Tips to Help Your Clients Ease Their Pets’ Holiday Fear, Anxiety, and Stress

Woman holding cute puppy on knees against blurred Christmas tree background. Snowy effect, Christmas celebration concept.

Valarie V. Tynes, DVM, DACVB, DACAW

The holidays are a time for food, friends, family, and fun. What’s not to like? Sadly, for many of our clients’ pets the holidays just mean fear, anxiety, and stress.

Starting with Halloween and continuing through December and the New Year, the holidays we love bring a lot of changes to the environment and our schedules, changes that can lead to distress for pets.

Following is a list of just a few holiday associated triggers that might cause fear, anxiety, or stress (FAS) in pets:

  • Increased number of visitors in the home
  • Decorations that change the appearance of the home and result in furniture being moved around
  • Fireworks
  • Travel or boarding
  • Changes in work schedules

As your clients’ trusted pet care provider, you can help ease and prevent that FAS from taking hold at this happy time of year by sharing these dos and don’ts:

  • Do try to make a safe place for your dog either in a room, crate or x pen, where they can safely be away from all the hustle and bustle associated with family gatherings or noisy events such as fireworks.  Unless they suffer from separation anxiety, most dogs appreciate the opportunity to be away from the chaos.
  • Do be certain that their safe place is a place that the dog loves to go willingly, not a place that they have to be forced to go.
  • Do make sure that the safe place is in a quiet area of the home and that it contains a comfortable bed and a few toys.
  • When confining the dog to their safe place, and as long as the dog isn’t likely to eat his toy or become possessive when other pets are around, do leave a very special long-lasting treat such as a stuffed Kong or other food puzzle toy.
  • Do leave a fan, music, or white noise of some type playing to help mask the scary sounds. This is especially helpful if the dog is afraid of fireworks or other noises.
  • Don’t ever use the safe place as a place to punish the dog!
  • Do remember that many cats will also prefer confinement to a single room away from all of the excitement. Prepare a room ahead of time with their litter box, food, water, scratching post, etc. and allow them to become familiar with it before confining them there.
  • Don’t allow children or other guests to disturb the dog or cat while confined to their safe place.
  • Do plug in an ADAPTIL® diffuser for the dog or FELIWAY® Classic diffuser for the cat several days in advance of any holiday events. These pheromones are a safe, natural means of communicating to dogs and cats. They send a calming message that has been shown to decrease signs of fear and anxiety in a variety of different situations.
  • If you have a multi species household, do know that a recent study has demonstrated that both ADAPTIL® and Feliway® MultiCat can effectively reduce undesirable interactions (e.g. chasing, growling) and increase desirable interactions (e.g. sleeping together, grooming each other) between dogs and cats living in the same household.
  • If your dog likes to be a part of the action, do watch them closely to be sure that they are not becoming overwhelmed and anxious.
  • Do ask your visitors not to pursue your dog or cat if they are walking away.
  • Do discourage visitors from luring your pet to take treats directly from their hands. If the dog is at all uncomfortable about approaching strangers, this can be very stressful and can result in a bite!
  • Do ask visitors to toss your dog his own food treats if they wish to make friends, not human food that might cause an upset tummy.

While many people love putting holiday costumes on their dogs and cats, do be cautious about this! Most dogs and cats do not like having clothing placed on them. Watch body language closely and if your pet is stiff, avoids eye contact, or looks at all anxious or tense, promptly remove the costume.

Do make plans ahead of time for where your pet will be when you have visitors, and don’t force them into any situations where they appear at all uncomfortable.

With some planning and  a little help from ADAPTIL and FELIWAY, every pet can have a Happy Holiday season!

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

This article was brought to you in collaboration with our friends at Ceva.


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