Anyone who owns a pet knows: Pets often love the holidays as much as we do. They get as excited at receiving gifts, love finding treats and toys under the tree or in their stockings, and have a blast with wrapping paper. They love seeing family and friends, curling up next to the fireplace, or having a nice long nap next to you or somewhere in the house once the celebrations are done.
Just the same, some pets get overwhelmed by the holidays. Some are startled by the hustle and bustle, the strange new people and smells, the noise, and often, would much rather spend their holiday underneath the bed or in a quiet room away from everyone.
As a pet owner, the key is for you to know which your pet prefers, and help your pet have a safe and happy holiday along with everyone else. A few things that can help:
- If your pet loves to be social: It can be hard to have pets underfoot during the holiday celebrations, and it isn’t always safe to have them in the mix where a front door left open unexpectedly can mean an escape or worse. But it can also be very hard for a pet that loves socialization and people to be locked away from the activity and group. Especially outdoors! Either create a space that is away from the noise and crowd such as the upstairs bedroom, or basement, and provide plenty of toys, your pet’s bed, food and fresh water, etc. If it’s a dog, a few good chew toys can be ideal. Put a fan on or other noise, such as the TV, to help mask the noise from the activity in the house. Let your pet know what you’re planning to do — just the calmness of your voice, even if the words don’t make sense, can help sooth him or her as you separate him for safety or security during your holiday celebration. If your pet is on hand while people are arriving with the plan of being put in a quiet space later, let him or her have time to socialize first. Then grab a few of his or her personal items to keep him/her company. If your pet will be on hand during the celebration, remind guests — especially children — to be mindful of shutting doors, being careful with playing and food items so that your pet is safe during the fun.
- If your pet doesn’t love to be social: If your pet is shy or easily afraid of noise, crowds, and other hustle and bustle, following several of the points about creating a quiet space and adding a fan or other noise to the room can help. Chances are, your shy one will want to hide most of the time anyway, but this can help create an area that is familiar and mask noise that might startle or frighten. Be sure to provide food, water, a litter box if it’s a cat, or other personal items so that he or she is comfortable. Put your pet in this space just before guests start arriving, but not too early before! Being kept away from you for lengths of time can be hard. Waiting until just before the party or celebration begins can help.
Regardless of whether your pet is social or not, a few other points to do/keep in mind:
- Check in: Midway through the party or event, check on your pet to make sure he or she is okay. Even if the pet is kept in a space away from guests, popping in a few times is ideal to say hi, make sure he or she has whatever she may need, etc. If it is a dog, be sure to give a few potty breaks. This is where keeping the pet in a room that has easy outdoor access can help, such as a bedroom with a back deck, or a basement.
- Be careful and mindful of the space you choose: It can be tempting to put your pet in the garage, a shed, or worse, outdoors. Do not do so if you can avoid it! Pets get just as cold in these environments as people do, and there is often little comfort or view for them to enjoy or explore. If you do not have an option, such as the garage or a shed, be sure to provide adequate warmth, and check on the pet more frequently than you would if indoors, keeping an eye on the weather and temperature. This includes making sure food and water supply is ample. Never, ever, ever keep your pet outdoors for longer than a few minutes in cold weather of any kind!
- Respect your pets needs: Never try to force your pet to do or be anything it does not want to, and don’t get angry or punish it for not being what you want or expect. Some pets just do not like to be around noise and people, and your pet is not a bad pet for being this way. Understand your pet is part of your family, and as with any family member you would treat it with care and respect, making sure it’s unique and individual needs are respected and met at all times.
- Be cautious with punishments: Just like people, the holiday excitement and festivities can cause even the best pet to make a mistake or two, such as jumping up and down with excitement, or being afraid and growling. He or she may not be able to communicate a need to use the bathroom, or might get a little too tempted to try that delicious smelling food item on the table. Understand that if your pet is displaying these types of behaviors, it’s not intentional. Just like little children, pets sometimes can’t contain their feelings, behaviors and emotions under special circumstances. If your pet acts up, use stern, but kind words and discipline. Never, ever, ever hit your pet, scream at it or react to your anger and frustration. You wouldn’t grab your cousin, house guest or other person by the neck and whip him into the garage for misbehaving! Don’t do the same to your pet during holiday mishaps either.
- Prepare guests: Help guests have a great time with your pet and respect its needs also, particularly if children are on hand. Let them know your pet is in the house, what you would prefer they did or did not do (such as sharing scraps from the table), and any other needs your pet may have. Little children may want to ‘meet the doggie or kitty!’ that is hiding in the basement. Avoid this, even if it’s tempting. It can be fun for a little one, but stressful for your furry one. Share pictures of your pet instead, and explain how you are careful to help your pet and meet its needs. It can be just as fun to see pictures of your pet, and can help teach a great lesson in animal care.
Most of all, have fun! If you’ll be including your pet in gift opening, or other holiday events, just be sure to have some toys, a warm sweater if you’re going outdoors, and a little food treat so he or she can enjoy and participate in the holiday fun!