holiday dog

The holidays are great fun, aren’t they? Singin’, dancin’, and carryin’ on. For you and me, sure, but maybe not for everybody. Badly unsettled pets can engage in some unhealthy behaviors because they’re nervous or scared.

You’ll need to be observant. Tense body postures around visitors or startling at sudden noises, hiding, freezing with ears flattened, the head low, and the tail tucked are important clues. Scared dogs may lick their lips and yawn. Highly stressed cats might over-groom.

Worried pets need a break from the action. Hide boxes for cats and out-of the-way resting areas for dogs can help. A food toy loaded with your dog’s favorite treat will focus her brain on something enjoyable. Give her the toy in another room before your guests arrive and pick it up when they leave so she learns that great things happen for her while you party hearty. Classical music can mask the racket coming from other parts of the house.

A supplement, called Zylkene, can help. Start giving it a couple of days ahead of the commotion to preempt the hand wringing. For longer periods, like the holidays, your cat or dog can take Zylkene until you’ve boxed up the last of the mistletoe-which, by the way, is toxic to pets.

It can be hard to find spare time to manage a nervous dog. If yours is hunkered down and acting small you can add fun to his holidays with extra play and exercise-away from the festivities. Even a few short walks every day or a trip to the dog park can make a difference.

Pets snacking on Christmas plants can dampen the merry spirit. According to veterinary toxicologist Dr. Sharon Gwaltney-Brant, “Poinsettias have an irritating sap that can cause (stomach, intestinal) upset but is not going to be life-threatening. American mistletoe is also a GI irritant and although it does contain compounds that are cardiac depressants, it is extremely rare to see any clinically significant effects in dogs or cats.” Do your best to keep these plants out of the grasp of your pets. Your veterinarian needs a holiday break too.

Each week Dr. Jeff Nichol makes a short video, blog, or podcast to help bring out the best in pets. Sign up at no charge at drjeffnichol.com. Dr. Nichol treats behavior disorders at the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Centers in Albuquerque and Santa Fe (505-792-5131). You can post pet behavioral or physical questions at facebook.com/drjeffnichol or by US Post to 4000 Montgomery Blvd. NE, Albuq, NM 87109.