MARLA SOMERSALL: Enjoy a pet-happy holiday season

Reducing stress and planning ahead makes for a relaxed and enjoyable festive break for both two and four-legged friends

Published on December 19, 2016

Mogley is relaxed and enjoying quiet time by the tree. Introducing your pet to a holiday routine early makes for a happier holiday.


The holidays can be an exciting and busy time for everyone.

With lots of visitors and activity, it is important to remember that our pets still need our attention and care. A stress-free holiday for your pets means they need to feel comfortable and safe in their environment, have regular activity and, although they may disagree, have limited access to extra treats and people food.

Start preparing pets for variations in routine when they are young. Familiarize young pets with guests and changes in the home to reduce anxiety at times like Christmas. Know your pet’s signs of discomfort and give extra attention, walks and quiet time away from the activity to reduce stress.

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Guests should always be aware that you have pets. It is important to do careful introductions, paying attention to reactions. If your dog is cowering or backing off, let her take time and offer a safe space.  If she really is not comfortable, crating may be the only option, but make sure to provide water and tend to her needs regularly. Introductions may go better after everyone is seated and relaxed. If you know your dog is not comfortable with guests, maybe your home is not the best place for the gathering, or perhaps a visit to the dog-sitter is in order.

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Cats are skilled at removing themselves from stressful situations.  It is helpful to know a cat’s like or dislike of people, children, or even noise.  A favourite bed in a quiet room where he can keep clear of the activity, with a bowl of water close by, and a box or scratching post, may be everything your cat needs.

Help children to understand that fluffy and cute does not always mean playful. It may seem amusing to see the toddler chasing after the cat, but the latter may strongly disagree. If you have critters and reptiles, be sure your guests know the rules for interactions and feeding.  Children need to respect your pet’s boundaries, for the pet’s sake and because bites or scratches are no fun. As a busy host, it is difficult to keep an eye on everything, so having parents on side is crucial. Ask family or friends who know your animals to keep an eye on the situation.

Have a conversation with overnight guests before they arrive about allergies, and their comfort or fear of animals. Explain about your pets’ needs, too, so that people know what to expect. Let your guests know the rules regarding treats or if your pet is inclined to lick all the plates. This will go a long way to ensuring a pleasant visit, but more importantly may prevent serious digestive illness in your pets.

Holidays are a time to celebrate family and friends, including our four legged ones. If the day has been stressful, put on the woollies and take the dog for a nice walk to unwind from the day’s activities. It will do you both a lot of good.

For more holiday safety tips, including foods dangers, see

Next month in Animal Talk: Best care for very small animals (hamsters and gerbils)

Marla Somersall is executive director of the P.E.I. Humane Society, one of the member groups of the P.E.I. Companion Animal Welfare Initiative (CAWI).  Animal Talk is a monthly column in The Guardian produced by CAWI, the goal of which is to improve the welfare of owned and unowned companion animals on P.E.I. Other members of CAWI are SpayAid, Cat Action Team, P.E.I. Veterinary Medical Association, P.E.I. department of agriculture and forestry, P.E.I. 4-H, and Sir James Dunn Animal Welfare Centre at AVC. For more information, see Readers may send questions related to the wellbeing of owned and unowned companion animals to