Holiday Stress in Pets: How to Prevent Anxiety and Other Problems

A fluffy dog in a pile of leaves with a pumpkinJust as you finish the mile-long list of tasks before the big holiday gathering, you notice something amiss with your pet. Maybe he or she is hidden deep within the back of the closet or has decided to use the laundry basket as a litter box.

Unfortunately, holiday stress can manifest in many ways in your pet. Strangers or disruptions in their routines can create anxiety, and the holidays can create behavioral issues in pets who may not otherwise display such challenges.

Recognizing Holiday Stress in Your Pet

Whether you plan on traveling with your pet during the holidays or you’re staying at home, it’s important to know the signs of anxiety. Typical behaviors include:

  • Clinginess
  • Hiding (particularly true with felines)
  • Change in disposition
  • Aggression
  • Excessive grooming or licking/chewing on paws
  • Barking and vocalization
  • Attempts to escape
  • Pacing
  • Cowering

Some pets experience physical symptoms that target the digestive system, which results in diarrhea, vomiting, and/or lack of appetite.

Even if you think your pet is a social butterfly, it’s useful to evaluate his or her response to strangers by practicing at the dog park or by inviting a few family members over.

Most pets who experience higher levels of stress are those who have never received training or who have been conditioned to regard the home and pet owner as territory.

Before being unpleasantly surprised by your pet at a holiday dinner or party, try some practice runs to gauge his or her level of anxiety and comfort.

Tips to Reduce Holiday Stress for Your Best Fur Friend

One of the best ways to minimize stress for your four-legged friend is to stick to your routine. Although it may feel like you’re running in ten different directions at once, keep in mind that maintaining daily walks and regular feeding times go a long way to preventing an upset and anxious pet.

Other practical ways to avoid problems include:

  • Boarding your pet with a facility that provides personalized attention (contact us for recommendations)
  • If boarding isn’t feasible, make a safe zone within your home, such as a bedroom or office, where your pet can relax with toys and other favorite comfort items
  • Puzzles, games, and chew toys, such as a Kong filled with peanut butter, can offer a healthy and challenging distraction
  • Give your pet a bit more exercise before the gathering, such as a longer walk or an extra game of fetch
  • Maintain your sense of calm during the holidays – pets respond to our emotions when we are feeling overwhelmed or anxious

Along with keeping stress levels to a minimum, don’t forget all the rich, fatty foods that can exacerbate digestive issues (and result in pet poisoning emergencies). Ask guests to keep plates and drinks out of your pet’s reach and to avoid offering table scraps or other people food (despite how much begging is involved).

If your pet is experiencing stress or has challenges with anxiety or phobias, please contact the team at Barton Heights Veterinary Hospital for a consultation and recommendations on how to diminish those fears.