December 10, 2013

While the holidays are a fun time, they can also be stressful, not only for people but for pets. If you can do one thing to get your pet through the holidays with a minimum of stress, it’s to make sure they have a “room” or space of their own, says Dr. Andrea Tu, DVM, Park East Animal Center on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

Dr. Tu points out that dogs are den creatures, cats love to hide, and children might see your pet as some kind of live stuffed toy. “So it’s important that guests respect that space and know they can’t just pop in to visit the animal.”

Here are some tips for keeping your pet safe, happy and healthy through the holiday season:

• Learn to recognize the signs of stress, such as stomach upset and diarrhea, scratching, shedding, whining or growling, yawning and panting, nipping, restlessness, avoiding eye contact and other unusual behaviors.

• Disrupt routines as little as possible: Dogs are creatures of habit, and cats absolutely HATE surprises. The holiday season might generate longer times away from home so plan ahead to make sure your pet gets plenty of sunshine and exercise. Hire a pet sitter or dog walker, use doggy day care, or even go home at lunchtime to spend a little time with your pet. Just be sure your pet is familiar with the sitter, groomer or day care facility beforehand. “This isn’t the time to introduce someone new to your pet,” said Jillian Pagano, DVM, West Chelsea Veterinary in New York City.

• Be wise with food! It’s pretty hard to resist those big, beautiful, brown eyes when your trusted companion is begging, but you’re really not doing your pets any favors by giving in and treating them to people food. It’s often too fatty for them, their systems can’t handle it, and the next thing you know your pet has a gastrointestinal upset or something more serious like pancreatitis. Also remember that certain foods can be very toxic to dogs and cats, including chocolate, grapes, raisins, macadamia nuts and sugar-free gum. Here is a complete list from the ASPCA. The best thing, says Dr. Tu, is to avoid all people-food entirely. “One idea is to put a bowl of his/her kibble on the table,” she said. Leftover food on the counter can look mighty appealing! Both cats and dogs counter surf, so if you know your pet is prone to it, practice avoidance and management by keeping him/her out of the kitchen. You might also want to invest in some dog training.

• What about boarding? You want that pet boarding facility to be as much like the home environment as possible, with plenty of love and attention. Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions, and if the staff seems annoyed by them, go elsewhere! Visit the facility to get your pet familiar with the environment; you may even want to use the day care or grooming facilities ahead of time. Bring some of your dog’s “stuff”—toys, a bed, an article of your clothing. Make sure the staff knows about any special needs your pet may have—you may also want to put it in writing.

So now that you’ve taken care of your pet’s needs, relax and enjoy the holidays!