Holiday Pet Zen: What to Do When All Is Not So Calm and Much Too Bright

by Laura Weis

Creating an oasis of calm for pets during the holidays doesn’t have to be difficult, but does require some planning to provide support and mitigate stress. First remember the basics: exercise, sleep and good nutrition. When holiday scheduling leaves pets at home for long hours, they become bored and can experience anxiety. Exercise (for pets and people) is an antidote to physical and mental stress and improves sleep. If pets are getting more treats during the holidays, cut back their regular amount of food and try to keep high fat treats to a minimum. 

Environmental Modifications

Calming pheromones for dogs and cats are available as sprays, collars and diffusing plug-ins. These pheromones for dogs are versions of the pheromones produced by nursing mothers to calm puppies, and the cat pheromone is a facial marking scent that is used by cats in friendly greetings and to mark their home. Pheromones can provide a base layer in the home or can be used in carriers and crates, in cars or in new environments.

Classical music has repeatedly been demonstrated to reduce stress and anxiety levels in dogs and cats. Playing music for pets that are being kept separated from parties and gatherings can help to block loud sounds and new voices.

Flower essences can be targeted for stress reduction. The best known combination, Rescue Remedy, is made for pets in an alcohol-free formula. A few drops can be added to a pet’s water dish, dabbed on a blanket or rubbed on a pet’s ears or paws.

Pure, therapeutic grade essential oils provide another option for pet stress relief. The safest way to use essential oils around pets is to diffuse them; never topically apply essential oils undiluted to a pet, and never give them orally. Lavender and cedarwood are gentle, calming options that work well together. Chamomile, rose and sandalwood are also good choices. Dogs benefit from citrus oils such as orange, lemon and bergamot, but these should not be used around cats. When diffusing essential oils, always make sure a pet can leave the area if they choose.

Touch and massage, including simply petting or brushing, reduce stress in the giver and the recipient. Some dogs benefit from firmer touch and holding. T-shirts and ThunderShirts can apply gentle, ongoing pressure during situations known to provoke anxiety.

Supplements, Herbs and Homeopathy

Several ingredients in over-the-counter supplements are effective at reducing stress. Dozens of companies manufacture products containing combinations of B vitamins, l-theanine, milk proteins, l-tryptophan, valerian root, melatonin, magnolia root extract and jujube extract. Some newer categories of products contain CBD, either as a single ingredient or in combination with other calming supplements. Many of these are available as easy-to-administer chew treats or as liquids that can be added to food. While some manufacturers claim rapid onset of anxiety relief, it is important to try these treats and supplements before a pet experiences a stressful situation. Experimentation is often required to find the best product for a pet, and some pets respond best with daily administration of a supplement for several days prior to travel or other stressors.

Herbal stress reduction formulas for pets are usually prepared as combinations of a few herbs, either in tincture form, teas or dried and added to food. Some herbs frequently used by veterinary herbalists include chamomile, St. John’s Wort and passionflower, among others. These herbs are best used under the guidance of an experienced practitioner that can develop customized recommendations based on an individual pet’s needs.

Homeopathic remedies target the underlying and deeper imbalances that predispose a pet to experiencing undue anxiety. While all of the prior methods are palliative and help to reduce stress around the holidays, homeopathy can resolve chronic conditions without the need for ongoing treatment. Classical homeopathy can require a significant investment of time and commitment to effect these changes, and the guidance of a homeopath is essential.

Using a combination of these techniques and supplements will often provide the best results for helping pets with seasonal anxiety. Thoughtful and early testing of stress-relief methods will provide optimal insight as to the right combination for each pet. Schedule a visit with a veterinarian to make sure pets don’t have an underlying health condition, and consult with a holistic veterinarian to discover the option that best suits each unique pet.

Dr. Laura Weis and her husband, Dr. Ransome Weis, own and operate Doylestown Veterinary Hospital & Holistic Pet Care, and Holiday House Pet Resort & Training Center, in Doylestown. She focuses on homeopathy and nutrition counseling for her clients within the full-service veterinary practice. Call 215-345-6000 to request an appointment. December 2018

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