Christmas – it’s a hectic and demanding time for pets

We all know what Christmas can be like. It’s a party time of year as families get together for a celebration. Unfortunately it doesn’t take long before stress levels start to rise, with all the cooking, presents, music and booze. Our pets easily pick up the strain, and they get frazzled too.

Posted: 15 December 2018

Christmas – it’s a hectic and demanding time for pets


If you’re working and on duty this Christmas, I wonder how many of the problems you’ll see will be attributed to the anxiety of Christmas? Dogs in particular can be affected, and the consequences of stress can cause all sorts of behavioural and medical issues.

  • Destruction - how many of those poisoning cases are caused by chewing are as a direct result of anxiety?
  • Vomiting and diarrhoea - how many gastric upsets are caused by excessive food being left unattended in the kitchen?
  • Trauma - road accidents and bite wounds may happen from dogs running off due to overexcited family behaviour and fireworks

Remind your clients of the warning signs

There are many sihgns to look out for, and it’s now to remind them of what to be looking out for.

  • Barking
  • Ears flat
  • Yawning
  • Shaking and trembling
  • Eyes wide open with dilated pupils
  • Licking and scratching
  • Salivating or drooling
  • Loss of appetite
  • Incontinence
  • Aggressive behaviour
  • Destructive behaviour in the home
  • Inappropriate urination or defecation in the home

The key to keeping a happy dog ‘happy’ is to keep as normal a routine as possible. It may feel like an impossible challenge, but it’s worth encouraging everyone to try.

Why not share with them some of the great Infographics that illustrate the stress. Above is an excellent one produced by the RSPCA.

Christmas is emotional – understand and act

In order to help a dog stressed by Christmas, you need to identify the emotional state of the animal first. Perhaps try to answer some of these questions;

  • Is the animal frightened of being told off?
  • Is there a fear of being pestered, fussed or teased?
  • Are there lots of mixed messages from too many family members?
  • Is there constant desire for food (there’s usually so much in the house but it’s all out of reach!)?
  • Is the dog bored and frustrated from not being walked?

Anxiety - in cases of anxiety, give them predictable events and places. A cage with a bed, food at regular intervals, a quiet place to hide, calming voices and just one person in charge. Dogs do well with routine, but become anxious when confused.

Frustration - in cases of frustration, allow them access to their normal needs. Don’t lock them away in the back room all day without being able to socialise with other guests and animals.

Do you remember our Emotional Webinar?

A while ago we supported a behavioural Webinar by Sarah Heath. There’s still a chance to watch this webinar free via Webinar Vet.

“Understanding the role of emotional motivations in problem behaviour in dogs and cats” is free to view via The Webinar Vet website. Perhaps now is a good time to review what Sarah said to help you give your best advice.

Our 8 ways to help reduce Christmas stress

  1. Provide a hiding place – keep the dog’s bed in a quiet part of the house. Maybe the back room, bedroom or under the stairs? The owner could set up a cage with a blanket cover as well.
  2. Reward good behaviour – make sure your clients fully understand the importance of only rewarding good, calm and appropriate behaviour. Make sure they tell all their visitors to NOT feed or praise the dog when it’s barking, jumping or chewing.
  3. Offer calming products – there are a wide range of aids to help keep dogs calm, including Adaptil, Kalm Aid, Nutracalm and Zylkene. Make sure you inform your clients of their benefits and proper use. Inappropriate use of these can be counterproductive.
  4. Right to roam – it’s important to allow them free access to the whole house. Tell your clients not to shut them away in a room as this may cause them further upset and make the situation worse.
  5. Early dinner – encourage feeding before the party when guests arrive. It’s a good idea to give them access to food and water near their quiet place. With cats, make sure they have clean litter trays away from the noise.
  6. Pay attention – tell your clients not to forget the normal routine of their pet. Regardless of wet and cold weather or the busy timings of Christmas day, their dog still needs exercise and mental stimulation to avoid boredom and stress. Make sure they have exercise, food and water at the normal time.
  7. Never punish – if an owner shouts or reprimands a dog for a phobia, the fear will be reinforced and the problem will get worse. Stress to that punishment will not work.
  8. Don’t reward anxiety - petting a stressed animal will usually reinforce the problem and make things worse.