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We’re not all outgoing Golden Retrievers. Heck, not even all Golden Retrievers are the never-met-anyone-they-didn’t-love-on-first-sniff extroverts for which the breed is known. Many dogs and most cats fall into the category of “shy,” which isn’t a knock on them at all. Usually, it’s well within the range of normal behavior.
Having a shy pet may be a challenge during the holidays, though. These pets, more than most perhaps, crave an unchanging landscape and a predictable routine — something the holidays aren’t known for. The decorations go up, friends and relatives come over and the next thing you know your cat has taken up seemingly permanent residence under the bed in the farthest corner of the house.
Without giving up your delights of the holiday seasons, you can make life easier for your scaredy cat or fearful dog. While some pets may need help from your veterinarian to make it through the season of greetings, others may slide happily through to New Year’s with just a few minor adjustments on your part.
Teaching your pet to be comfortable in a crate or carrier really has its advantages. Pets who are acclimated to confinement are often more comfortable when unusual circumstances arise — they have to stay over at the vet’s, for example, or go for a ride in the car. That’s why I always take a cue from my daughter, Vetstreet pet trainer Mikkel Becker, and encourage people to take those crates out of the garage rafters and make them part of a pet’s daily experience.
The crate can also come in handy when you have company and your pet is afraid of strangers (or the other way around). Putting your pet in his carrier while company’s at your home will protect both pets and people from unwanted interactions. It can also help to prevent a pet from slipping out the front door when someone leaves it temporarily ajar.
Cats may be comfortably contained in a bedroom that is off limits to guests. Just make sure there’s a litterbox, water and, ideally, a scratching post and toys. If your dog gets on well with a friend or neighbor, you may be able to arrange a quiet visit while you’re entertaining rather than requiring him to stay in his crate for the duration of the visit.
I’m a big fan of pheromones, synthetic substances that mimic calming smells produced naturally by animals. For cats, I use Feliway so much when I’m practicing that it’s practically my signature cologne. For dogs, it’s DAP, for Dog Appeasing Pheromone. These products function like Kumbaya in a bottle, and they’re great for soothing some anxious pets. I recommend pheromones for all kinds of anxiety-inducing situations, from introducing new pets to entertaining guests to a trip to the veterinarian's. They really can work for some animals, and they’re widely available now from pet supply retailers.
I hate seeing pets in fear, especially when I can help them. I am always suggesting to pet owners that they ask their veterinarians to prescribe a mild sedative — available as an inexpensive generic — for a pet’s occasional fears. Most typically, those include fireworks or thunderstorms, a ride in the car, or a visit to the vet. But these medications can also help ease the stress of a pet who gets unhinged by visitors. Sedation is probably best paired with seclusion in a quiet room or carrier until the party’s over.
Before the holiday rush starts, talk to your veterinarian! Once you know how to make your shy pet comfortable, you can put up the decorations and throw open the door to the holiday gatherings so many of us enjoy. You’ll have a better time when you don’t have to worry about your pet — and your pet will have a better time, too.
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