Pets are also prone to stress during the holidays.

Heather Drewold

The holiday season, while fun and festive for many, can be hard on our pets. With increased activity, grooming and disruptions to routine, pets often experience increased stress levels just like humans.

For example, a survey by the American Pet Products Association found that nearly 45% of pet owners notice a change in their pet’s behavior during holiday gatherings.

The holidays can be stressful for everyone, including pets.  They may need a little more attention and rest during the season to keep them comfortable.  - 1

The holidays can be stressful for everyone, including pets. They may need a little more attention and rest during the season to keep them comfortable.

CRHS contributed.

Even without excessive noise, commotion and unfamiliar guests, pets can be stressed by a number of other factors, including:

Disrupting their routines: Pets develop normally, and vacations often disrupt their regular schedule of feeding, walking, and resting.

Decoration and other environmental changes: Rearranging furniture for decoration can make pets uncomfortable. They may not understand these changes and may react with stress or anxiety.

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Reduced attention: Pet owners may have less time to spend with pets. This change can be stressful for pets, especially those who are particularly social or clingy.

Travel or boarding: If pets board or travel with their owners, the change in routine can be stressful. This is especially true for animals that are used to being away from their home.

Dietary changes: Holiday foods and treats can disrupt the diet, which can lead to gastrointestinal distress. Additionally, some pets may ingest harmful food or decorations, which can cause further health problems.

According to Dr. Nicole Azien, veterinarian and owner of Onalaska Animal Hospital, recognizing and watching for signs of stress in pets is important, not only to keep them comfortable, but also to keep them healthy. Unchecked stress can lead to gastrointestinal problems beyond the dietary changes described above—changes that can lead to dehydration and malnutrition.

She said that stress can also affect eating habits, causing them to eat less, cause more malnutrition or overeat and gain unnecessary weight. Eisen expressed particular concern about the reduced immune response and respiratory problems that could result, especially now that an unknown canine respiratory disease is spreading in several states.

If you’re wondering if your pet is struggling, behavior can be a telltale sign.

“Changes in appetite, increased aggression, and hiding are common indicators,” Azene said. “Also watch for changes in sleeping patterns, excessive licking or grooming, and unusual urination or defecation.”

To manage holiday stress for your pet, it’s important to maintain a routine, consistent feeding, exercise and sleep schedule.

Azene also recommends designating a “safe space” where your pet can retreat from noise and visitors.

“Be sure to have their bed, familiar toys and water in that area,” she said.

Introduce gradual changes. If you’re decorating your home or redecorating for the holidays, do it slowly. This allows your pet to adjust to the changes without becoming overwhelmed.

Limiting guest interactions. If your pet is shy or nervous around strangers, limit their interactions with guests. And let your guests know the rules about interacting with your pets, including not feeding them table scraps.

Pay attention to them. Make sure your pet gets proper attention and rest. Spend quality time with them, and offer reassurance and affection.

exercise Regular exercise and sports can help reduce stress and burn off excess energy. A tired pet is often a happy pet.

Monitor the diet. Keep your pet’s diet as regular as possible, and be vigilant about keeping harmful foods and decorations out of their reach.

Desensitization and training. For especially anxious pets, consider sensitivity training to help them get used to noise and new experiences. This can be done gradually over time with positive reinforcement.

Preparation for travel and boarding. If you are traveling or boarding with your pet, prepare them in advance. Bring in familiar items like their bed or toys, and if boarding, try a short trial stay to get them used to it.

If your pet shows signs of severe stress or behavior changes, consult your vet. They can rule out other medical problems, offer advice specific to your pet’s needs, and, if necessary, prescribe medications or supplements to help manage stress.

With awareness and proactive care, pet owners can help their companions enjoy the holidays as much as they do.

Heather Drievold is the executive director of the Coulee Region Humane Society. It can be reached.

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