Many people find that the holidays are one of the most enjoyable – although stressful – times of the year. However, did you know that holiday stress can also be experienced by your pet? If the answer is no, then you are certainly not alone. A large number of pet owners get so caught up in the festivities of the holiday season that they fail to realize that their pet is also feeling the stress of this time of year.
How do I know if my pet is stressed?
Since your pet is unable to use words to communicate with you, you may think it would be impossible for him or her tell you he or she is feeling stressed. However, they may display certain signs and symptoms which indicate that their mental health is suffering. These include:
- Loss of appetite
- Stomach problems – vomiting, diarrhea, constipation
- Crouching when walking
- Tail lowered/tucked away in an attempt to make herself smaller
- Ears pinned/pulled back
- Licking her nose and lips persistently
- Barking more than normal, whining or howling
- Loss of toilet training skills
- Biting/chewing furniture and other destructive behavior
Causes of pet holiday stress and how to help your animal
It can be difficult to understand why an animal may feel stressed during the holidays. After all, your pet doesn’t have to deal with shopping, wrapping, decorating and cooking. Nevertheless, there are several things that can cause your pet to experience holiday stress.
Your emotional climate
Many owners underestimate the impact that their emotions and stress levels can have on their pets. Our animals are actually very in tune with our emotional climate, and if we feel anxious, nervous or under pressure, then this may filter through to our animals who then experience a degree of these emotions too.
How to help your pet
Much like a parent may try to hide negative emotions from their child, pet owners should try and present a calm, reassuring image when dealing with their animals.
Changes in routine
When it comes to the holidays, routine often goes out of the window. We tend to have many more social engagements, such as family gatherings and Christmas parties. While these are great fun for us, increased time spent outside of the home and away from our pets can cause them to become lonely, anxious and stressed out. Equally, if a usually quiet home suddenly turns into party central for several weeks out of the year, your pet may find it difficult to adjust to both the noise and the strangers coming into their territory.
How to help your pet
The best way to help your pet to adjust is to try and keep routines as consistent as possible. If you are unavailable at the time your dog usually has his walk, or your cat is usually fed, consider asking a neighbor. Or, if you have older children, one of your kids could step in and help. If you are hosting events at home, create a safe space somewhere on your property that is as far away from the gathering as possible. Make sure your pet has a supply of fresh water, soft bedding, and their favorite toy. This gives your pet somewhere to retreat to if she is overwhelmed and needs some time on her own.
While you are busy getting everything prepared for Christmas, it can be easy to forget one of the key psychological needs of your pet – mental stimulation. Boredom can be very stressful for your pet, as it can cause them to build up a type of nervous energy that often manifests as naughty behavior such as chewing shoes or going to the toilet in places that they shouldn’t.
How to help your pet
Exercise and playing time are the best tools to alleviate boredom and give your pet the mental stimulation that she needs. Make sure to get out for a walk with your dog every day, or if the weather doesn’t make this possible, enjoy some vigorous games together indoors such as hide and seek or climbing up and down the stairs. Cats will benefit from short but sweet games like chasing a laser beam or fluffy toy.
If you have additional questions or concerns about your pet, call us at Denton Veterinary Center.