5 Stress-Busting Tips for Pets During The Holidays
December is my most stressful month of the year, and I’m not even much of a holiday shopper. Regardless, traffic intensifies, crowds expand, my workload increases and my patience decreases.
The holiday season can be equally—if not more—stressful for our pets. In addition to feeling the stress of their humans, holidays are also usually filled with changes to their daily routines and unfamiliar visitors, which can create anxious, stressed out pets.
What Can You Do to De-Stress Your Pets During The Holidays?
Dogs really thrive and build trust in us by keeping a familiar routine. If you normally walk them first thing in the morning, keep to that routine. If they eat dinner as soon as you come home from work, don’t delay their dinner by wrapping presents first. Remember, just one change in their routine can really throw them off. The holidays are usually filled with many changes.
Cats, particularly, do not like changes in their environment. The smallest change can set off problematic behaviors. Change in a cat’s physical environment—strangers, different food, additional animals, loud noises, illness, etc.—is a major contributor to stress. Cats prefer their homes to be stable and consistent. Acute feline stress turns into chronic irritation, manifesting in disease and behavioral challenges. Even the smallest change in environment, such as moving their food bowl, may cause them to stop eating. Stick to their normal routine as much as possible during the holidays.
2. Play Time
This is a good time of year to give them extra attention and playtime. Watch the very short video clip above. I created some extra fun playtime with Gina after some focused, high-distraction training. We were at a Guide Dogs for the Blind holiday party. ‘Career Change’ dogs were invited to play with the puppies in training for a fun game of Musical Chairs Down Dog—rules being that people couldn’t sit in a chair until their dogs were in a down stay. We celebrated our win at the end with a party. But, even if we hadn’t won, she still would have enjoyed some extra playtime with me.
Get Healthy, Get a Dog, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School reported on research with shelter animals:
“Human contact lowers their stress level, helping to calm them and make them more adoptable. The dogs that interacted with humans were found to have lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their saliva. The effect was noted across all breeds and ages and both genders. Another study found a similar benefit on cortisol levels for dogs as well as better scores on behavior tests with just 25 minutes of exercise and human contact a day.”
3. A Room of Their Own
While some dogs might be able to be calm around guests, others will benefit from being in a room of their own in a quiet part of the house. Give them a nice chewy treat or a stuffed kong to keep them entertained, and play some soothing music specifically designed to calm the canine nervous system. If your dog is crate-trained, he could find great comfort in spending some peaceful time in his crate.
Like humans, dogs and cats benefit from exercise, both for their health and behavior. Slacking off of their workout routine will only make them more anxious and contribute to weight gain. Keeping them exercised will benefit you as much as them, especially if you get moving together.
5. Sound Therapy
While my dogs, Sanchez and Gina, don’t know it’s December, I’m sure they feel my tension. As a canine music expert, I’ve learned how to relieve their stress (and mine) with music. The rearranged classical compositions of Through a Dog’s Ear have been clinically tested to reduce canine anxiety and have been successfully utilized by dog lovers world-wide. It’s equally soothing for 2-leggeds, as is music designed to calm cats.