Holiday Weirdness & Risk

dog in a Christmas hat

What does it take?
The holidays are great fun, aren’t they? Singin’, dancin’, and carryin’ on. For you and me, sure, but badly unsettled pets can engage in some unhealthy behaviors because they’re nervous or scared.

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. Consider a Twist & Treat, a Toppl or a Kibble Nibble. Give her the food-loaded toys in another room before your guests arrive and pick them up when they leave so your dog learns that great things happen while you party hearty.

A supplement, called Zylkene, can reduce the heebie jeebies. Start Zylkene a couple of days ahead of the commotion to preempt the paw wringing. Cats and dogs living in highly festive households can take Zylkene until the last of the mistletoe has been stashed.

It can be hard to find 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 merriment. 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 everybody’s jolly 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, chocolate, raisins, grapes, and turkey carcasses out of the grasp of your pets. Emergency veterinarians need a holiday break too.

For help with behavior problems, you can sign-up for a Zoom Group Conference on my website,

Dr. Jeff Nichol is a residency-trained veterinary behaviorist. He provides consultations in-person and in groups by Zoom (505-792-5131). Each week he shares a blog and a Facebook Live video to help bring out the best in pets and their people. Sign up at no charge at Post pet behavioral or physical questions on or by US Post to 4000 Montgomery Blvd. NE, Albuq, NM 87109.

This gorgeous Border collie mama, named Freedom, with her 5 babies is already special to the Nichol family. Finally, 6 months after the passing of our wonderful dog Miss America, we are ready to adopt our next dog. One of these beauties will be ours. Born on December 17 he or she will be ready to come home in mid-February. We are so excited. Check out these tail waggers. I’ll post more pix and videos as they grow.