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Keeping Pets Safe During the Holidays

We all look forward to the holidays and spending time with friends and family; however, the festive season can be a stressful time for many pets and their owners. Behavior consultants tend to get many calls at this time of year looking for advice on how to handle their pets with behavioral issues. While we strongly recommend a making a call to your consultant, here are some very general tips to follow.

Pets with Behavior Issues

  • First of all, if your pet is nervous, fearful or aggressive around strangers, don't force unwanted interactions on them. This keeps them and your guests safe. Find a quiet, low-key area to keep your pet such as a bedroom with a closed door. Some dogs are best crated during these times, while others may become more stressed in a crate and would do better in a quiet room. Cats may want to hide – please let them and allow them to access places like closets where they feel comfortable. If you have a bird and it's possible to move their cage, find a quiet space in your house or cover the cage.
  • Give your pet something to do during these times. For dogs and cats, there are many different kinds of interactive toys available, many of which involve stuffing food in that the animal has to work out. Birds can be given foraging toys. The idea is to give the animal something to focus on instead of the presence of strangers in the house.
  • Have a talk with all of your guests when they arrive, or even better, before they get to your house. Let them know about your particular pet's issues and how you would like them to interact with your pets when they are in your home. In many cases, you may not want them to interact with them at all, and if your pet is behind a door, make sure they know not to enter.
  • We strongly recommend working with a behavior consultant before a stressful situation like the holidays. You can find an IAABC member to work with through our  consultant locator.

Pets in Terrariums, Tanks, and Cages

  • These pets are often ignored because the assumption is they are safe in their enclosures. This doesn't mean they won't be stressed by the increased activity in your house.
  • If you have fish or reptiles, let guests know that it's fine to look, but do not tap or bang on the class. This is particularly common with young children.
  • Fluffy pets like gerbils, hamsters, rats and rabbits look adorable to people not used to them, especially children. They may want to pick them up and cuddle them. If you have a pet that's comfortable with meeting people outside of their cage, always be there to supervise and instruct guests on how to handle them. If your pet does not enjoy being handled, make sure your guests know this from the start.
  • If you suspect your guests may not follow your instructions, and it's possible to move your pets, it's a safe plan to put the enclosure in another room. You may also want to install a lock on the enclosure if you're able to.

Holiday Safety

Even if you have a pet with no behavior issues who adores meeting people, this still doesn't mean there are safety concerns.

  • Food is a big issue for pets during the holidays. We tend to have lots of sweet items in the house like chocolate. This can be extremely toxic to pets.
  • Other food items that are a problem are fatty foods which, if ingested by your pet, can lead to pancreatitis which is a serious medical condition.
  • The ASPCA has an excellent  list of foods that can poison your pets.
  • If you allow your pets to roam around while visitors eat, either at the dinner table or on the couch while watching TV together, there's a strong temptation to feed your pet scraps. This is especially an issue with children. Again, make sure that all your visitors know the rules of the house and that while feeding the dog some of your food seems like a nice thing to do, it can have very serious consequences. It's best to supervise pets and children at all times and if you feel you or another responsible adult aren't able to, keep the pet safely away in a room. It might seem unnecessary while you are busy cooking or setting the table to be worried about a short amount of time when you can't be observing. But it only takes a second for something problematic to occur.
  • It's a very good idea to keep the  ASPCA Poison Control number on hand as well as the number of an emergency veterinarian if you don't have one already. 
  • Another item that people will have more often in their house at this time are holiday plants. Some of these, such as poinsettias, can be hazardous for your pets. Keep any plants you receive as gifts in places your pet cannot reach.  Again, the ASPCA is an excellent resource for a  list of problematic plants.
  • Finally, holiday decorations are extremely attractive for some pets. Cats will love playing with the tinsel on your tree, and dogs may find those wrapped presents to be a very enticing new toy. You may want to put a x-pen up around your tree to keep pets away. Avoid hanging any decorations that your pet can reach. If your pet eats any part of these items, he or she can get an intestinal blockage.
  • Avoid any kind of edible decoration, like strung popcorn. This is just too good a temptation for many pets to ignore.

Other Concerns

  • If you have a cat or dog that's likely to bolt out the door, it's a good idea to keep them in a room or crate while guests are arriving and leaving. It's easy for an animal to bolt out in the confusion of activity. You should also be sure that pets have a microchip and an ID on their collar if the worst case scenario happens.
  • Particularly with dogs, be aware of, and responsible about, their behavior with guests. If you have a dog that you know will jump up on visitors, teach them a reliable sit and stay behavior. Most people don't enjoy being mobbed by your dog, and you'll be allowing the dog to practice an undesirable behavior.

IAABC Mission Statement

The International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants' mission is to elevate the standard of animal behavior consulting worldwide by promoting continuing eduhorseion, peer support and development, ethical practices through the use of Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive (LIMA) principles, and the provision of quality resources for animal professionals and the pet-owning public. The IAABC believes that our strength is in our community, and we strive to provide a supportive learning and networking environment for animal behavior professionals so they can better serve their learners and each other.