Holidays are a wonderful time and, hopefully, an occasion for you and your family to celebrate and enjoy one another. Of course, our pets are part of that experience. I wanted to take a few moments to go over some things to be cautious of in order to make the holidays go as smoothly as possible.
If you normally have a quiet household, a big get-together can be pretty overwhelming for your pet. Make sure you set up an escape route or safe space for them. Consider putting them away before guests arrive and allowing them to come out and meet everyone once guests are inside and settle. Remember, this is not the time to practice new skills like sitting politely when greeting strangers. You’ll just feel frustrated and your dog will feel stressed.
Watch the food. I recently received two calls from dog owners in Western MA about dog fights that occurred on Thanksgiving Day. The combination of lots of people combined with lots of food sitting out equaled the perfect formula for dog fights requiring a trip to the animal ER. In addition to the added chance of dog fights, there is also the potential for food poisoning. I’ve posted before about the potentially toxic foods your dog should not consume. As a quick reminder, keep them away from onions, garlic, chocolate, caffeine, grapes and raisins. Also, high amounts of fat can cause pancreatitis, so be cautious about giving your dog the skins from poultry or other high fat foods.
In addition to food, keep a careful eye on objects that could be eaten and cause problems. Tinsel can get wrapped around intestines, glass bulbs can be mistaken for a ball (I’ve had one of my border collies find ornaments and bring them to me for a game of fetch), and ribbon, paper, etc. are all potential problems if ingested. Keep presents out of reach and either set ornaments high on a tree or put an exercise pen around the tree to keep it safe.
If you are burning candles or making fires, keep pets away. Many a cat has sashayed her way through a candle, leaving the smell of burnt hair behind her. A Labrador tail can easily knock over a candle and potentially create a serious fire hazard. I recommend setting a reminder on your phone to make sure all candles and fires are extinguished when you leave the house. Also, have a current fire extinguisher nearby. Nothing is more devastating than a house fire.
Be sensitive to the overall stress that accompanies holidays. Even though it’s a happy time, we are stressed with the rush of getting gifts, planning parties and everything else that goes with the season. Our pets are attuned to our feelings and don’t understand why their people are suddenly on edge. This stress can manifest by them being more prone to snap at one another or at people (it’s really no different with people when you think about it). I had another call from a family with two dogs that normally get along very well…and then one day it just seemed like a switch flipped and suddenly they were fighting. Obviously, there could be a lot of different things going on but, over the years, I’ve noticed I get more calls like this around the holidays than any other time of the year. I think exercise also plays a role, since many pets are getting less exercise due to the weather and how busy their people are
With the reduction in exercise and increase in stress, take some time to make sure your pet has enough enrichment to get through the holidays in a good space. Stuff some Kongs and freeze them, stock up on bully sticks and tracheas, go back to basics by peppering your routines with simple obedience commands, and dedicate five minutes each night to a quiet activity that you and your dog find soothing (grooming, massage, quiet cuddling).
With all that being said, remember to relax and enjoy this time with your family and pets. We are so blessed to have the unconditional love our pets bring to our lives and this is a wonderful time of year to celebrate that.