2021 will be marked by heartfelt reunions for millions of families who missed out on holiday gatherings last year. That may mean parties, or it might mean meeting that newborn relative you couldn’t until now.

dog sitting near table with house guests

While the exuberance of seeing relatives and having gatherings is well-earned, remember also that the time around the holidays is always stressful for a family’s furrier members. People visiting and coming for extended stays and other holiday activities can have the collective effect of eking into pets’ personal space and disrupting their routines. 

Over the past year, steadfast four-footed family members may have had an extended break from socializing and experiencing large home gatherings. Some of us also made it through last year’s trials thanks in part to a new bean-toed friend, and they might be meeting the rest of the family for the first time. 

Either way, it’s up to you as their caregiver and the house’s host to make sure it goes well for everyone, including pets and guests. The sooner you start, the better, too. Most experts suggest that a good four weeks in advance of holiday gatherings, people should do a couple of things to make sure it’s the happiest of holidays for everyone involved, including pets.

Set Boundaries

One thing is universal, and that goes from cats to dogs to birds and other species: animal companions need their own space, somewhere they feel comfortable and safe. This is even more important when visitors come over for multi-day stays when many animals can be quickly overwhelmed by unfamiliar humans and new smells.

Crates are often a good idea and, with some dogs, baby gates can be useful to make sure animals have their own safe rooms. Designate a secluded safe spot for your pets somewhere out of the regular flow of people, if they don’t have one already. Start now with setting them up in that spot and letting them get comfortable there by themselves and with you coming to check on them. Sit with them, bring toys and treats, and make it a familiar place for them to go when they need to get away from the party.

Recognize when your pet’s level of anxiety starts getting too much for them and try to encourage your pet to seek solace in their crate or secluded bedding. 

One particularly traumatic time is often when meeting someone new at the door. Kitty might shoot for outside, and Puppy could get over-excited with so many new people behind the knocks. With this in mind, it’s probably best to put cats in the safe room when new arrivals come in, especially if they’re bringing in bags. A dog that gets excited when the postal carrier comes by might lose their mind with the third group of visitors coming in that day.

Depending on the dog, you can train them to remain calm with new visitors. A little bit every day, leash your dog at the door. Wherever you go through the door, let them jump or bark as they need, but wait for them to calm down before you greet them or give them attention. Eventually, they’ll learn to be calm, especially if you reinforce that behavior with praise and treats. Remember to withhold attention, scolding or comforting or otherwise, when they bark at the door. Instead, wait for the energy to subside before rewarding them with attention. 

If your dog experiences extreme excitement every time someone comes through the door, it might be best to put them somewhere away from all the commotion, especially when everyone initially arrives. Wait until everyone is settled in, and then introduce the dog while leashed to let them get to know everyone at their own speed.

Set Expectations for Your Guests

Make sure your guests know your animal companions’ boundaries. Your cuddle-buddy may not be up for it with just anyone. Make sure your visitors know your fuzzy friend’s likes and dislikes, especially when it comes to affection. Animals are smart and can tell when someone is comfortable or willing to accept their attention. In other words, they’ll usually make new friends at their own discretion. 

Forcing the issue can lead to anxiety, and in some cases, a few cat scratches. As such, make everyone aware of the pet’s comfort zone and preferences. This goes double for meeting kids, who can occasionally get over-enthusiastic and make the animal companion uncomfortable. As a rule, do not leave small children unaccompanied with your animal companion, just for everyone’s sake.

Make sure your guests know where the general public spaces are and, if need be, where they should avoid them. Also, keep in mind that not everyone wants to be the pets’ new friend, so make sure everyone is aware of people who aren’t comfortable with the pets and how these individuals can find solace from unwanted animal attention. This especially includes people with allergies.

Above all else, be considerate towards people who may not be used to how your pets typically interact. Make sure visitors know what they’re getting into once they’ve been accepted by the house animals, in other words. You may tell them, for example, that if they give in and throw that ball once, it might mean the animal expects that to be the main activity for the rest of their afternoon. You can also warn them about a cat that seems to want tummy pets but then turns into a veritable bear trap about five seconds in. In this way, you can set expectations and help avoid the worst unpleasantries while still letting humans and pets mix.

Watch Out for Unsafe Edibles

The old cliché about putting on new pounds with holiday foods is a cliché for a reason; we all tend to overdo it. That can include our pets, who by rights shouldn’t be sharing in the feast but often get a literal under-the-table invite. Accordingly, make sure everyone is aware the animals of the house need to not share in eating things they shouldn’t. That includes foods unsafe for pets as well as things that just plain aren’t food. For example, avoid putting anything that pets might swallow within easy reach, such as tinsel, small toys, or plastic. Cats in particular love to play with shiny, dangling things, and they can tend to swallow strings. 

Furthermore, keep in mind the unique risks for pets that come with holiday gatherings. Certain holiday-related plants are dangerous to cats and dogs, particularly poinsettias. Many seasonal snacks, especially those with chocolate, can be equally deadly to dogs.

When it comes to eating, communicate that the occasional treats the animals are familiar with are much more preferable to table scraps. Holiday foods are often richer compared to the average human table fare, and providing pets’ usual yummies instead of human food can keep upset tummies at bay. Let your guests know this, too, and remind them that despite that lean and hungry look, the dog under the table does not need an entire slice of turkey to themselves.

With that in mind, treats are an excellent way for visitors and animal companions to become lifelong friends with their pets. Whenever a new visitor arrives, let them give a treat to the pet, and give the animal a chance to show off if they have a trick routine that usually ends up in a tasty snack.

As Much As You Can, Don’t Disrupt Your Pets’ Routines

The holidays are jam-packed, but we should remember to check in and give our animals their regular care. Your dog will still need their daily walk, and your cat will insist on sunning in its usual spot. It’s their house too, after all. 

Make sure pets get plenty of attention from you so they don’t feel neglected. Invite company to go on walks with your dog, and let them know which cats like to be pet versus which prefer to just be admired from afar. Keep guests away from the animal’s safe spaces or rooms as much as possible.

If the job looks to be more than you can handle, check into pet sitters or dog walkers to give yourself a break. Depending on how long they stay, it might not be a bad idea to board your pet. Boarding your pet or checking them into dog daycare is a great way to get them away from unfamiliar situations, smells, and activities. Instead of weaving through legs and having young relatives tugging on their fur, they can be running with their own pack outdoors or in a climate-controlled play gym.

Greenlin Pet Resorts will make sure your friend is comfortable and well-cared for over holiday visits, so you can concentrate on taking care of all the two-legged animals loose in your house. Reach out to find out more about our services or book a stay at a location near you.