Thursday, November 16, 2017

Holiday Mayhem!

I don't know about you, but I just came to the realization this week that the holidays are creeping up on us fast! Thanksgiving is just a week away, Hanukkah is in a month, and Christmas is two weeks after that. Are you ready? I'm not just talking about the planning of food for events, purchasing gifts, holiday cards, etc. I'm talking about preparing your pets. Are they ready for this? There will be changes to their daily schedules, re-arranged furniture, an increased number and variety of visitors to your home, perhaps some rambunctious kids even, and there will definitely be some amazing food involved. If we add in the physical hazards of the season as well such as strings of lights, candles, tinsel, holiday plants, etc. you can see why I am already worried!

Pets exhibit their stress in several ways. They may become overly hyper, barking excessively, jumping up on people and furniture, and getting into everything. However, some pets become more withdrawn, hiding under beds or in closets, refusing to eat, and wishing that all the commotion was over with. Often our pets respond differently during the holidays because we ourselves are acting differently. From November through January, our routines change, reflecting our holiday commitments, and turning our pets' worlds upside down.

While not always easy, we should all try to maintain our pets' usual routines as much as possible. Focus on feeding and walking them at the same times, checking the water bowl frequently, make sure litter boxes are clean, and most importantly make sure that we have provided quiet places of refuge for our pets to retreat if they need to escape the craziness of the season.

The holidays can definitely be hectic, but they really are a wonderful time to reconnect with family and friends. Don't forget to spend quality time with your pets as well, and do keep in mind how stress-reducing their company can be. Just spending time with your pets reduces your blood pressure (and theirs), improves your moods, and and enhances each other's well-being. Now, what could be a greater holiday gift than that?

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Time to Visit Your Vet? No Problem!

I had a great conversation with my dogs' veterinarian. We were discussing how dogs behave in the vet hospital setting. So many dogs are acutely uncomfortable when they are there, to the point of excessively panting, barking, whining, and even displaying aggression. There is, however, something you can do to help your dog be less anxious when visiting the vet's office. First, let's look at why your pets are anxious there, so that we can better figure out how to alleviate that anxiety.

Most animals become anxious at the vet's office for very obvious reasons. They are there because they don't feel well. Even we behave more anxiously when we don't feel well. But even if your pet feels well, they may still be anxious from the moment they enter the vet hospital door because many vet hospitals smell to them like other anxious pets and anxious owners!  So what can veterinarians do to alleviate this? They can make their hospitals more inviting and less sterile in appearance. That helps the humans behave less anxiously. They can use DAP (Dog Appeasing Pheromones) and Feliway plug ins, as well as soothing area sprays to reduce anxiety in both their canine and feline patients, and their owners. Scheduling appointments so that the waiting room isn't over-crowded also helps diminish stress, as does moving clients and their pets into and out of exam rooms efficiently.

But what can you, the pet parent, do to reduce your pet's anxiety? First off, visit your vet's office often so that it isn't a strange, scary place for them. My vet suggests visiting her office between 12 and 2 p.m. when they don't schedule regular appointments. That way, anxious pets can visit the waiting room, exam room, etc. without worry of interfering with the flow of regular patients in her practice. Work with your pet first in the parking lot, and then work with them as you move toward the vet hospital, and finally move indoors. Reinforce calm behaviors, encourage sniffing, use treats if you can as well to reinforce behaviors you like such as not pulling on the leash, not barking or whining, etc. Many animals will perform self-soothing techniques as well such as yawning, scratching, and shaking it off. These are all good things and give you indicators of how your pet is feeling. The one thing you don't want to do is to tell your anxious pet that it is okay when they are feeling anxious; this just reinforces their anxiety. Instead, wait for calm behaviors and reward those.

If your pet is aggressive at the vet's office, either toward other animals or toward the veterinary staff, don't hold back that information. Let people know what you are dealing with so that everyone working with you and your pet stay safe. It might mean bringing your animal to the vet in a crate, teaching them to wear a humane muzzle, etc. There is a terrific new handling technique that may help as well to soothe and calm your dog. If you'd like more information, please just ask!

In the meantime, let me know how your pet is at the vet's office. While I think it would be great if they loved going there, I think it is perfectly fine to set a more reasonable goal of having them tolerate their visits there without fear or unnecessary discomfort.