Keeping Your Pet Calm During the Festive Season
As we eagerly embrace the joy of the festive season, it's essential to recognise that our four-legged companions may not share the same enthusiasm. The holiday season, filled with unique sights, sounds and disruptions, can be a significant source of stress for our beloved pets. From the arrival of guests to the explosive crescendo of fireworks, the festive season introduces a myriad of stressors that can have a profound impact on the well-being of our cats and dogs. By actively identifying and mitigating potential stressors, we can ensure that our pets not only endure but thrive during the festive season.
The Effects of Stress on Pets
Stress is not merely an emotional response for our pets; it has tangible consequences on their health and behaviour. Prolonged exposure to stress can manifest in a variety of ways, from subtle changes in behaviour to more overt physical symptoms. An anxious pet may exhibit signs of aggression, withdrawal or destructive behaviour. Furthermore, stress can compromise their immune systems, making them more susceptible to illness. By understanding the effects of stress on both mental and physical well-being, we can develop strategies to safeguard our pets from the seasonal pressures that may otherwise compromise their happiness and health.
Common Stressors for Pets at Christmas
Visitors to the Home - Increased human traffic and unfamiliar faces; changes in routine and environment
Loud Noises - Doorbells, music, parties and other festive sounds
Fireworks - Dogs and cats have much more acute hearing than humans. The loud explosions and sharp noises associated with fireworks can be overwhelming for them. The high-pitched whistles and sudden bangs may cause discomfort or even pain in their sensitive ears.
Decorations and changes in the home - Unfamiliar objects and altered living spaces.
Recognising the Signs of Stress in Your Pet
Aggression or Withdrawal - Stress can manifest as uncharacteristic aggression in pets. An otherwise friendly and docile pet might become irritable, growl, or even exhibit defensive behaviours as a response to heightened anxiety. On the contrary, some pets may withdraw and isolate themselves when stressed. They might avoid social interactions, hide in secluded spots, or retreat to areas they consider safe.
Changes in Appetite or Sleep Patterns - Some animals may show a noticeable decrease in their interest in food, leading to weight loss, while others may cope with stress by overeating, potentially resulting in weight gain. Pets experiencing stress may also have disruptions in their sleep patterns. This could manifest as difficulty falling asleep, restlessness during the night, or excessive sleeping as a means of escaping the stressor.
Excessive Grooming or Shedding - Cats, in particular, may resort to excessive grooming as a coping mechanism for stress. While grooming is a normal behaviour, an increase in frequency or intensity can indicate heightened stress levels. Stress can also lead to changes in a pet's coat condition. Anxious animals may shed more than usual, resulting in a noticeable increase in fur around the home. This excessive shedding is often linked to your pet’s attempt to self-soothe.
Digestive Issues and Other Health Concerns - Stress can influence the gastrointestinal tract, causing digestive issues such as diarrhoea, vomiting or constipation. Prolonged stress can weaken your pet's immune system, making them more susceptible to illnesses. Frequent infections, allergies or a decline in overall health may be indicative of chronic stress that requires attention.
Tips for Minimising Stress
Here are our top tips for helping to keep pets calm during the celebrations:
Create Safe Spaces - Designate quiet areas for your pets and provide cosy hiding spots for them to retreat to.
Be Prepared - walk dogs in the afternoon, feed large meals to encourage sleeping and help get them used to firework sounds.
Maintain Routine - Stick to regular feeding and exercise schedules, and gradually introduce any changes to your normal routine.
Distract - Distract pets with TV/radio/music (reggae works apparently!), act as if nothing's wrong/different and reward calm behaviour.
Use Calming Products - For particularly nervous pets, contact us in advance for advice on safe medications, plug-ins (such as Feliway or Adaptil), sprays, anxiety jackets, etc.
Communicate with Guests - Educate visitors about pet behaviour and boundaries. Implement strategies for introducing pets to guests.
Noise Management - Use white noise or calming music to create a quiet, secure environment during fireworks displays.
Water - Keep water bowls topped up as anxious pets may drink more.
Microchip Information - Check microchip details are up to date too in case of escapes.
Seeking Professional Help
When to consult a veterinarian:
Persistent Signs of Stress - If your pet continues to exhibit signs of stress despite your efforts to alleviate the stressors, it's time to consult a veterinarian. Persistent behavioural changes, appetite issues or physical symptoms may indicate an underlying problem that requires professional attention.
Sudden Behavioural Changes - Abrupt and unexplained shifts in your pet's behaviour should raise concerns. Sudden aggression, extreme withdrawal or other drastic changes warrant a prompt visit to our vets to rule out potential medical issues contributing to the stress.
Pre-existing Health Conditions - If your pet has pre-existing health conditions, it's essential to consult with our vets to ensure that stress does not exacerbate these conditions or vice versa.
Certified Animal Behaviourists - In cases where stress manifests as behavioural issues, consulting with a certified animal behaviourist can be beneficial. These professionals specialise in understanding and modifying animal behaviour. They can create tailored training plans to address specific stress-related behaviours and provide guidance on creating a conducive environment for your pet.
Medication as a Last Resort - In severe cases where stress significantly impacts your pet's well-being, our vets may recommend prescription medications. These can include anti-anxiety medications or antidepressants to help manage your pet's stress levels. However, medication is typically considered a last resort after other interventions have been explored.
Seeking professional help is an important step in ensuring the well-being of a stressed pet. Our veterinarians can offer expert guidance, identify underlying issues and provide tailored solutions to address the specific needs of each individual pet. Remember that early intervention and a collaborative approach between pet owners and our veterinarians will contribute to the overall success of managing pet stress.