Adjusting to a new home can be stressful for any pet, with new sounds and smells, unfamiliar people, a different diet, new schedules and more to learn. When holidays come around, sudden changes – houseguests and visitors, decorations, rearranged furniture, busier schedules, etc. – can be even more disorienting. Fortunately, there are easy ways you can celebrate a holiday with pets to help any furred, feathered or scaled family member acclimate to all those changes without trouble.
- Safety First No matter what your preparations may be for any holiday, always keep your pet's safety in mind. Holiday decorations with extra electrical cords, glass baubles, toxic plants, fireworks or burning candles can be dangerous to pets and should either be removed from your holiday plans or only used out of reach of pets. Your pet will naturally be curious and investigate the holiday hullabaloo, and it is important that you can keep animals safe without getting rid of all your preparations and traditions.
- Take It Slow Take plenty of time for your holiday preparations, doing only a little bit at once to give your pet ample time to adjust to changes and new or unfamiliar sensations. For example, instead of one marathon decorating session to put up a Christmas tree, put up just the tree for a few days without ornaments, lights or garland so your pet can get used to the sight and smell of this unusual object. Then, slowly decorate the tree over the course of a few days so your pet isn't overwhelmed.
- Curb the Exuberance It can be helpful to tone down your holiday decorations and general seasonal craziness when you are celebrating a new holiday with pets. Young pets such as kittens and puppies can be especially energetic and if you avoid some of the more tempting decorations for a year, both your pet and your holiday heirlooms will be safe from injuries and damage. Consider confining decorating or party activities to one room that can easily be blocked from a pet. It isn't necessary to completely eliminate celebrations when you have a new pet, but a gentler holiday atmosphere can be easier for a nervous or overly excitable pet to accept.
- Include Your Pet You don't need to shoo your pet away from all the holiday happiness, and in fact, doing so could make them more upset because it will seem like they are doing something wrong. Instead, invite your pet to be part of the celebration by allowing them to investigate decorations safely, taste foods that are safe for them to eat, greet visitors with the proper manners or attend pet-friendly community events. This will help your pet learn to socialize safely and calmly in a wide variety of situations with different sensations and stimuli.
- Create a Pet Sanctuary Ensure your pet has a safe, quiet, familiar place to retreat in case they are overwhelmed with visitors or unfamiliar scents, smells or activities during the holidays. This might be a cage or crate, a designated room or some other pet-friendly space that is free from unknown disturbances. Choose a space that is far from the hub of holiday activity, and equip it with everything your pet needs – a comfortable sleeping space, fresh water, toys and a treat or two. Provide this space before the onset of holiday madness and your pet will already know where to retreat if needed.
- Stick to a Schedule Make every possible effort to keep your pet's schedule the same each day, even during hectic holidays. This includes mealtimes, walks or playtimes, potty breaks, training sessions and other activities your pet has come to rely on. The stability of that schedule will reassure and comfort your pet, reducing their anxiety and helping keep them calm even when there may be many unfamiliar activities going on around them.
- Make Time for Your Pet Take the time to spend a few extra minutes with your pet during new holiday experiences, whether you are cleaning a bed or cage, taking an extra walk, playing one more game, grooming or just petting and relaxing. The more your pet is with you, the more the two of you will bond and develop a strong relationship, no matter what may be different each day through a festive season, and your presence will be a comfort to help keep your pet at ease.
Above all, always be aware of your pet during new holiday experiences. Stay alert for possible dangers and signs that your pet is stressed, and you will be able to react appropriately to keep your pet safe and happy for many holidays to come.