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De-Stressing Pets on Thanksgiving, And Keeping them Safe


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Thanksgiving is fun family time, or it can be.

Here are tips to de-stress pets, to ramp up fun and to keep them safe and out of the pet emergency room.

Dumpster diving and counter surfing is dangerous sport for dogs – turkey and chicken bones can be a choking hazard. These bones can easily splinter causing a real and urgent, potentially life-threatening emergency.

Aunt Sally and Uncle Buddy are notorious for feeding the pets from the table. For even a 50-lb dog, a few slices of turkey is akin to us eating three or four times as much, and for a 15 lb. dog a few slices is like us eating half a bird.

Another common medical problem reported at Thanksgiving is pancreatitis. This is an inflammation of the pancreas caused by eating fat or skin off meat, and eating far too much. Pancreatitis can make dogs and cats ill, and potentially even be fatal.

In reality, for most pets, a single SMALL slice of turkey (without the skin), is not likely to cause harm. However, another issue is that without you being aware, the entire family may be surreptitiously funneling turkey to the pet under the dining room table. Arguably better to have a “no feeding from the table rule.”

Beyond the main course, it’s not sugar that’s as much of an issue as brownies or cookies made with an artificial sweeter called Xylitol used in many sugar-free baking mixes. Even small amounts of xylitol can cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), seizures, liver failure or even death in dogs. Of course, chocolate (particularly dark chocolate) is toxic as well. The best advice is to keep pets away from deserts.

If you’re a lousy cook – consider moving your pet bird a away from the kitchen. Birds can suffer what is commonly called Teflon toxicity. Non-stick heating surfaces heated at too high a temperature (often above 530ºF) results in caustic fumes – which may not smell to our noses, but can cause serious respiratory distress in pet birds, which can result in death.

Invasion of the Relatives

Some dogs and cats look forward to all those relatives making their annual appearance on Thanksgiving, but others wish that they had received an email to warn them about what’s about to happen.

We typically know when our pets would rather not meet a throng on people. For those animals, it’s best to let them enjoy their own party, alone, behind a closed door in a second bedroom, den or basement.

At least a day in advance, plug in pheromone diffusers in the room the pets are most often in, especially that room that you’ll soon choose as the sanctuary room. Adaptil diminishes anxiety in dogs and Feliway Classic is the pheromone product for cats.

Feliway Classic is a copy of the comforting pheromone deposited by cats when they rub their cheek pads against your leg or a table leg. The cats are essentially communicating “This is my world and welcome to it.”

Adaptil is a copy of the calming pheromone found in the milk of nursing mothers to soothe puppies.

Using analogues of these pheromones is an easy and natural way to take the edge off over Thanksgiving, helping pets to cope and to maintain comfort in their own environment.

Play Your Pets’ Kind of Music

Turn on your favorite talk radio station as background, or pump up relaxing music in the sanctuary room.

These days, there’s even soothing music that’s specially produced for pets. The leader in the industry is ICalm which includes various packages and tunes designed to calm dogs or cats. Victoria Stilwell offers calming music on her site, and A Sound Beginning is another example of calming music created for dogs.

Distraction is a smart strategy. Stuff treats or kibble or moist food into a Kong toy or any of the myriad of food dispensing toys now on the market. If your dog or cat (yes cats too) are working on figuring out how to get the yummies, they won’t be simultaneously anxious about those rowdy relatives. (Warning: This method isn’t a good idea when multiple pets are aggressive in a confined space about sharing food and/or toys).

When a family member known to the pet is available, distract with a favorite game – that’s often an effective and fun diversion, such as playing with a squeaky toy for the dog or using an interactive toy (fishing pole-type toy with feathers) to engage a cat.

Nutritional Supplements                                          

If you’re unable to distract your pet, and that background music won’t do the trick there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the idea of going a step further; in fact, it may be the most humane solution for canine and/or feline nervous nellies. Nutraceuticals are a great place to begin, and can be purchased online or through your veterinarian.

  • Zentrol is a proprietary blend of plant extracts. Studies have demonstrating this chewable can lower fear, anxiety and stress. Studies have also demonstrated that dogs exhibit fewer “negative behavior” resulting from fear, anxiety and stress. Some caretakers suggest their dog is “acting out,” when, in fact, the dog is merely anxious.
  • Zylkene demonstrates grandma was right about a glass of warm milk being relaxing. Zylkene contains bovine-sourced hydrolyzed milk protein, an ingredient that has calming properties.

As for treats with hemp or CBD to calm pets when company comes over during Thanksgiving, the jury is still out. My guess is that we’ll know more soon about what the products can do, and which ones are recommended. Probably, the right product in the right pet at the right dose could have the desired calming response. However, at this juncture – completely unsure what the right product or dose might be.

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Steve Dale is a certified animal behavior specialist who has been a trusted voice in the world of pet health for over 20 years. You have likely heard him on the radio, read him in print and online, and seen him speaking at events all over the world. His contributions to advancing pet wellness have earned him many an award and recognition around the globe.

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