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Is My Pet Stressed Out During the Holidays?
By: Brianna Gunter
The holidays can be a stressful time of year for all, including our furry friends. Dogs and cats exhibit stress and anxiety differently than we do. Fortunately, you can help your pet calm down by being able to recognize the triggers and signs of their discomfort. Keep reading to learn how to help your pet with stress and anxiety during the holidays so you can enjoy everything the season has to offer together!
What causes holiday season pet stress and anxiety?
Amid all the hustle and bustle of the season, there are many new situations that can arise during the holidays that can trigger your pet to feel overly anxious and stressed out. One of the biggest is changes to your pet’s social routine, including traveling to new places, meeting new people, and attending crowded social functions (especially when other animals are present).
“Pets can exhibit stress in a lot of different ways, but some of the typical signs can be things like excessive whining, panting, pacing, and hiding,” says animal behavior specialist Camille Barrios. “If your pet is displaying some of these behaviors, then they may be stressed and may need some time to step away and calm down.”
According to Trupanion veterinarian Dr. Sarah Nold, any change to a pet’s usual routine can cause anxiety. Depending on your pet’s personality, they may even be more susceptible to the changes that come with holiday travel and gatherings.
“Some pets are more sensitive to new people, sounds and smells than others,” Nold says. “In fact, even moving a piece of furniture can be enough to stress out very sensitive pets.”
Holiday stress triggers for pets
Change can be an adjustment for animals, and the holidays seem to come with many new and unexpected situations. These are some of the most common holiday situations that trigger stress and anxiety in pets:
- New places and smells
- Visitors and unfamiliar people
- Other animals
- Changing environment (like putting up a tree or rearranging furniture)
- Frequent deliveries and new objects arriving to the home
- Change in routine
- Lack of exercise (Sometimes Fido’s daily walks get forgotten during these busy times)
- Human stress (That’s right — your pet can sense when you’re stressed out!)
Keep in mind that even though your pet may not normally get too stressed by a home visitor or package delivery, the December holidays are an extra-busy time. Likewise, pets who already suffer from separation anxiety may feel it more intensely at this time of year if you’re running more frequent errands. The change in atmosphere and extra volume of triggers can simply make them more sensitive.
How to ease your pet's stress and anxiety during the holidays
Now that you know what may trigger your pet’s stress and anxiety during the holiday season, how do you help keep them calm? Cats and dogs all have their own unique personalities and varying temperaments, so certain pet stress-easing methods may work better for different animals. It’s a good idea to take precautions and know what to do if and when your pet does become stressed out during the holidays.
Stick to a routine if possible
Both dogs and cats are creatures of habit. The best way to reduce potential holiday stress for pets is therefore to keep as close to a schedule and routine as possible.
“You can minimize these stressors on your pet by trying to keep to their routine as much as possible while traveling. Some pets may benefit from being left in the comfort of their own home with a house sitter,” Nold advises.
If you plan to travel with your pet, try testing out the environment first. Take a trip in the car and travel to the airport. Try walking your pet around the parking lot, or even taking them to go sit in the check-in area or baggage claim to get used to the busy environment. If you’re taking a bus or train, do the same in the station before your trip. Let your pet get a sense for the smells, sounds, and the new atmosphere.
Likewise, you’ll also want to allow your dog or cat some time to get used to whatever carrier you may be using for them. To be extra ready when the day comes, it’s a good idea to adhere to CDC pet travel recommendations:
- Walk your pet before you get to the airport (or train / bus station), then then again when you arrive there.
- Check in with your pet as late as possible if they’ll be in the cabin or as early as possible if they’ll be in cargo.
- Use as few connections as possible to reduce changing environment stress on your pet.
- Read all specific destination requirements for pets ahead of time.
- Consult with your pet’s veterinarian beforehand to make sure your pet is healthy enough for travel.
Take precautions if hosting a holiday party
Many of us like to entertain, but does your pet? Hosting a party during the holidays, although fun, could trigger pets exhibiting stress and anxiety. The hustle and bustle of new people in their home could make them quickly feel overwhelmed.
“If you are hosting a party, consider confining your pet to a small room away from the activity with water, comfy bed, and maybe a new toy to keep them busy,” Nold says. “White noise, such as a fan or turning on the TV-radio may also help. By not confining them to a separate room, you run the risk of them sneaking outside when the door opens, as well as them getting into tasty treats that may be dropped accidentally, or not-so accidentally.”
Manage your own holiday stress
Because many pets are so attuned to their owners, this means that our attitudes and behaviors can have a direct effect on our furry loved ones. If you notice your pet acting stressed, now is a great time to check in with yourself and gauge how tense you are this time of year.
If you realize the holidays have you on edge, try taking steps to become more at peace. Try writing down everything you have to get done (instead of keeping it all in your head) and making plans in advance. And when you do start feeling under pressure, be mindful of how you may be acting and take steps to relax. Your pet will thank you for it.
Know when your pet needs a break
Nobody knows your pet’s personality better than you, so it’s important to stay attuned to how they’re acting and feeling. When your dog or cat starts acting anxious during the holidays, the best thing you can do is find a quiet place for them. Don’t leave them abruptly alone, as this can cause more stress. Instead, take the time to reconnect just one on one. Try to engage with an enrichment toy to focus and distract your pet’s mind from the busy environment.
Some pets may need a little extra help if their anxiety is particularly intense. That’s when Nold says it’s worth consulting with their veterinarian.
“If you know your pet is more sensitive than others, talk to your veterinarian about other options,” she advises. “These may include pheromone sprays/diffusers and/or anti-anxiety medication.”
Be prepared for the unexpected
Accidents and other unwelcome surprises can still arise even with the best holiday planning. Be prepared to have a backup pet sitting plan if your pet becomes too anxious right before leaving for the airport, for example. And if your pet is not currently protected, now’s also a great time to look into pet health insurance.
Remember, this is a time for joy, celebration, and cheer to celebrate the companionship of our loved ones. Our furry friends are family, and they deserve our patience and understanding. If pets exhibit stress and anxiety during the holidays, knowing how to recognize it and help them will ensure a more enjoyable season for all.
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Welcome to the Trupanion blog. A place to celebrate pets, pet health and medical insurance for cats and dogs.
This blog is designed to be a community where pet owners can learn and share. The views expressed in each post are the opinion of the author and not necessarily endorsed by Trupanion. Always consult your veterinarian for professional advice.