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7 tips to keep your pet's anxiety low during the holidays

Julie Sprankles is a freelance writer living in the storied city of Charleston, SC. When she isn't slinging sass for SheKnows, she enjoys watching campy SyFy creature features (Pirahnaconda, anyone?), trolling the internet for dance work...

While very merry, the holidays can be daunting for pets — here's how to keep yours safe this season

Most people will tell you the holidays are the best time of year, and what's not to love? Everyone seems to have an extra twinkle in their eyes and cheer in their heart. However, as glorious as the holiday season is for us, it may not be met with nearly as much joy by our pets.

In fact, the holidays can be downright stressful — and even potentially dangerous — for our pets.

So how do we ensure our beloved pets make it through the season as anxiety-free as possible? We asked Dr. Catherine Lenox, a veterinary nutritionist and Royal Canin scientific affairs manager, for some tips on keeping your pet safe during the holidays. Here's what the pet pro had to say.

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1. Give trial runs a try

The holidays often involve travel, and unfortunately, we can't always take our pets with us. Whether you wind up boarding your pet at a kennel or hiring a pet-sitter, the process can still cause major stress for your pet.

"Doing a practice run at the boarding facility or pet-sitter ahead of time can help reduce anxiety when it is time for you to go on vacation," Dr. Lenox suggested. "Having your dog stay for a weekend or a night ahead of time can help them get familiar with the surroundings at the boarding facility or pet-sitter. Also, if possible, bringing a favorite blanket or toy can be useful as well, to help have something familiar around."

2. Work off some energy before long car rides

Hitting the road for the holidays with your pets in tow? The trip may go a lot more smoothly for everyone involved if you squeeze in a good play session for your pet prior to loading up. "Making sure they get plenty of exercise beforehand can be useful — taking them on a long walk or playing with them (with a ball or other toy, depending on your dog) can help alleviate some of that nervous energy," said Dr. Lenox.

As with boarding your pet, it also couldn't hurt to bring along a familiar item like a bed or blanket for comfort. If playing your pup out or providing a comfort item doesn't help, don't despair... you aren't doomed to suffer a horrible holiday car ride. Said Dr. Lenox, "If you have a particularly anxious dog who doesn't like car rides, visit your veterinarian ahead of time to discuss options."

3. Plan a safe space

Having a constant stream of people in your home is kind of a given during the holidays, and the parade of new faces can overwhelm pets. "If your pet gets nervous around new people, having a safe space in the house (like a bedroom) where they can go to get some quiet time can be really helpful," said Dr. Lenox. "Make that room off-limits to visitors if they seem to want to hang out in there. Don't force them to be out with new people if they want to sleep in their bed in a quiet room. Let your cat or dog decide how much socializing they want to do."

4. Offer frequent reassurance

One unfortunate side effect of having so many people in and out of your house during the holidays is that pets, and dogs in particular, seem to get reprimanded more. This is understandable because we all want our pets on their best behavior when company is present — for the safety of guests and our pets. The best way to ease the anxiety-inducing pattern of reprimanding your pup is to counteract it.

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"Trying as best as possible to give your dog verbal positive reinforcement (telling them 'good dog' or something else positive in a happy tone of voice) and spending a little quality time with them can help offset any reprimanding that happens. If your dog likes to play ball, make a special effort to do that even if the holidays are crazy. Verbal positive reinforcement is a great way to remind your dog that he or she is a good dog even if you catch yourself reprimanding him or her a little more than usual," said Dr. Lenox.

5. Try not to throw your routine out the window

Between having company over, staying up late to cook or wrap presents and hitting the road to head to a loved one's house, it's nearly impossible for your normal routine not to get out of whack during the holidays. But does disrupting your dog's normal routine stress him or her out?

"Yes, many dogs are like humans in the sense that they can get stressed if their routine is disrupted," confirmed Dr. Lenox. "Making sure you don’t change your dog’s diet during the holidays and trying to stick to your dog's exercise and eating schedule are really helpful, even when the holidays get crazy."

If your pet's routine is disrupted during the holidays, you may notice irregular digestive clinical signs, but they could actually be signs of an infection, or a more serious condition. If your pet experiences any signs or vomiting and diarrhea, you should contact your veterinarian immediately to determine the best course of action. Signs of gastrointestinal issues include: vomiting, regurgitation, diarrhea and decreased appetite.

There are often simple solutions for many gastrointestinal cases. The Royal Canin line of veterinary-exclusive GASTROINTESTINAL™ formulas provide multiple options for individualized nutritional solutions for cats and dogs experiencing gastrointestinal issues.

In order to avoid gastrointestinal problems during the holidays, pet owners should be sure to prevent easy access to hazardous foods, decrease stressful situations for their pets, and if necessary, talk to their veterinarian about precise nutrition options for their pets' digestive issues.

6. Be mindful of the decorations you choose

While the festive twinkle of Christmas tree lights may be magical to you, it might be sending your pet into a frenzy. To which end Dr. Lenox cautions, "In this situation, listen to your dog and don't use blinking lights or other decor if it seems to make them anxious — you want everyone in your household to have a good holiday."

More: 25 random cat behaviors finally explained

Dr. Lenox also advises to be wary of holiday decor that could pose a threat to your pet, saying, "Make sure you don't use decorations that could be harmful to dogs, like certain plants or ornaments they can eat. Consumption of ornaments or other decorations could lead to a foreign body obstruction."

7. Be prepared to take a timeout from the festivities

Throughout the holidays, dogs are exposed to so many more loud noises than normal: the clanging of pots and pans, the hustle and bustle of family and small children running through the house and even Christmas caroling. And of course, it all culminates in fireworks on New Year's Eve. If your pet seems especially freaked out by the added decibel level of the holidays, create an aforementioned safe space for them and then be on standby. "Making sure someone is with them in the quiet room for at least part of the evening can be helpful too," said Dr. Lenox.

This post was sponsored by Royal Canin.

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