inviting to cats, which is actually why they feel confident approaching and being near them, and to be honest, it is the same for nervous dogs too.
If you’re one of the people I was referring to that believe you have an innate ability to win all animals over with your undying love: I see you. I appreciate you. I mean no offense. But please dial it back for the sake of your future relationships with pets.
When you shouldn’t host.
If you know your animal is generally anxious or nervous about strangers, it’s in your best interest to forego hosting and let them hang out at home where they’re comfortable while you go elsewhere. It’s understandable that you might want to have guests over, but until your furry or feathered friend has been worked with on this, putting them in a situation that will undoubtedly stress them out is not the way to go. As we’ve said, animals who generally like interacting can find this stressful and may need a bit of time to recover after it’s all over, so those who exhibit signs of fear and/or anxiety are likely to take it much harder. Animals don’t “get used to” things that they find scary by being flooded with them, and those who are in these states are much more likely to lash out.
Bonus note: Be careful with sharing food and other things.
While this doesn’t pertain to behavior, working in a vet clinic has left myself and Emily knowing just how important this topic is. It’s understandable that with so much tasty food to enjoy, humans want to share some of that with their companions. As thoughtful as this is, it could be costly. This, for vet clinics, is often pancreatitis season. Eating fatty or rich foods can send your pet’s pancreas into overdrive and make them quite sick, many even needing hospitalization. If you want to indulge your pet for the holiday, consider buying them species appropriate, healthy treats and sharing a few extra, or even offering them a stuffed Kong! Something special like a stuffed Kong not only lets you spoil them a bit, but also gives them an awesome activity (like a coloring book for a child), so they have something to keep themselves busy that burns energy appropriately. Appropriate activity toys or chews (stay away from rawhide!) should also be used in conjunction with keeping stuff you don't want your pet to get into out of reach. During such exciting commotion, our animals can sometimes alleviate stress on their own, but aren't always great at making choices we appreciate in an attempt to do so. Set them up for success by providing them with healthy options. Here is a link to our Kong stuffing video. More ideas for recipes can be found on the Kong website.
“BUT…” I know this can seem a bit overwhelming to think about, and many people may feel like it’s a little overkill to go this far with rules, but if you focus on lowering your companion’s stress, that will ensure that the holidays are safe and enjoyable for everyone involved. If you have questions about your specific furry or feathered friend’s holiday experience and how to get off on the right foot, please feel free to contact us!
We hope you all have a wonderful holiday season!