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How to Keep Pets Calm During the Holidays

By:  Hagar Hauser, DVM, DACVB / Behavior

While the holidays can be an exciting time to get together with family and friends, it can be a daunting time for our pets because there are unexpectedly multiple strangers in the home, new decorations, potential travel involved, and an overall change in routine. Here are some ways to help prepare your pets for the holidays!

1. Learn How to Recognize Signs of Stress in Pets

To help your pet stay calm during the holidays, it’s important to be able to recognize signs of stress that you can monitor for. If these signs are missed and guests attempt to interact with your pet, this may result in an increase in anxiety and in some cases, aggression. Signs of stress to monitor for include ears back, tail low or tucked, lip licking, yawning, avoidance, holding the body low to the ground, whale eye (side eye), whining, barking, and growling. If these signs are noticed, give your pet a break from the visitors by placing them behind a barrier to relax. Some pets do best if they are kept separated from guests for the entire visit – not as a punishment but rather as a calm place for them to avoid the chaos!

2. Create a Safe Haven for Pets

Choose a place in your home where your pet spends the most time or tends to seek out when they are stressed such as a bed, crate, cat tree, or specific room in the house. Encourage your pet to spend time there on their own by intermittently rewarding them with treats when they are relaxing there. You can also teach them to spend time in this location by training a “go to” cue. This safe haven will be useful when your guests arrive and your pet knows to go there if they are stressed. When guests are present, play background noise (e.g. white noise machine, dog or cat-specific calming music) near the safe haven to drown out the sounds of the visitors. We also recommend providing food toys and puzzles to keep your pet preoccupied, especially during meals so they are not crawling under the table to look for table scraps.

3. Prepare for Traveling with Pets

Some pets rarely travel, except to visit the veterinary clinic, so to make a positive association with the car, we recommend taking your dog for short car rides to places that they enjoy, such as to the park or for a hike. For the ride, you can spray a species-specific pheromone (Adaptil for dogs and Feliway Classic for cats) in the car, on the carrier, or on a blanket about 10-15 minutes prior to travel. Offer them high value treats on the ride to create a positive association and to keep them busy. In addition, a study found that placing lavender sachets in the car during travel can reduce signs of stress in dogs. If your pet experiences significant signs of stress or motion sickness during travel, please speak with your primary care veterinarian about medication options to address these concerns.

We hope that you and your pets have a happy, safe holiday!