The holiday season is upon us, which means parties and presents and endless festivities. But the change in schedule can also mean an increase in stress, for you and your pets. As the errands and invitations pile up, it can be easy to let routine slide — and that can leave your animals feeling less than festive.
A dramatic change in daily routine can be hard on everyone, including your pets. Your dog or cat may become more anxious or stressed during the holidays, which can lead to a variety of behavior problems, like chewing or acting overly rambunctious at home.
Fortunately, there’s a solution: Taking time to provide for your pet’s social, physical and emotional needs during the busy holiday season will result in a less stressed animal — and a more peaceful human too. Here are five simple ways to help keep your pet stress-free during the holidays.
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Stick to your routine. A predictable routine is important for dogs and cats. The routine doesn’t have to be inflexible or strictly adhered to; instead, the goal should be to make sure specific things — meals, walks, playtime — occur at more or less the same time each day. For example, if you normally feed your cat first thing in the morning or walk your dog after lunch, do this every day, even on days when you sleep a little later than usual or serve a big dinner at noon. During the busy holiday season, it may also help to keep a checklist of your animal's daily needs, especially if multiple family members are involved in the animal's care — that way, you can be sure everything is getting done every day, at essentially the same time.
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Get some exercise. Exercise and play helps your pet release energy in ways that are beneficial for him and acceptable to you. Pets who are not getting enough exercise can become restless, irritable, hyperactive and anxious. Make a point of providing some type of exercise for your pet every day. There are a variety of ways to do this, including walks, food puzzles and physical play with toys — feel free to vary the type, but be sure he gets a consistent amount every day. Chances are, you’ll see less bad behavior and will have a happier pet. As an extra bonus, committing to daily exercise can help lower your stress too.
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Challenge your pet's brain. Animals can get uptight and restless when they’re stuck in the house for too long — I think of this as a form of cabin fever. Dogs and cats need to move and be engaged throughout the day, but when you’re busy with holiday commitments, this can be a challenge. Feeding pets out of food puzzles rather than a food bowl is a simple way to provide a brain teaser for your pet without much extra effort on your part, which is helpful when you’re busy with guests or other holiday commitments. You can also create a modified hunt for your dog or cat by hiding treats or pieces of kibble around the house to keep him busy while you’re away.
Give your pet some attention. A packed holiday schedule means you may have less time to spend with your pet. This lack of attention can cause your cat or dog to feel stressed out, which can lead to bad behavior. Make time for your pet, including social time such as snuggling together on the couch, mutual play with a toy or clicker training. If your pet likes people, you can encourage guests to spend time with your pet as well (but be sure to supervise all interactions between pets and kids).
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Enlist a helping hand. When your schedule is hectic, it can be helpful to have extra hands. Visitors can help you train and provide entertainment for your pet; they can also help your dog work on his manners by only rewarding or playing with your pet after he does a requested behavior, like a sit or a trick. If you need even more help, consider hiring a dog walker or taking your dog to a doggy day care, or even boarding your dog elsewhere during the holidays — some kennels board pets in a home and make it their job to spend time with the animal, which can be a relief to pet owners who don’t have the time themselves. Most cats prefer their own home, however, which may make a cat sitter who comes to your house every day a better option.