All pet owners know that life is better with a dog and that animals help humans in many ways, including by improving our mental health. But life as a pet might be more complex than it seems, and while dogs relieve stress in humans, some human interaction can cause anxiety for your dog. Sometimes dogs relieve stress in destructive ways, so for your benefit and your dog’s, it’s good to be prepared for added stress around the holidays.
Even a good pet might experience mood and behavioral changes around the holidays, when lots of unfamiliar faces, voices and smells become part of the environment. Protect your pets’ well-being by preparing the home and your furry friend for holiday events.
What Triggers Your Pet’s Anxiety
Sometimes human-animal interaction is not as comforting for your pet as it is for the person they’re interacting with. Unexpected changes in your pet’s environment can be alarming and unsettling for them, especially if they become overwhelmed with excessive noise, smells and unwanted touch. Sometimes something as simple as visitor conversations can disturb your pet if they’re loud or unpredictable.
Separation anxiety can be another trigger for your dog if they typically like to spend alone time with you and other members of your household.
There are a lot of variables that can affect your pet’s mood, here are just a few:
- Loud conversations, laughter, commotion in conversations
- Children that love a little too hard, hurt or scare your pet
- Dietary changes
- Sleep schedule changes
- Lack of attention from loved ones
- Changes in walking schedule or outdoor time
- Physical changes in the environment, like moved toys or food bowls
- Being isolated from family via a kennel or closed room
How To Recognize Your Dog’s Anxiety
Pet owners can often recognize changes in animal behaviors very quickly, but some anxious behaviors are not as obvious as others. Because anxiety can lead to elevated blood pressure and cholesterol levels and other health problems for your pet, it’s important to be prepared. Animal-visitor interactions can be especially triggering for your pet, and their anxiety can take shape in different ways.
Here are some indications that your pet is feeling anxious:
- Pacing or panting
- Licking or excessive drooling
- Appetite or sleep changes
- Tucking the tail between the legs
- Shivering when it’s not cold
- Cowering in a corner
Other subtle behaviors like avoiding eye contact, turning away from a guest’s extended hand, or hiding in another room might indicate that your dog is feeling anxious or overwhelmed. Similarly, more dramatic behavioral changes like running away, chewing objects that are not toys, urinating indoors when house trained, or changes in appetite might indicate stress. Get to know your dog’s typical body language and assess them for these signs when guests are visiting.
What To Do If Your Dog Is Anxious Around The Holidays
Sometimes changes in animal behaviors need to be addressed right away. Physical activity, especially outdoor activities, can be very calming for your pet and give them some alone time with you to take a deep breath and regroup. Plus, there are many health benefits for both of you from getting outside or being active with your dog.
If your dog is anxious and just needs a minute to regroup, taking them for a long walk can help alleviate some of that stress. If you’re unable to give your dog your undivided attention or unable to leave your guests at home, pet sitters and dog walkers are a great way to handle both responsibilities.
Other ways to help your pet regroup are by spending a few quiet moments together or by giving your pet some calming attention apart from the group.
How To Plan Ahead For Holiday Anxiety
If you know that holiday functions are hard on your pet’s mental health, take a few extra precautions before the party begins. Make sure your pet gets enough food, water and physical activity before the party starts. Wearing them out with a long walk or lots of play time can help calm them down throughout the day.
If you live in a place where snow falls or sidewalks are icy during the holiday season, be sure to protect your pet by following these winter safety tips. If you expect your furry friend will be anxious when guests arrive, you can also prepare by giving them a long-lasting treat or new toy to distract them.
If you know your pet needs quiet time and privacy, create a safe room or private space for your pup pal before guests arrive. Allowing them to step out of the holiday action when they get anxious can help them manage their own anxiety. If you know that a party will be entirely too much for your pet, consider boarding your pet or hiring a pet sitter that can take them out of the high-energy environment for a little while. If your pet typically responds well to music, television, or white noise, prepare an environment where they can enjoy those before and during holiday gatherings.
Lastly, be aware that your pet will respond to your stress and body language, so manage both responsibly. You can’t help manage your pet’s anxiety without first managing your own, because your dog will easily pick up on changes in your mood, attitude, and behavior. Relax and enjoy the holiday season, and be mindful so that your pet can do the same!