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Pets and Holiday Stress

Pets and Holiday Stress

By Therese Ciesinski, GardenSMART

Most of us love the holidays and the festivities and traditions that accompany them. It’s a time to see family and friends, decorate, enjoy special foods, and give gifts. For our dogs and cats, however, it’s not likely to be “the most wonderful time of the year.” Unfamiliar people, changes in routine and in the appearance of the house, plus increased noise levels can all cause confusion and stress.

Look at it from your dog’s or cat’s perspective. So much smells different, sounds different, and looks different. There are rooms that are suddenly off-limits. There’s a giant tree in the living room they’re not allowed to play with. And who are all these strange people?

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While some pets (usually dogs) are fine being around people they don’t know, more, if not most, can become frightened and feel threatened. They may hide, refuse food, vomit, or develop “bathroom” issues. Worse, they may become aggressive. All are signs of a stressed pet.

To keep your dog or cat safe, calm and happy this holiday season, follow these tips:


You know your pet’s personality. How much does it want to be involved in the celebrations? Some love to be in the middle of the action. But for pets frightened by the hustle and bustle, create a quiet retreat, ideally far away from the festivities, with a door that can be closed. Make sure it has food, water, warm bedding, a litter box for a cat, toys, and anything else that comforts them.

Keep visitors away, especially if your pet doesn’t know them. Even good natured or docile animals will bite or scratch when scared or feeling cornered.

With all the comings and goings, there’s a chance that a pet will escape through an open door. Make sure it has a collar and tags with your phone number. Microchipping is also a good idea.

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The Tree and Decorations

Be it real or artificial, the feline in your home sees your tree as the best cat tree ever. If you can’t keep Fluffy from ascending its branches, keep it from tipping by putting a hook in the ceiling and tying the top of the tree to it with fishing line.

Cats find ornaments fascinating, and will bat at them, so hang your most delicate and breakable ornaments on the highest branches, and unbreakable ones lower down.

The water in a tree stand can be loaded with bacteria, so don’t let pets drink from it. Don’t let them gnaw on branches, either. They can choke on needles, and if they swallow them, they can pierce their esophagus or intestinal tract or cause a blockage.

A pet playing with tinsel, ribbon or other stringy material may accidently swallow some. This can lead to emergency medical care if the pet’s intestinal system can’t pass the object.

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Some holiday plants, including amaryllis and holly, are toxic if ingested. Mistletoe can cause cardiovascular issues. Poinsettia, on the other hand, isn’t the danger it’s been made out to be. If ingested, it could give a pet an upset stomach, but won’t kill them. On the other hand, every part of a lily can be fatal to cats.

Don’t let pets chew or play with electrical wires, and keep batteries out of their reach.

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Candles and Fragrances

Don’t leave your pet alone in a room with a lit candle, even for a second, and keep an eye on them when they are in the vicinity of any open flame.

Some scented candles, diffusers, and plug-ins can make our pets very sick, and they don’t even have to ingest the ingredients to be harmed. Simply being in the vicinity of the fragrance will do it, because their bodies can’t process the vaporized chemicals the way human bodies can. The scent of essential oils, including peppermint, cinnamon, and pine, can cause organ failure and death in both dogs and cats.

Keep the phone number and location of the nearest 24-hour emergency animal hospital readily available. If your pet has ingested something you think is toxic, note what it is, and the amount, if possible. Call your vet, an animal hospital, or the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435.

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