Experts offer advice on how to keep your dogs and cats happy and healthy all season long.

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The holidays are often filled with joy for us humans, but it can actually be a stressful time for your pets. All the lights, music, and decorations can cause anxiety for our dogs and cats. However, this doesn't mean you have to skip out on all the fun this year. You can still decorate your home, enjoy a delicious feast, and do all your other seasonal activities while keeping everyone safe. All you need to do is take some simple precautions to make your home pet-friendly for the holidays. Here, several pet experts offer their expertise on the most common issues dogs and cats face during Christmastime. Plus, how you can help.

Golden Retriever asleep on owner's legs with Christmas tree in background
Credit: FatCamera/Getty Images

1. Create a Safe Space

Although COVID-19 is preventing us from celebrating with large groups of people, any new noise can be a stressor for pets. Set up a safe, quiet place where they can retreat including a bed, food, water, and toys, says Jessa Paschke, behavior and training specialist with Mars Petcare North America. You can also muffle the noise of a small gathering with calming music. Does your dog get excited when the door opens? Place them in another room as guests arrive, then bring them in to mingle later. If you have a particularly nervous pet, ask your vet about essential oils or treats containing soothing herbs.

2. Limit Table Scraps

No matter how much begging happens, don’t share holiday eats with pets. "The fat content in most holiday foods (gravy, fatty meat, mashed potatoes) can be too rich for cats and dogs and cause stomach, pancreas, and intestinal issues," says Sharon L. Campbell, D.V.M. at Zoetis Petcare. All bones are off-limits; they can splinter and cause internal damage. Also, know that foods toxic to pets tend to be ubiquitous around the holidays: chocolate, raisins, nuts, and alcohol. 

3. Stick to a Schedule

"Pets are creatures of habit and can become anxious when their routine is interrupted," Campbell says. Stick with their regular eating and exercising schedules as closely as possible, even if you have to make small adjustments like cutting short your dog’s morning walk. (If you use a pet sitter, have her adhere to the schedule too.) Carve out quality play and cuddle time with your pet; it’s calming and reassuring to them—and de-stressing for you. 

4. Decorate with Care

Your pet may want to check out all the new shiny baubles, which might mean a nibble here and there. Around the holidays, vets see an uptick in stomach issues from tinsel and ornaments, Campbell says. Block access to the tree by stacking presents around it (determined pets might need a baby safety fence put up) and covering the tree's opening stand with foil or plastic wrap so your pet can’t drink the water. The extra electrical cords out at this time of year are an increased temptation. Make sure you have lots of chew toys out as redirection and thread cords through covers pets can’t chew through.

By keeping a few things in mind, and paying attention to your pet's behavior, both your and your four-legged friend will have a happy holiday.

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