Thursday, November 23, 2017

Pets and the Holidays

Some of our fondest memories are those times we spend with our beloved pets. Christmas is a time of year when we want our pets to be included as much as possible. We have cards created that include images of us with our pets; often all dressed up like Santa’s reindeer.  We celebrate and record these wonderful holidays and the deep connections we have with all family members, including our pets.

It’s important to remember that animals do not have the same understanding of the holidays that we have.  They will recognize that ‘life as usual’ changes into a sometimes confusing series of events that include new people and an irregular schedule. For some dogs and cats, these tumultuous times can be frightening. As responsible pet owners, it is our duty to be sure that any negative experiences are kept to a minimum. Many dogs love the holidays because there’s almost always food and everyone is in such a sharing mood that ‘treats’ were plentiful. As amusing as this may seem, serious consequences can result when dogs overeat or eat a ‘new to them’ combination of foods that can create havoc.

Years ago, I lived in a large house with many dogs. We usually had eight dogs living in the house and a very scheduled routine was the most effective way to incorporate that many dogs into a comfortable household. We always shared little treats of food from the table with them. They quickly learned that begging at the table was neither necessary nor was it tolerated. A few treats followed by a quiet verbal ‘ go lie down’ did the trick. But there was never a meal that went by without sharing with our entire family.

Not everyone welcomes animals into their homes. There are a variety of compelling reasons for them to have such house rules. I am constantly asked about how to tell people, including their own children, that their pets are not welcome. My advice is always to be honest and up front. The governing rule of etiquette here is that one’s home is one’s castle. This means the house rules that are in place should not be questioned and should be adhered to by everyone. During the holidays, travelling with pets to visit friends and family is challenging and stressful for all parties involved. Any travel plans that involve your pets should be crystal clear with your hosts. And you need to be vigilant about grooming; cleaning up after exercising, and keeping food and water bowls clean and out of the way.

Children and pets are not always a great match, especially during the holidays. Children are generally excited and celebrating with new toys and more than enough candy to keep them wound up for hours. Dogs and cats need their own space and quiet time. They will lose their patience with small children, who know no better. I recommend that children be taught to be calm around dogs and cats, especially those that they do not know.

Pets almost always make terrible Christmas presents for children. I understand how cute the whole thing sounds, but from the perspective of the trauma the puppy or kitten is enduring, we need to rethink this idea. You suddenly realize two days later that you are the new caretaker of the newest member of the family. I have told people how this dynamic works, and they realize that shouldering this responsibility is both natural and appropriate. Add freezing cold weather into the mix, when house training is at its most unlikely to succeed, and you have the ingredients for stress. Just remember that a new pet for your child is actually an added responsibility for you.

There are exceptions to this however, and well worth considering seriously. You may want to consider adopting a pet. Older dogs and cats can adapt to new households far more easily than an 8-week-old puppy. The most gratifying part of adoption is watching the extreme gratitude that these adopted pets show. They know they’ve been given another chance on life, and they are grateful.

As long as we are aware of the impact the holidays has on out pets, we can keep them safe and relatively free from stress. Do your best to keep them on the routine to which they are accustomed, and the celebrations won’t be as stressful to them. Locking them away from the action is often a viable alternative, especially when the excitement is just too much for them. Their reactions to this new stimulation are normal, so separating them from the crowd should not be viewed as punishment, but rather as protection.

Spread the joy this holiday season and include your furry friends. Just be sensitive to their needs.