With the joy and festivities of the holiday season comes added stress and commotion: travel plans, shopping, meal preparations, guest accommodations, and more. For those of us with pets, a few extra precautions may help prevent problems, even an emergency situation.

While humans find ways to manage the holiday crush, our pets often take on the pressures developing health—even behavior issues. Anxieties of boarding, changes in schedules, and “pilfered” goodies set the stage for canine gastrointestinal issues. Household changes, absent owners, and diet changes can trigger urinary inflammation in cats. Not to mention accidents waiting to happen with glass ornaments, ribbons, carcass bones, cleaning chemicals and escapees due to distractions.

Too Many Guests
Visitors can be a fun time for many pets, while others become overly excited, fearful or frightened. If your pet is uncomfortable around guests–don’t force interaction–place your companion in a quiet area or separate room away from activity.

If your dog has been raised with a crate as a place of security and comfort, make sure your dog can access this refuge easily. Include fresh water and maybe a toy or chewy (that can’t be swallowed) to occupy their attention.

Isolate cats in a separate room when possible and be sure to add familiar bedding, a litter box, fresh water and food or treats. BE sure to only leave a normal amount. Many cats will stress eat causing GI issues. Familiarize your cat ahead of time if possible with this isolation to make sure it’s a retreat, not a stressful situation.

Natural calming remedies may be beneficial in helping your pet through chaotic times. Then, when guests have gone, spend some quality time with your pet and relax!

Personal Moments, Personal Space
For cats, it’s all about comfort and especially security. While many cats can’t be bothered with household guests, it is critical the household acknowledges the cat’s place. Make sure access and egress to the litter box is not disrupted; mealtime and location are not changed without feline approval; and, uninvited attention is banned. Try to maintain schedules as much as possible, including meals, types of food, litter types, box cleanings and playtime (really helpful with helping manage anxieties).

Be sure to keep your dog on a regular schedule—mealtimes and bathroom walks. If anything, maybe add extra minutes to your dog’s walk to allow both of you time away from household pressures. (Leave the phone in your pocket and enjoy the break.) Consider adding a dog walker during the day if your plans will keep you out beyond break time.

Pay special attention to quiet time, for both you and your pets. If you are overwrought and stressed, your patience is shorter and incidents can escalate. Plus, pets can pick up and absorb your stress, feeding their stress. Consider a few moments of quiet, even meditation, snuggled up to or even a hand placed on your furry one for a better bond.

Foods and Diets
While indulging in foods and treats during the holidays is a tradition with many humans, this should not be the case with pets. Extra treats or even a few special meals can be fun, just understand how to balance to prevent a digestive disaster. Reduce meal portions on those few occasions you’re giving extra treats or adjust calorie intake when offering special meals. Understand this is not the time to change your pet’s diet. Some leftover lean meats or lightly cooked fresh vegetables (for dogs) may be appropriate, but DO NOT offer scraps of fatty foods, gravies, creams or sweets. If traveling and you find you are low with your pet’s food, introduce an alternative a little at a time. Do not switch immediately unless you want a digestive mess on your hands.

Take extra care when throwing out leftovers, especially carcasses and bones. Make sure the trash can is pet proof, or better yet doubly seal and place in a covered outside bin.

Petsitter Precautions
If you going out of town and have a petsitter or friend lined up, 1) Set a schedule for your pets with your petsitters and ask them to maintain as closely as possible–whether your dog needs two or three walks a day, extensive exercise for a puppy or a slow paced excursion your senior. 2) If your pet is on medications or a special diet, make sure there is enough for your absence plus a little extra. Be sure these items are out of reach of your pets. (Many emergency clinics get distressed calls where bored pets have gotten into medications or foods left on counters.) 3) Review each pet’s diet with instructions and confirm that any changes must be discussed with you, and 4) Consider arranging with the pet sitter ways for you to check to confirm all is going well.

Because animals are so sensitive to smells, ask those caring for your pets to take extra care with perfumes (often offensive to cats) or scents from other animals. Pheromone products, such as Comfort Zone or Feliway, are socially friendly hormones that help reduce stress and calm pets. Consider these while you are away or with that houseful of guests. There are versions for dogs and cats and are available in sprays and room diffusers.

Warning Signs
Cats show stress by hiding, pacing, having aggressive/reactive moments, escalating to more severe conditions. Be aware stress is one of the major triggers of urinary tract inflammation.  If your cat begins to make frequent visits to the litter box, especially with minimal output, it’s time for a vet visit. If your cat starts using other locations to relieve himself, it’s time for a vet visit. If you or your petsitter notice smaller urine balls in the litter box, it’s time for a vet visit. Cats can block quickly, becoming an emergency situation in no time, even fatal.

Dogs show stress by pacing, panting, and possibly escalating to reactive situations and aggression. Understand your dog’s patience limit and be responsive to his early warning signals. Redirect him when possible with positive reinforcements—treats, toys, or whatever he enjoys. Yelling or barking commands will only escalate tension. Remember long walks are good for you and your dog to relieve strain and stress—major triggers of digestive problems, from vomiting to diarrhea. If your dog has a tendency to have digestive issues, a probiotic or herbal digestive remedy may prevent the problem from escalating. Ask your veterinarian or animal care specialist for recommendations.

Baubles, Shiny Objects and Smelly Things
What cat isn’t intrigued with ornaments and ribbons? Christmas trees and decorations are playfields just waiting to bring out that inner kitten. Instead of denying yourself decorations, be creative. You can have a Christmas tree with a little planning. Use cat-safe, soft ornaments within your cat’s access or only decorate above paw reach. Be sure to anchor securely and block access to the trunk to prevent climbing. (My Hunter thinks our artificial tree is his personal gym!) If the tree is live, cover access to the water tray to prevent drinking.

With table or household decorations, make sure ribbon ends are short and even glued in place.  Use ornaments that cannot be swallowed, broken or dismantled. Instead of open candles, use no-flame electric or battery versions. Something that was recently brought to my attention is the use of ethylene glycol in the liquid of some snow globes. This is the same ingredient used in antifreeze and is deadly to cats and dogs. So keep those snow globes out of paws reach to prevent breakage and exposure to even the smallest amount of liquid.

Many of the same precautions need to be heeded with dogs, but take extra care with displays they can reach, especially if they are big chewers. This is also true for scented candles, candies and gifts left for display on coffee tables. (Here again emergency clinics get many calls from owners who’ve come home to empty candy boxes.) Toys of visiting children can also become fair game so take the time to check for mislaid items.

With last minute cleaning, be sure to store all cleaners in a secure place. Some cats are attracted to bleach and will roll on cleaned areas then clean themselves. Many natural cleaners use essential oils, the grade of oils used in these cleaners can be toxic to pets especially cats, if not in a properly diluted level. Be especially careful with seasonal scents and oils. Cats and dogs sense of smell are much more sensitive than ours, and these holiday scents can often be offensive, irritating, and even turn them off their food.

With the commotion of visitors, stressed pets have been known to slip out. Make sure your pet has current tags, is tattooed, and or microchipped to help expedite identification. If traveling with your pets, make sure to carry a recent photograph and any pertinent medical information.

This holiday season, make sure your companion animal’s health and welfare are part of your preparations. Take time to enjoy your relationship with your pet, include them whenever possible, but respect their limits. You might also find that extra quiet time with your pet is especially beneficial to you.


© Terri Grow, 2021
Terri Grow writes and speaks on pet health and welfare, working with veterinarians, trainers, shelters and manufacturers to empower canine and feline health through diets, herbal therapies, supplements and environmental adjustments.