During this time of year, veterinary advice columns put out warnings for your pets that include antifreeze poisoning, ingestion of ornaments/toys/etc., salt ingestion from de-icing products, chewing on seasonal lights and electrical cords, poisonous seasonal plants, and dietary disturbances from eating fatty foods and sweets sitting on table tops. These are all issues that veterinary hospitals deal with during the season, and as pet owners, you should be aware of them…and, although pet safety is important, I would like to dedicate this time to an area that is often overlooked.
We all know the holiday season can bring on a multitude of stressors for us. The combination of colder weather, decreased sunlight, the end of a year, unmet expectations, deadlines, pressures of the season, financial stressors…as joyous as this time of year is supposed to be, it comes with stress – stress that our highly intuitive pets share.
For the majority of us, our pets primarily live in our homes and are part of our families. Our pets are no longer using their senses to avoid predators and hunt for food, instead they are more sensitive to their families and their immediate surroundings, both of which undergo changes during the holidays. For about 6 weeks their ‘world’ goes through some big shifts and we often overlook how our pets may be affected. I ask that you think about the following examples of what may be going on in your home, and be sensitive to how your beloved companions are adjusting to it…especially our older pets:
• Weather, weather, weather
• Furniture moved/removed to make way for Christmas trees and decorations
• Yard decorations
• Lights…and more lights
• Scented candles, cinnamon, pine, and other fragrances
• A live tree…in the living room!
• Packages, UPS/FedEx, door bells
• Christmas music, singing, and fireworks at New Years
• Phone calls and visitors
• Baking, cooking, candy…food and more food
• Holiday parties and guests
• Owner/family arguments, tension, stress, exhaustion, depression
I hope you can see that every part of their little microcosm is disrupted. For clarity, I am not saying your pets won’t enjoy some of these changes…or act excited about the season, I am merely explaining that their life is undergoing a stressor…good or bad. The reason to be sensitive to these items is that they can be a catalyst to physical, emotional, and behavioral changes in your pet.
Please take a moment to slow down and observe your furry companion for changes in their eating, drinking, urination/defecation, and attitude. They can be over stimulated by these items and start hiding, avoiding areas where the Christmas décor is located, shaking and whining more, chewing or licking on themselves, sneezing or experiencing eye irritations...and even seizures. For example, If you get a lot of packages at this time a year, the delivery trucks and doorbells can magnify anxiety to a new level! You may consider putting a note on the door for UPS/FedEx/USPS to not ring the doorbell, or to leave packages in locations that would be less stimulating to your pets. Also, try not to leave stuff all over the floor that may make your pets travel through the house obstructed. I suggest considering placing your pet on a natural anti-anxiety supplement during the season (inexpensive and non-pharmaceutical based). If your pet is already struggling or you anticipate problems, as the holidays near, please have a discussion with your veterinarian – we have better success treating these issues proactively vs. waiting for a significant episode.
In closing, even if you can’t change any of the obvious stressors…the most important thing that you can do is to make sure you take care of your own physical and emotional health. Our pets take cues from us and they need to sense you are okay so that they can be okay. Please take the time to de-stress a little before you come in that front door and make the conscious decision to find something positive to focus on…it is important that you and your pet not only survive this holiday time, but also enjoy it!