Cat sitting by Christmas tree
I know you’re getting excited about the holidays — I certainly am! — but our pets don’t always share our joy. For shy, reserved animals, the influx of houseguests, the commotion surrounding parties and the changes in environment and routine can leave them fearful, anxious or stressed. You don’t have to give up your celebrations — but you will need to look for ways to help your pet stay calm and bright.

Create a Calm Space for Your Pet

We all know that change is good, right? Well, our dogs and cats don’t agree. Pets think change is bad, bad, bad. As much as possible, keep your pet’s scheduled mealtimes, walks and playtime the same. Whatever else is going on in your household, if pets can rely on getting food and exercise at normal times, they are less likely to become anxious or stressed.

Even if your pet’s routine stays the same during the holidays, his environment will probably be in flux. Whether you have friends in for an evening or relatives staying with you for the week, your pets will need a place they can retreat from the strangers and the holiday music. Even furr-riendly dogs and cats can become stressed by too much fun and need a little downtime.

A safe room can be any place your pet feels comfortable. A bedroom or home office where your pet is already used to spending time is ideal. Avoid cold garages or noisy laundry rooms — those aren’t relaxing for anyone. And make sure guests know that the pet-safe room is off-limits to them — it’s just for your furry friend.

Don’t wait until the last minute to introduce your pet to his sanctuary. Have him practice staying there for varying lengths of time in the days before your party is scheduled or your guests arrive. Make sure he has water, some toys and a comfortable bed, and if he’s of the feline persuasion, he’ll need a litterbox, too. Once he’s settled in, give him a treat or food puzzle and close the door.

It might be too late this year, but you can teach your pet to go to the quiet room on cue. It’s something every pet should know and can be beneficial throughout the year, not just during the holiday season.

Give Guests a Petiquette Lesson

Your guests may not have pets and may have misconceptions about the best ways to interact with them — and your pets may have quirks of their own that influence the way they react to people. Give visiting friends and family a heads up, so they don’t make mistakes or scare your pets.

You can offer general advice (not everyone knows that some cats may be more friendly if you do not make direct eye contact, for example) or specific tips about your pets (how your dog likes to be petted or if your cat is afraid of loud noises). And you should always caution guests about any behavior that might result in a nip or scratch ("Please don’t pick up the cat — it scares her, and when she’s scared, she bites").

Keep a close eye on visiting children. Their erratic movements and high-pitched voices can startle your pets, especially if they aren’t used to the presence of kids. Make sure your littlest guests don’t try to grab at, pick up, chase after or ride on your pets. Tell them the pet rules, and then make sure they follow them. And never, ever leave a child and a pet together without adult supervision.

Limit interactions between your pets and visiting pets. If possible, keep them separated unless they already know and like each other. And just like with children, be sure to supervise all interactions to head off any possible trouble.

Seek Veterinary Help

Some fearful, anxious or stressed pets can benefit from a little pharmaceutical intervention. Ask your veterinarian about natural and prescription solutions that may help pets stay calm. Think "Silent Night" in a bottle. These include pheromone sprays or diffusers, supplements that help your pet “chill,” and anxiolytic drugs that can have a relaxing effect. You can also ask your veterinarian about a new medication for dogs with noise phobias to help them tune out the Christmas carols, jangling bells, party chatter and New Year’s fireworks.

Happy howlidays!

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