Ever wonder why your dog seems to act out more than normal around the year’s end? Curious why your dog ends up giving you a vet bill every year for Christmas? Want to know what you can do to help prevent anxiety and illness for your pets during the holiday season?
This is the time of year that is busy, and often stressful, for everyone… INCLUDING our furry family members! Some dogs adapt just fine to disruptions in their daily routine or environment, while some are not so resilient to these changes. Certain canines may become anxious as their humans are home less, out shopping and enjoying holiday fun with family and friends. Particular pups don’t tolerate decorations going up and changes in their den. Some pooches don’t appreciate all the extra company coming into their home, and can become antsy and act out in ways they don’t normally do.
So first, please recognize that your dog’s unwanted behaviors could be a symptom of a greater problem. Increased anxiety from holiday changes may create problem behaviors such as howling or barking when you leave, regressions in house-training, or possibly reclusive or even aggressive behaviors with strangers, to name a few. Over-stimulation from the lack of adequate exercise and attention, due to an owner’s busier-than-normal schedule, can lead to a plethora of destructive behaviors like inappropriate chewing, garbage raiding, or jumping up. These behaviors can lead to illness in your pets, as there are many holiday hazards present during these stressful times too. So what can we do to be proactive pet owners to ensure a happy and healthy holiday season for 2 AND 4-legged family?
Plan ahead! If you have an active dog who you may not have time to adequately exercise, hire a professional dog walker during this busy season! If you are having company over, be sure to set aside time beforehand to wear out your pooch, making him or her less likely to be a nuisance to your guests. Perhaps set up a quiet area or room with your dog’s kennel, favorite toys, and comfortable bed, so your canine has a safe place to retreat during all the commotion.
Educate yourself about holiday hazards! Discuss with our veterinarian and do your research on things that could be toxic to dogs if ingested, such as poinsettia plants, Christmas tree water, and holiday candy containing the artificial sweetener xylitol. Be aware of holiday foods that can be problematic, such as fatty table scraps that can lead to pancreatitis and GI upset. It may be beneficial to plan to put your pets in a separate room with a distracting chew bone or interactive toy during family meal time, to ensure no one “slips” your pooch a harmful left over. Learn about the potential dangers certain decorations can bring. When I worked as a veterinary and surgical assistant, it was a common time of year to see linear foreign bodies from dogs eating things like ribbon and tinsel, or having severe electrical burns in their mouths from chewing on Christmas light cords. Hop on to www.ASPCA.org for lots more useful information on holiday hazards.
Set your dog up to succeed! If your puppy is overly curious about the Christmas tree or decorations, do not allow your dog to be around these things unattended. Crate train, put up gates, or close doors to prevent access to your decor during times you cannot supervise. If your dog gets overly excited, or even nervous when guests arrive, plan to put your dog in his or her special area away from the chaos until everything settles down. A stuffed frozen Kong or marrow bone in your dog’s kennel is a great way to keep your pooch occupied while everyone shuffles in. Once the commotion lessens, bring your dog out, perhaps even on a leash for better control, and educate your family and friends about how to greet and interact with your pup. This is especially important for children, and people who may not have dogs of their own. Keep plenty of positive reinforcements on hand, such as stinky treats or favorite toys, to encourage good behaviors in your dog, such as sitting instead of jumping while greeting a guest.
Help reduce anxiety naturally! Calming pheromones, relaxing aromatherapy, settling music, and other non-invasive approaches can be taken. Consider investing in a DAP diffuser or a calming pheromone collar for the holiday season, or try diffusing relaxing essential oils like lavender or chamomile. Perhaps try a Thundershirt or anxiety wrap on your pup. Give all-natural calming treats or tinctures like Happy Traveler by Ark Naturals or Rescue Remedy. “Through a Dog’s Ear” is a CD of classic music studied and proven to help calm dogs down during stressful times. Don’t forget, plentiful exercise is a great way to naturally relieve stress too, and not just for our pooches!