When Santa Paws comes to town it can be a really exciting time of year! Many people get excited for months or weeks in advance of the big day. Out pets don’t get this same warning and it can be a shock to their system!
There are lots of things we can do to limit the negative impact the holidays have on our pets. We also need to be careful to make it safe for them as there are many risks at this time of year.
There is always lots of delicious food during the holidays. Unfortunately, many of these are toxic to our pets. It is easy to be forgetful and leave food lying around when you have other things on your mind! Read more about foods to avoid in our Christmas Food Blog and about the risks of Chocolate here.
Making the house look festive is one of my favourite activities! If you think about it from your pet’s view this could actually be very confusing! Suddenly there is a tree inside, there often singing, moving ornaments and flashing lights. And all of these things which look like toys are around but you aren’t allowed to play with them!
Introduce decorations slowly to pets and don’t get frustrated with them. They might try and play with some or pull baubles off the tree. Keep anything special up out of reach. Over the festive period you may be able bring them down slowly as your dog gets used to them.
Avoid any decorations which can be swallowed or are dangerous in any way. If animals are in the same room as the tree then you should not have glass baubles.
Unfortunately, this time of year there are many pets that require surgery to remove bits of tinsel and other decorations. These are life-saving surgeries and these seemingly funny stories can end in fatalities.
Before the season it is a good idea to make sure your dog really understands a “drop” cue. This means they are happy to give you an item, and you can reward them with a treat. It is something we always teach in our training as it is such an important skill. Never just take items from your dog or shout at them until they drop it. These techniques hugely increase the risk of more stealing and guarding.
A real Christmas tree or a fake one may attract some attention from your dog. If you have a real Christmas tree, make sure that you keep it watered to minimise the amount of needles that it drops. Regularly hoover underneath to limit the amount of dropped needles that your dog comes into contact with. If your dog ingests Christmas tree needles, they can cause stomach upset and there is a risk that the sharp needles could cause internal injury to your dog.
If your dog is paying lots of attention to the tree (as a new item brought into your home, it wouldn’t be surprising), it is important to not shout or rebuke the dog. This will cause your dog to become fearful and stressed. It could also unintentionally reinforce your dog for paying attention to the tree. Instead, simply call your dog away from the tree and give it something more appropriate to do, such as enjoy a stuffed Kong (link to stuffing Kong blog). Many dogs can only be in the room with the Christmas tree when supervised.
At Christmas we introduce other foliage to our homes. Mistletoe and Poinsettia are all toxic to dogs and cats and should always be kept out of reach. Lilies are toxic to cats and dogs and can be fatal. Some animals will ingest parts of the plant or merely brush against them and ingest pollen when grooming themselves.
Although these plants can look lovely in your home your pet’s health comes first. We generally recommend avoiding these plants altogether.
This time of year you may well have more visitors than usual. With all the rest of stimulation going on this can be very difficult for pets to cope with. Even dogs that usually settle well with visitors you may see them struggling.
Make visitors as easy as possible by keeping numbers low. Ask visitors to be calm around pets and not give them lots of fuss which is more likely to over stimulate them. Try giving dogs a good chew whilst visitors are around to help them settle. Some dogs find having a break in another room a useful calming session.
Don’t expect too much from your dog either. If you know your dog finds it difficult limit how often you offer to host! If you know your dog finds it hard not to steal food only allow food in a room away from the dogs to prevent any accidents!
Some of you might go and visit family on Christmas day, or even for the whole festive period. You might want to take your dog along with you to enjoy the merriment. Many dogs will cope well with this change, especially if they visit these households at other times of the year.
For other dogs this could be an added stress that they won’t enjoy. This could be because they relax better at home. They could struggle with dogs in the other household. Or they may find traveling difficult.
For these dogs taking them as a “treat” is actually the worst thing you can do. Leaving them at home where they are happy may be the best thing for them. If close enough you could pop back to let them out and feed them. Other options include asking a friend or neighbour to see them, or pay a dog walker to do this. If you’re going for longer periods a good dog sitter may be the way to go instead!
Don’t feel bad or that they are “missing out”. If you didn’t like spiders and so weren’t invited to a spider expedition where they climbed all over you – you probably wouldn’t feel sad about it!