Your pets and the holidays

Silly season has arrived, which means the end of the year is in sight. Some of you will be going away on holiday, some will have friends and family over to visit, while others may take time off work, stay in and get some much-needed ‘me-time’. Whatever your plans are for the holidays, they spell a change for your pet/s.

In this article, we offer a friendly reminder to be mindful of how the holidays may affect your pet’s emotional and physical wellbeing, and what you can do about it.

When pet parents go on holiday

Thankfully, there’s more and more pet-friendly accommodation available in South Africa, which means that your furry family can accompany you on holiday. While many pets prefer the comfort of the home and routine they’re used to, going on holiday with you is by far the preferred option to being boarded at kennels.

If your pets can’t go with you, ask a reliable friend or family member to pet-sit for you in your own home. Another option is to ask the vet to refer a reliable pet-sitter in your area and interview them well in advance of your travel plans. Introduce the pet-sitter to your pets and allow them to spend time together in your presence so your pets feel (quite literally) at home with them.

Tips for travelling with pets

  • Get a car seat (for small dogs) or a car seat hammock (for larger dogs) to keep them comfortable and safe during the car ride. Pets should not have free access to the entire vehicle – this can be very distracting to the driver, which makes it dangerous on the road.
  • Never drive with a dog on your lap – for the safety of you, your dog, and other road users.
  • A cat should travel in a carrier or crate to help them feel safe. Make sure they are comfortable in the crate long before they need to travel in it for the first time.
  • Make frequent stops to give your pet/s a pee break and let them stretch their legs. Always put them on a leash before you exit the vehicle.
  • If they take the opportunity for a poop break, pick up and dispose of their waste responsibly.
  • Keep a water bowl and fresh water in your vehicle to keep pets hydrated.
  • Feed your pets a yummy treat a few times throughout the trip to positively reinforce their experience, especially if they are calm and well-behaved.
  • Make sure your pets are microchipped and wearing a collar with an ID tag clearly showing your contact details. Make it as easy as possible for your pets to find their way back to you should they go missing in an unfamiliar environment.

Tips for your pet’s routine at your holiday destination

  • Pet-friendly accommodation comes with conditions – for instance, that pets are calm and well-trained, and don’t cause any damage to property. Your pet must be under your control at all times, especially on someone else’s property.
  • Take your pet’s bedding, grooming tools, food and water bowls, and any other necessities with you. This will give your pet a feeling of familiarity in an unfamiliar environment.
  • Try to keep your pet’s routine as consistent as possible. Keep their feeding times, playtimes and nap times consistent – this reinforces your pets’ confidence and reduces any fear or anxiety. Even if his environment is unfamiliar, just knowing he will be fed, walked and played with consistently is enough to keep him calm.
  • Make sure you take enough pet food and treats along with you to last the whole holiday. If you run out of food while away from home, it might be difficult to find the same food brand and variety in an emergency.
  • Make a note of the nearest veterinarian at your holiday destination and save their contact details and emergency/after-hours phone number in your phone. Just in case.

When pet parents have friends and family over

Most pets prefer the comfort of their own home and thrive on the consistency of a daily routine. If you’re going to enjoy the holidays at home and host friends and family, keep the following in mind for your pets:

  • There will be more people around, which can either be very exciting or very scary for your pet – depending on how well-socialised they are or whether they prefer a quieter environment.
  • Advocate for your pets – if they become distressed with too many people around, remove them to a quiet space while the humans are socialising.
  • Visiting adults and children should respect your pet’s space and need for proper handling. Do not tolerate teasing or indiscriminate feeding of your pet/s.
  • Let your guests know that some foods are poisonous for dogs and cats, and that to ensure your pets are safe, they must not offer table scraps or any other treats to your pets (to avoid this, teach your pets to not beg for food at the dinner table). The only one who should feed your pet anything is you.
  • Fireworks are dangerous to pets and people. Do not allow your guests to light fireworks on your property. Not only could they be contravening municipal bylaws, but they could injure and traumatise your pets.
  • Under normal circumstances, household cleaners, medications, alcohol and other toxic substances should be kept away from your pets. When guests are staying temporarily in your house, it increases the risk of your pets getting hold of something they shouldn’t. Make sure your guests understand these risks and keep their belongings safely stored away.
  • Ask your guests to be mindful of small objects like Christmas tree decorations, children’s toys, deflated balloons and other objects that may be dangerous should pets swallow them. It’s also a good idea to train your pets to leave non-food objects alone and to not eat anything unless it’s in their food bowl.
  • If fireworks shows are unavoidable on New Year’s Eve, ask the vet about which calming medications are best suited to your pet’s needs. Calming sprays, gels and collars containing pheromones can be given in the week or two leading up to a stressful event, to help keep pets calm on the evening of the fireworks.
  • If your guests want to bring their own pets to your property, it’s crucial that both parties’ animals are suitably socialised. Trying to keep pets separated on the same property for the duration of your guests’ stay could be unpleasant and stressful.

Tips regarding ‘holiday food’

The festive season is about rest and relaxation, but mostly it’s about enjoying festive food. Many Christmas foods are highly toxic to our pets, so while it’s a treat to have these on our table, they must be kept far away from pets at this time of year:

  • chocolate
  • alcohol
  • raisins/sultanas
  • garlic/onion
  • citrus fruits
  • xylitol
  • bones
  • avocado
  • macadamia nuts

When pet parents stay in for the holidays

If you’re staying at home and getting some high-quality downtime at the end of this year, your pets may be overjoyed at this prospect. They may take full advantage of you spending more time at home and obviously you’ll enjoy all the benefits of being around them more during the holiday (lowered blood pressure, reduced stress levels, slower heartrate and deeper breathing, muscle relaxation, etc. – all documented effects of petting your furry friend for just 10 minutes).

Having more time available for your pets means more playtime and opportunities for training; but their companionship in general offers huge benefits and can make your holiday at home absolutely worth it. Keep in mind, however, that any new routines that get established while you’re spending more time at home will need to be maintained in the new year. What happens to your pet’s wellbeing and expectations when you return to work? Most pets are highly adaptive, but they thrive on a consistent routine, so be mindful of any changes implemented during the holidays and how they may affect your pets in the long run.

Tips for keeping pets safe during fireworks

Many pets become extremely frightened and traumatised during fireworks displays and thunderstorms. Some pets will go to extremes to escape this experience – jumping through windows, escaping their yards, getting stuck in fences, running into traffic, etc. There are a number of ways to try to keep your pets calm during fireworks and thunderstorms:

  • ‘ThunderShirts’ or anti-anxiety wraps
  • calming pheromones (which need to be administered in the lead-up to an event to reduce anxiety)
  • prescription medications
  • desensitisation training
  • distracting your pet with music and/or playtime and treats before, during and after a stressful event

Each pet will respond differently to noise and lights stressors, and therefore will respond differently to the above calming methods. If you are concerned about your pet’s safety during fireworks displays and thunderstorms, speak to the vet about the most appropriate solution for your pet’s wellbeing.

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