We may not realise it but Christmas can be a very stressful time, especially for our pets. Christmas festivities bring people together and with that often come noisy gatherings and busy households, but we don’t always notice what effect it has on our furry friends.
Dogs and cats experience stress just the same as us humans. They could get irritable, hyperactive or scared and because they cannot speak up for themselves it can be easy to overlook their anguish amidst all the merriment. A part of caring for your pets is being aware of their current mood and general temperament, and being conscious of how to make them as comfortable as possible during the Christmas period.
Bringing out the decorations, raising the tree and stocking up on a fine Christmas feast may be one part of the excitement of the season. The other part of Christmas most likely entails having an unusual flow of visitors into the home. Your pets may not take to this increased traffic too well and sometimes we may need to help them cope.
Some pets who are used to less noise and less busy environments may not like the increased activity that Christmas may bring into their midst. They may get snappy or try to hide away. Consider how your pet might react to older people or young children who come into your home. Children act differently to adults and they may be frightening to pets that aren’t used to being around them. The same could be said for older people, especially those who have mobility aids.
Rosie Barclay MPhil CCAB is a highly qualified pet behaviour counsellor. She is an ASAB Certificated Clinical Animal Behaviourist (CCAB), chair of The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC), and is an Animal Behaviour & Training Council (ABTC) Registered Clinical Animal Behaviourist (CAB).
To help your pets at Christmas, Rosie advises to, ‘Make sure all pets have somewhere they can escape to where they feel safe and can relax.’ She adds, ‘Keep to normal feeding and exercise routines.Begin the preparations gradually so the whole house doesn’t suddenly smell and look different.Offer fun distractions such as puzzle toys and ask visitors not to make a bee line for your pet but your pet to make the first move.Allow your pet to retreat to a quieter place and offer them some nice familiar smelling blankets to snuggle up in’.
So it makes sense to allow our pets to have their space, but not to ignore them completely. For cats, being able to retreat to a quiet place that is out of the way is probably most ideal. Perhaps dedicate a room for your cat where it can be at peace whilst your Christmas fun proceeds in other areas of the house. Leave your cat with its necessary amenities such as a litter box, food, water, and even perhaps their favourite toy. It is not a good idea to constantly pursue your cat and try to drag it from its hiding spot. This could cause more distress. And remember to keep escape routes clear.
For dogs, it may be a good idea to cordon them off. Again, provide them with necessary love and attention, food, water and a favourite toy. Using a child gate is one suggested way to keep children and dogs apart. This will allow your dogs to watch the festivities but from a safe distance. So in this way they can still be ‘a part’ of the merriment but without getting in harm’s way or unintentionally mistaking a gesture from a stranger as a threat.
An interesting little story Rosie kindly shared with us is about her old Airedale called Lowry on one Christmas occasion. ‘Lowry used to open his own presents,’ says Rosie. ‘One year my young daughter placed a present to her brother, a can of deodorant, under the tree and Lowry believing it to be his sank his teeth into it. It made a hissing noise so he quickly dropped it leaving the contents pouring out and totally overpowering the lovely Christmas smell of cooking turkey and scented candles. Everything smelled like a teenager’s bedroom for days and poor Lowry never wanted to open his presents ever again. It just goes to show how scary cans that hiss or make a noise are yet there are such cans designed and sold as correction devices to train your dog. My advice is just don’t use them there are kinder ways to stop your dog taking things that aren’t his.’
This is a good example of how something seemingly innocent to us humans could turn into a bit of a drama if your furry friend gets their noses into it. Likewise, seemingly merry environments for us humans may not necessarily leave your pet feeling as happy. So take extra care at Christmas to tend to your lovable pets, as they do certainly care for us.