Avoiding Holiday Stress For Your Pets

The holidays are fast approaching. While it may be the most wonderful time of the year, this season can be stressful for your pets. Houses look different with lights and decorations and often visitors bring unfamiliar sounds and smells into your home. Changes in your daily routine due to holiday travel and overnight guests can also lead to stress and anxiety for the animals in your life. This stress can make our pets sick.

In dogs, the most common stress-induced illness is colitis. This inflammation of the colon causes diarrhea. Colitis frequently occurs from stress due boarding animals, though many dogs struggle with this condition whenever they encounter major changes in their environment. Animals with colitis can also have bloody diarrhea.

Cystitis is the most common illness linked to stress in cats. Though cats may also develop colitis, they seem to be more prone to developing inflammation in the bladder (cystitis). The most common first indication of cystitisis is that cats begin urinating outside the litter box. (Cats associate the litter box with pain, so they avoid using the box for urination.) These urinary accidents can be bloody and clean up can be difficult.

While your veterinarian can usually help treat these conditions, it is much better to proactively keep your pet healthy and avoid stress illnesses if possible. Pheromone products can be a wonderful, natural way to combat stress in both cats and dogs. Pheromones are chemical substances that animals produce to communicate with each other. Products such as Adaptil (for dogs) and Feliway (for cats) contain synthetic pheromones that mimic their natural calming pheromones. These products have been clinically proven to decrease signs of stress in animals and come in various forms including sprays, diffusers, collars and wipes.

Dogs that are prone to colitis may also benefit from probiotics. Studies have shown a significant decrease in episodes of stress-induced colitis in dogs that started taking a good probiotic three days prior to, and during boarding. Probiotics can also be helpful during stressful events at home, such as guests visiting or a pet sitter coming over while you are out of town. It is best to start your dog on probiotics a few days before known stressful events and continue them for a few days after everything has returned to normal. Not all probiotics are effective, so consult your veterinarian to learn which probiotics really work.

To help manage your cat’s anxiety during the holidays, create a “safe” room where kitty can retreat at any time. This room should be apart from new activity in the house and contain a liter box, a water source, a perch, some toys and a window. It can also be helpful to keep a cat carrier available for the cat to enter and exit at will. This should make transporting your cat less stressful and help with boarding, as the cat will associate the carrier with being a safe place to hide. To help your cat feel more secure when at a boarding facility, include something in their kennel that smells like home, such as a towel, pet bed or piece of your clothing.

Anti-anxiety medications can also be recommended for stressed pets. There are natural options such as Chinese herbs or colostrum-based products, but stronger antidepressants can be used as well. Some medications work quickly and can be given at the time of the stressful event, but others may require up to three weeks of daily use to reach their full effectiveness. It is important to discuss these options with your veterinarian to determine the best choice for your pet.

Helping your pets better deal with stress can go a long way in making this a happy holiday season for your entire family.

Originally published November 2016 in the Lake Norman Citizen

Dr. Lauren Kappers is a veterinarian with LakeCross Veterinary in Huntersville. The vets in the big yellow house have been treating pets like family for 20 years. For more information, call 704-948-6300.