How to manage your pet’s heightened anxiety over the holidays

Pet anxiety
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This year, and perhaps more than any other, we are counting down the days to a much-needed break. Even as our holiday plans are constantly changing, following an imminent fourth wave, we still need to have arrangements in place for our pets during this time.

So, whether you are going to be able to head off on holiday or instead are going to be spending it with family at home, we need to consider how our pets will adapt to the changes in their environment.

Will there be friends and family visiting and with that a lot of laughter and excitement that your pets may not be used to? Will they be going on holiday with you? If not, will they be staying at the kennels or the cattery? Or will a pet sitter be loving them and looking after them while you are away?

Dr Guy Fyvie, Veterinary Advisor at Hill’s Pet Nutrition, says that all of these changes, along with loud events such as New Year’s Eve, can cause your pets to become extremely anxious. Dogs and cats’ hearing is far sharper and much more sensitive than ours so, even if there is loud noise quite a fair distance from your home, it could still trigger an anxious reaction.

Signs of pet anxiety

To identify whether you pet is anxious and nervous, Fyvie recommends that pet parents take the Hill’s pet stress test here as well as looking out for the following signs in your dog or cat’s behaviour:

  • Hiding away.
  • Bowel and bladder accidents (potentially with change in faecal consistency).
  • Excessive panting.
  • Inability to settle down.
  • Shaking.
  • Yawning.
  • Excessive licking or chewing.
  • Attempting to escape their environment.
  • Barking and howling more excessively than usual.

What to do

“There are also a few changes around the home that pet parents can make to help their pets during this stressful time,” says Dr Fyvie. 

He recommends the following:

  • Keep familiar noises or sounds playing in the house such as the TV and some background music. The more it seems like an everyday, normal situation, the better.
  • Create a comfortable, smaller space in the house for your dog or cat to retreat to when they’re feeling anxious. As a distraction from any loud noises, provide them with a tasty chew toy.
  • Keep outside noises and bright lights (like fireworks) at bay by closing the windows, doors, and curtains at home.
  • For outdoor cats who come and go as they please, rather place a litter tray inside and close the doors and the cat flap, so they can’t go outside that evening.
  • If you can’t stay at home with your pets, have someone else they trust there to calm and reassure them – the less changes during this time the better.
  • It is always best to introduce the pet sitter to the pets before the pet parents leave. If possible, the pet parents should introduce the pets to the pet sitter, so that the pets can become familiar with the sitter.
  • If you’re dropping your pet off at the kennel or cattery for the holidays, send them with their bed, favourite chew toy and blankie to bring them comfort. This way the change of environment won’t be as dramatic and stressful for them.
  • Ask your veterinarian about specially formulated foods which help alleviate stress such as *Hill’s Prescription Diet i/dStress for dogs and *Hill’s Prescription Diet c/d Stress for cats. For severe cases, they may recommend certain medication.

*If you’re anticipating a stressful event, such as fireworks or even holiday kennels, it’s recommended you transition your pet onto a stress-reducing food four weeks beforehand,” Dr Fyvie adds.

“However, many pet parents have reported positive results as early as a few days. If your pet is a nervous type, you can consider this food for long term feeding.”

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