How to make sure your pet has a stress-free holiday

Tanya Edwards
Planning and preparation is key to make sure your pets have a safe, stress-free holiday season. (Photo: Getty Creative)

The holidays are here, with all the fun, festivity and... stress. You might have family and friends coming and going, or you're heading out of town for several days. There’s just so much hustle and bustle and it's a lot for your pets to handle. They literally don’t understand what’s going on — how do you make a cat or dog understand the Christmas tree is not a climbing toy? The good news: You can take steps to make this busy time easier on them — and you. All it takes is a little planning and patience. 

Holiday travel prep your pet

If you’re traveling this holiday season, it’s important to get your pet ready for you not being home. Experts recommend keeping your dog or cat in your home with a pet sitter or with a trusted friend or family member. It’s important to make sure your animal is comfortable with your sitter as well. 

“If you're going to use a pet sitter who comes to your house or a dog walker who comes to your house, you want to start to get your animal used to that,” says Mark Verdino, DVM, vice president and chief veterinary staff of North Shore Animal League America. “If you're going away for the holidays, at the end of December, well then have the sitter come over [before that] and hang out with the dog for a little bit.”

“My recommendation is you shouldn't dump your animal in a boarding facility,” Verdino adds.

Traveling during the holidays? Consider asking a family member, friend or pet sitter to take care of your pet. (Photo: Getty Creative)

“Using a professional pet sitter allows pets to stay in their own home, which eliminates travel trauma and minimizes exposure to illness,” says Beth Stultz-Hairston, vice-president, Marketing & Operations Pet Sitters International.  

“You just want your pet to get used to this person because what you don't want is for some stranger to be trying to walk your dog or let your dog out in the yard and they don't come back,” explains Verdino, “They bolt off leash because they're spooked with this strange person.”

Once you’ve introduced your pet to their sitter, make sure the sitter has all the information they need to keep your furry friend safe and happy while you’re away. 

Stultz-Hairston breaks down the important details, saying, “Pet parents should talk with the pet sitter about feeding times and number of walks needed (for dogs), as well as things like a favorite toy or a regular hiding place — especially important for cats! Of course, any health concerns or needed medications should be discussed in detail — and the pet sitter should have the contact information for the pet’s veterinarian.”

Your pet may not like to party 

If you’re hosting, it’s important to keep in mind that your pets may be stressed out by all the strange sounds, smells and faces. It’s really about knowing your pet and understanding how they react to new situations, and using that as a gauge for how to deal with holiday chaos. 

“There are some dogs that are very social, that are used to larger crowds, dogs that are from more urban environments so they go outside, there's people all over the place,” Verdino explains about assessing the situation. “And then there's dogs that live in their house and really never see another soul and go bananas when the mailman comes.”

Strange sounds, smells and faces may scare your cat or dog. Help them to feel safe when in new environments or situations. (Photo: Getty Creative)

“If it's a big party and there's lots of comings and goings for your dog's safety, I would probably recommend confining the dog somewhere,” Verdino adds. “They may be perfectly comfortable with the people, but they also may bolt out the front door. That could be a dangerous situation. Obviously, if they're fearful, you don't want them to show any aggression towards your guests which would be natural if they feel threatened.”

Cats are more likely to just hide out in a safe space, but be sure to let them have that boundary. 

“Cats tend to self regulate that they'll be under a bed somewhere, you'll never see them,” says Verdino. “A young cat, I'd probably say if they ran into a room to recoil, then shut the door to that room because we don't want them running out either.”

Keep an eye on the kids

While your pets may normally be fine with your kids, with all the hubbub of the holidays, there’s potential for danger — and liability. 

“Kids are, believe it or not, tend to be scarier to many dogs because they're face height, and the children are more at risk from the dogs because they're face height,” Verdino says. “Generally speaking, if there are kids coming over and your dog is not familiar with them, I would say try to keep your dog segregated.”

Have honest conversations with kids and younger family members on how best to treat pets. (Photo: Getty Creative)

“You just never know,” he continues. “I've had stories of dogs that are very social, have grown up with kids, kids have always come over the house and all it takes one kid to pull the dog's tail and things change very, very quickly.”

Your decorations could be a danger

Whether you’re traveling or staying home, it’s important to be aware that your holiday decorations can be a danger to your pets.

“The bottom line is you should treat your animal like you treat a toddler,” explains Verdino, speaking broadly to how you should think about decorations and pets. “You should not leave them alone in the room with stuff that they can eat and choke on.”


“With cats in particular, ribbons and strains and things like that, and tinsel on a tree are notoriously bad because cats play with that stuff and they do ingest it and it can cause havoc in their GI tract, often resulting in the need for surgery to remove it,” he adds.

That beautifully-decorated Christmas tree may be a potential hazard for your furry animal friend. (Photo: Getty Creative)

While the holiday celebrations might be fun for you and your human family — remember that your pet might not be sharing your good time. If you keep your furry family members needs in mind while planning your holidays, and give them a little space when they need it, you’ll all have a safer, easier time celebrating.