Shirley Muldoon gets away with it all. (Courtesy of Reverend Balamo)
Dear Pet Talk: The holidays are stressful for me, so I’m glad I have a dog and cats. How can I prevent them from being stressed? Elf on the Shelf
Dear Elf on the Shelf: A perfectly seasonal question, and the first thing to remember is that you and your pet are in this together. However, keeping them safe will keep your stress levels low.
If you celebrate with a Christmas tree, bright tinsel and dangling ornaments are extremely attractive to dogs and cats. Foil “icicles” are the worst because they can easily fall to the floor and then be eaten by a curious pet. This mulch also prevents your tree from going into the field or biodegrading safely.
Human foods that you should keep away from your cat and dog include: chocolate, grapes, raisins, onions, garlic, macadamia nuts, bread flour, xylitol (found in candy and gum) and alcohol. .
Some dogs and cats like raw greens, which is fine for them (we had a Manx-Ile cat who enthusiastically played “soccer” with green beans). Don’t be tempted to skip your pet’s regular diet just because “it’s the holidays.” And ignore those relatives who feed their animals human food – thereby encouraging the pet to beg – and think you’re a Grinch because you don’t follow their lead.
If you’re out of the house for irregular hours, make sure your pet has nice, soft bedding inside, and leave a radio on so they can hear the soothing sound of human voices and activity. Don’t expect your shy dog to eagerly greet new guests, and don’t get impatient when your dog goes bananas when guests arrive.
Speaking of young animals – wait until after the holidays to adopt, so you can focus on your new arrival.
During the season when there are surprise visits and drop-ins, be aware of any doors left open. I’ve heard of several friends with indoor cats who had found a new hiding place in the house – and were trying to get their owners to find them. Dogs like Shirley in our photo want to hide under blankets.
Finally, if you’re stressed about any aspect of the holiday, spend time with your pets. Talking to your pet, and petting their fur, will lower your anxiety-inducing cortisol levels, and increase your dopamine and serotonin. It’s supposed to be pleasant weather, after all.
Sally Cragin is the director of Be PAWSitive: Therapy Pets and Community Education. Send questions to 978-320-1335.