As the festive season approaches, most of us look forward to Christmas and spending time with family and friends. However, spare a thought for our pets.
Christmas time is well known for being stressful for humans, but what about our pets? For them, the house has been turned upside down and seems to be invaded by strange objects. Furniture is moved to provide space for all sorts of decorations and the Christmas tree appears with all its lights, baubles and tinsel.
Cats can become very unsettled and stressed when new objects are brought into the house. This, compounded with the change in furniture arrangement, can make cats very anxious and result in behaviour problems such as inappropriate elimination – just what you don’t need when you have a house full of guests!!!
Some dogs can also find it difficult to cope with all these changes, particularly if their beds or favourite resting places have been moved or are no longer accessible. Elderly dogs with fading sight and/or hearing can become very disorientated and may become anxious and fearful of being left alone as their home no longer provides the safety and security they have been used to.
So, what can we do?
For cats, we need to ensure that we don’t move litter trays to busy areas of the house (remember that you should always have one litter tray per cat, plus one additional tray). Make sure that cats can use their litter tray in private and without disturbance. Think how you would feel if someone burst into the bathroom whilst you were using the toilet!!
It is essential that cats should have at least two safe places to retreat to, especially when visitors come. The higher the better. You may need to provide a couple of beds upstairs, with one of them high up (perhaps on top of a wardrobe for example) and allow them to have free access.
Dogs don’t necessarily have to have a safe den area upstairs, but they do need to have a secure place to go where they can rest and keep out of the way when the house is busy. Sleep is an essential part of an animal’s routine and deprivation can cause behaviour problems.
There is always a temptation to make sure that the outside of the house is beautifully lit up and decorated, but our dogs and cats may be reluctant to go outside if the garden resembles a scene from a pantomime with flashing snowmen and inflatable Santa. Make sure there is a quiet area for them to relieve themselves without fear of being ambushed by a passing reindeer!
We often take time off from work between Christmas and New Year, but it is important to maintain some sort of normality. When everyone goes back to work and the house becomes quiet, some pets will breathe a great sigh of relief and savour the peace, but others may feel isolated and anxious.
It is better to try to keep some sort of routine so that our pets remain conditioned to being left alone. But make sure they are safe! Turn all the Christmas lights off and make sure there is nothing they can get tangled up in; there have been cases where cats have been hanged by the lighting wire whilst climbing up the Christmas tree.
When visitors arrive, cats really do need to have a place to go when the house gets busy and so do many dogs. Lack of sleep and resting places can make dogs irritable and potentially more reactive. Dogs that are fearful of strangers need a secure den where they can retreat to and not be disturbed by anyone, especially children. Remember that friendly dogs still need to have access to a resting place away from all the festive fun.
Christmas is a very exciting time for children, but make sure that their enthusiasm and excitement does not arouse boisterous and manic behaviour in your dog. Lack of impulse control can lead to disastrous consequences. Always be mindful that an excitable dog (or child!!!) will need to have some time out of the situation to calm down.