Have a Stress-Free Christmas
For us, Christmas is usually a time for fun, friends, merriment and meet-ups; however, for many of our pets, it’s more of a nightmare! In this blog, we’re going to look at how you can make sure your pets have a merry and peaceful Christmas, rather than a scary and miserable one.
Why do pets find Christmas stressful?
Most animals do not like the following things – changes to their routine, strange people in the house, changes to the physical environment.
So at Christmas, of course, we tend to stay up late and sleep late, have loads of visitors and house parties, and put in new and strange furniture (trees, decorations, cribs – you name it!). Not only do we change the physical environment, we alter the smells and the lighting, which is even more disconcerting.
To make matters worse, we tend to be quite stressed in the run-up to Christmas too – getting and wrapping presents, making sure all the decorations are just so, doing the cooking exactly right, and even hosting the odd relative who we don’t get on with but make the effort to see once a year. No wonder the stress boils over occasionally – and our pets are really quick at picking up on our rising stress levels, even more than we are ourselves.
Does this apply to every animal?
Of course, there’s a great deal of variation – and different species have different thresholds. For example, as long as they’re with their family, most dogs have a higher threshold for stress than most cats. However, while there are of course some animals which love the season, Christmas is potentially stressful for any animal – and we can inadvertently make matters worse by thinking they’re “excited” rather than “stressed”.
What can I do to help?
The exact mix of techniques will, of course, depend on your household, your pet, and your Christmas. However, the possibilities include…
Hermithood (aka The Scrooge)
Pretend that Christmas isn’t happening and hide out in the wilderness ignoring all your neighbours. However, while this may eliminate pet-stress, it probably won’t do you any good, so it isn’t a technique we’d recommend!
Pheromones (aka It’s Beginning to Smell a Lot Like Christmas)
For dogs and cats, there are a range of artificial pheromones (scent messengers) available to help maintain calmness and reduce stress. These are synthetic versions of natural chemicals – Dog Appeasing Pheromone for dogs, sold as Adaptil, and Feline Facial Pheromone for cats, as Feliway. If there’s any question over stress: get a diffuser in your house and plug it in as soon as possible! Don’t worry, they have no effect on other species (including humans!).
Calmers (aka Dog-Nog)
Firstly, NEVER give your pets alcohol to calm them down – they don’t tolerate it as well as we do and can get seriously ill! However, there are a range of calming products available over the counter that can help take the edge off. The most widely used is Zylkene, a capsule based on milk protein.
Safe-Spaces (aka Away in a Safe Box)
This is really important – in fact, however happy your pet seems, this is probably an essential tip to survive the season. Make sure your pet has a quiet, safe place that they can retreat to without having to socialise. For cats, a cat basket placed upstairs or on a shelf can be good; for dogs, somewhere with their blankets that’s nice and snug is ideal. The point is that your pets can come out and socialise – or withdraw to safety if it’s all a bit much.
See us! (aka A Christmas Consult)
Some pets become so stressed and terrified that none of the normal measures are effective. In the case of cats, this may manifest as running away, or over grooming so much that they pull out their fur. Dogs can also try and run, but may respond to stress with (apparently unprovoked) aggression.
Don’t let it get that far – if your pet doesn’t like Christmas, bring them in to come and see one of our vets, and we’ll see what other options there are!
We’d like to wish all of our patients and their families a very merry, peaceful and stress-free Christmas and New Year.