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Fear, Anxiety and Stress For Pets at Christmas: What Do You Do?


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Some pets are like the Grinch; they just don’t appreciate the Christmas spirit.

Everything in their lives are upside down. The family is busily trying to attend to last minute shopping, and frazzled attempting to keep up with your kids’ Christmas parties. Meanwhile at work, end of year deadlines loom, and you feel the pressure.

Meanwhile, you’re frantically trying to get the house in order for the big Christmas party, as periodically and unexpectedly well-meaning friends and neighbors drop in.

If life is usually crazy, it’s crazier now.

Of course, some pets go with the flow. But some don’t, as they lose the structure of day to day life. The change of routine throws them, and your pets do pick up on your stress.

Pets thrown off by your company

Some pets are fearful or even terrified with all the company. If the dog barks at visitors, or the cat is frozen with fear under the sofa. This doesn’t occur because they’re acting out, it’s because the pets anxious if not downright fearful.

It’s adaptive and normal for cats to be hesitant about strangers, but not terrified – our pets don’t need to feel terrified.

Hollering “no” repeatedly at the barking dog is not a solution. The best answer for terrified pets to get long-term help to deal with their anxiety about visitors. Fear Free is an initiative to minimize or eliminate fear, anxiety and stress in the lives of your pets.

Of course, on occasion, we all feel some anxiety – like the craziness around the holiday season. But to be anxious on all days when visitors arrive is an issue that is reasonable to deal with by asking for professional guidance from a veterinary behaviorist, a veterinary technician certified in behavior, or a Fear Free certified animal behavior consultant.

Doorbell rings, now what?

Meanwhile, the kindest and gentlest response when the doorbell rings (or even better before the doorbell rings), as you expect company to arrive, is to relocate the anxious pet into a sanctuary room. Close the door in a second bedroom, a den or basement.

Indoor hunting feeder

Don’t think of it as punishment. The pet just can’t cope, but has done nothing wrong. Stuff low fat, low salt peanut butter inside a Kong toy, or another toy such as one of the many food puzzles on the market. One example for cats is called the Indoor Hunting Feeder. The feeders resemble mice, and cats maneuver to deliver food (or treats). Purchase this, and use the Promo Code, “catswinn” and the non-profit Winn Feline Foundation, which funds cat health studies, benefits.

The idea is to give your dogs or cats something fun to focus on. If you succeed, the anxiety level reduces significantly.

Products to help lower the stress bar

Those relatives are also loudmouths so pump up relaxing background music. One study suggests Reggae is the best choice. But most experts (and research) indicates classical music or maybe a talk radio station are your best bets. If you want to get fancy, and high tech, check out iCalm and their produced tunes for pets, or from A Sound Beginning.

Plug in a pheromone diffuser. Adaptil is a copy of a naturally occurring pheromone which helps to moderate anxiety in dogs, as pheromones do the same for puppies in the milk of lactating mothers. Feliway is a copy of the pheromone cats calm themselves with and use to identify as their own, as they rub check pads against our legs or a chair leg. 

Thundershirt can help to calm anxious pets. For more long-term anxiety, ask your veterinarian about the new probiotic to address anxiety, called Calming Care which contains Bifidobacterium longum (BL999) and works at the gut-brain axis to ameliorate behavioral signs related to separation anxiety, noise phobias, and other manifestations of anxiety, including hypervigilance, excessive vocalization, pacing, panting, compulsive licking, trembling,                        

Humane assist from nutraceuticals                        

If you’re unable to distract your pet with games and treats, and that background music doesn’t help, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the idea of going a step further; in fact, it’s arguably the most humane solution. Ask your veterinarian about nutraceuticals, which 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 contains bovine-sourced hydrolyzed milk protein, an ingredient that has calming properties.

Old school techniques work

As for pets who don’t mind the throng of friends and relatives, but are thrown with you being gone more often, and feeling stressed – the answer might be in a toy or tennis ball. While you may not now have time for that long very long walk, you still may be watching your favorite reality show. At commercials take out the squeaky toy, and play with the pup or an interactive cat toy.  Or better, skip the show and toss the ball in the backyard.

It’s old school and low tech, but catnip relieves anxiety for many cats  (in a very small percent of cats, catnip may instead create an aggressive response).

Think of indoor activities to keep the pup occupied while you’re wrapping gifts. Dogs love games of hide ‘n seek. If you or the kids are too busy to play along, hide treats or a toy with treats stuffed inside. And using products like the Indoor Hunting Feeder to activate our feline’s natural prey drives, giving cats other things to think about.

Remember our pets do pick up on our stress. Another advantage of playing with your pet is that it’s likely equally as effective a stress buster for you as it is for the pet.

Happy Howiliday! And remember to mute the pop sound of your Champaign cork.

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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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