Animals are our friends and our family and we love to include them in our holiday traditions. But from the dog or cat’s point of view, this can be a very stressful time of year. Here are some ideas to keep your four legged friends happy and healthy through the holidays.
With a little effort and forethought, you can avoid many holiday traumas. When I was a kid, we had a large cat that would climb the tree. Every year. There is nothing quite like the sound of a cat screaming as a fully decorated Christmas tree crashes to the floor. Don’t repeat your mistakes.
Imagine you are a dog. Every day your person takes you for a walk. Every day you pee on trees. One day, your people bring a tree into the living room! Of course you want to pee on it! Pretend you are a cat. You love to sharpen your claws and enjoy climbing as high as you can. You are the luckiest cat in the world when your people bring you a tree and set it up in the living room!
Trees in the house are a weird concept for animals. If you bring in a fresh or live tree, set it up a day before you decorate it. Let your animals investigate it while you supervise them. The ideal situation is to keep them apart. You can get a small tree and put it on a table, get creative with barriers like baby gates or keep the tree in a separate room that you can close off. Ornaments are potentially dangerous to animals. Glass balls can shatter, small parts that fall off can be eaten and cats seem to have an irresistible attraction to tinsel. Tinsel, which is a thin strip of metal or plastic, can cause serious internal injuries if eaten. You can try using a “scat mat”, a device that gives them a mild shock if they enter a forbidden area to keep your animals away from the tree.
Close supervision is required to keep the holidays happy for everyone. Try to distract attention away from the tree by giving your animals extra attention and play time. Getting in a little extra exercise during the holidays is a good thing for animals and people. Take a break and go for a short walk. A tired dog is a good dog. 10 minutes of one-on-one attention can keep help everyone’s stress level in check. The most important thing is to give them your focused attention every day.
Treats and toys
The holidays are all about eating goodies and sharing with others, but think carefully about what you are giving your animals. Chocolate, raisins, artificial sweeteners and alcohol can be deadly to dogs. Keep candy dishes out of their reach. Limit high fat treats like pan drippings from the turkey. A teaspoon of bacon grease on their food is much safer than three pieces of bacon. A trip to the emergency vet is not on anyone’s wish list. Just in case, look up the number of the one closest to you and have it on hand. Just like people, animals can overeat during the holidays and can gain weight. Have some low-calorie snacks available like baby carrots. Many dogs love baby carrots. Try giving your cat Kitty Kaviar, which is thinly shaved dried fish.
Supervise them when introducing new toys. Pay attention to what they are getting into or keep them out of the room during the joyful chaos of unwrapping gifts. Wrapping paper, boxes and ribbon are irresistible to animals and can also be very dangerous.
Animals like routine. Parties mess up that routine in a big way. The change of schedule and a houseful of people can be very upsetting for animals. Some are naturally shy and would be happiest by themselves in a quiet room. Others want to be the center of attention. It is up to you to know which one is which and anticipate their needs. If your cat runs under the bed every time the doorbell rings, imagine her anxiety if the doorbell rings 20 times in one night. Put her in a quiet room with food, water and a litter box. Be sure to spend some time together after everyone has left.
Any animal, even one that is usually calm can become overstimulated and act aggressively. It can be a bad situation if the kids are hyper, the dog is stressed and there is not good adult supervision. Add some food to that mix and things can get out of hand in a hurry. A dog bite will ruin everyone’s holiday. Even the most sweet-tempered dog can snap in an unpredictable situation.
Dogs need a place to go to where they can get out of the action. If the dog wants to go lay down, let it and keep the kids away. You might consider sending your dog to doggie day care the day before the party. He will come home tired and happy and be easier to deal with. If your animal is a curmudgeon, boarding them might be the best option if you are having guests staying at your house. Make your reservations early.
Family photos are big part of the holidays. Try to see this from your animals’ point of view. You take them to a strange place and expect them to behave perfectly, even if they never do at home. You want them to jump up on the lap of somebody in a weird costume with a fake beard. Santa photos can be very scary for a dog or cat. Respect their choice if they refuse to participate. It is better to pass up the cute picture than to traumatize your animal, or worse, have Santa get bitten. That will definitely get them on the ‘Naughty’ list. Try taking some relaxed photos at home instead. Some dogs actually like to get dressed up and others will reluctantly go along with it. Don’t force your dog or cat to wear a costume if he hates it.
Our furry friends add to our joy at the holidays. Try to see things from their point of view and supervise new situations. A little planning and awareness can ensure happy holidays for everyone.