Each year, during the weeks prior to the Thanksgiving holiday, the Care Team sees an increase in job postings for pet caregivers. We know that many of our members are going to have to spend the holidays separated from their furry or feathered loved ones. Stress levels are already maxed out as we make travel plans, prepare to visit relatives, and often struggle to meet the high expectations that come along with the turkey dinners and holiday parties. And when it comes to finding care for the furrier members of the family, it is more than just a To-Do on the checklist. As the anxiety levels rise, pet owners know that their little ones can sense that something is stirring, and even the most peaceful of animals may start to show signs of stress.
Since we have already seen the beginnings of one of 2011's peak pet care season, I wanted to share some tips on how to keep your pets calm through the whirlwind holiday season:
1. Control your own stress.
Some animals simply seem to have a super tuned-in sense when it comes to humans. With dogs, research has shown that they have evolved to read our facial expressions and body language with unparalleled skill – even when compared to primates. This ability has created an incredible bond, but it has also resulted in their keen capability to interpret a spectrum of human emotions, including stress. Ultimately, if you and your family exhibit signs of stress, your pets will likely pick up on your anxiety and mirror your emotions. Gnawing on furniture, becoming overly excited, whining, and other symptoms are all potential results. If you are struggling with stress, and think your pet may be picking up on it, check out this article for additional (human) de-stressing tips: 7 Common Stress Scenarios - Solved and another blog post on Beating Stress!
2. Walk, run, play.
Dog trainer, author, and Animal Planet host Andrea Arden points out that "many people slack off on their normal exercise routine during the busy holiday season, and as a result, they also fail to provide their pets with adequate exercise. An appropriate outlet for energy – both mental and physical – is vital for your pet to make it through the holidays in a manner that is as stress-free as possible." Even as you interview potential pet sitters and make travel plans, work with your family to make time for exercise with your pets. Taking walks is essential for dogs, and all pets will benefit from active playtime.
3. Keep up a steady routine.
As you lead up to the moment where you and your pet will need to part ways, keep up the normal routine as much as possible. Take walks at the same time every day. Ensure meals are consistent, and play with familiar toys. Write up a description for your pet sitter. Keeping a steady routine before and during the time you are away will better ensure a calm, happy pet.
4. Create happy memories with the new caregiver.
If your pets will be staying with a new caregiver, give them a trial run. Have playtime with the new pet sitter wherever your pet will be staying while you're away. Throw a ball in the new caregiver's backyard, and go for a walk around the new neighborhood. Not only will your pet build beneficial associations with his or her new surroundings, but you will find peace of mind by knowing your pet is happy and healthy while you are away.
5. Take familiar toys.
When you drop-off your pet, don't forget to supply the new caregiver with familiar and comforting old toys, towels, and treats. Andrea recommends a food stuffed chew toy, such as the Busy Buddy Twist n' Treat or the Molecuball. Both can help keep a stressed pet happily occupied – a good trick for caregivers and any owners looking for a little relief from pets who love to be constantly underfoot during the holiday bustle.
Do your pets seem to exhibit increasing signs of stress as the holidays approach? How do you help them relax? Do you find that exercise helps? Share your own tips.