Written by guess writer Johnna Devereaux, C.P.N., Clinical Pet Nutritionist, Director, Nutrition and Wellness
The holidays are a time for joy, family, togetherness and with that—it’s often a time for stress. If you are feeling stressed or anxious this holiday season, your pets most likely are, too!
Research shows that dogs’ stress levels are greatly influenced by their owners. This can be a problem because stress in dogs can often lead to destructive behaviors, such as chewing, and high stress levels in dogs can negatively impact their immune system and overall health. In fact, one of the most common signs of stress among dogs is destructive chewing. Chewing releases dopamine neurotransmitters, that actually help your pooch relax, which is why they often double down on chewing whatever is in close range when they feel something is askew.
The good news is that we can help our dogs manage the stress they may be feeling by taking the proper steps to alleviate our own stress! Because our dogs feel everything we do, we must be honest about taking care of ourselves as well as them.
Our best fur friends are our greatest ally and they can do wonders for our mental health. But they can also mirror our feelings in a way that can ultimately hurt them if we don’t take steps to minimize it. Take time out of your day this holiday season, especially if you are traveling, to focus on your pup without distractions, and you’ll be helping to manage their stress, as well as your own.
If you are one of the lucky ones that gets to travel with your pup this holiday season, it’s important to remember these simple recommendations to ensure everyone remains safe:
- Be prepared for your trip by packing the obvious things like your pup’s food and water—but don’t forget these other essentials: your pup’s vaccine records, a simple first aid kit and a current picture of your pet. Don’t forget poop bags either, besides being useful for their namesake they can also be used for clean up if your dog gets sick in the car.
- Always leash your pup before they exit the vehicle. This is especially important for safety in new surroundings as a dog may become skittish to new sounds or sights and act out of character and run off or worse, get hurt.
- As a general rule of thumb, every time you fill-up your gas tank you should take your pup for a brief walk around the parking lot to stretch their legs and relieve themselves, if needed. Aim for a short stretch at least once every three hours.
- If your pup has a nervous belly, ginger root may help calm an unsettled stomach and is best given just before departure.
- If you have forgotten your pet’s food or thought you’d be able to purchase some at your destination–only to find out they don’t carry your brand, simply buy a food with a similar ingredient list and also purchase some unsweetened, organic canned pumpkin. The fiber in the pumpkin may help avoid any digestive disturbances the new food may cause.
- If you are going on an extra-long car ride or staying in a hotel or new space, be sure to bring something they love from home. This could be their favorite blanket, bed, favorite toy or mixture of all three. Of course, if your dog is crate-trained, be sure to bring this as well!
It’s also important to remember that our furry friends are creatures of habit—so keeping their schedule as close to “normal”—will be hugely rewarding for both of you. Ways to do this include incorporating the following once you get to your destination:
- Get outside early (and often) for long walks, or if your pup loves to play—grab a ball and go play fetch! Leave your phone at home or turn it to “silent” so you can be attentive and present with your pup while you walk and play.
- Work on training or tricks. If you’ve been practicing the basics (sit, stay, and heel, etc) or working on some really cool tricks with your pup—continue to do this work, regardless of where you are. The mental stimulation will not only engage your pup, but it will help tire them when you get ready to socialize.
- Feed them at (or around) their usual meal schedule. Be sure to bring a few tasty high value treats or nutritious food toppers with you in case your pup needs a little extra enticement to eat in the new environment.
- Provide your dog with different types of toys and long-lasting chews to help them alleviate stress — and get that positive dopamine kick — in a healthy, non-destructive way by chewing on something appropriate.
If your pup is still feeling anxious, it’s likely that he or she won’t leave you to find a safe place to relax on their own. Turn off distractions, and find a calm space (wherever you are staying) where you and your bestie can snuggle together for some quality one-on-one downtime.
When all is said and done, the holidays are meant to be spent with the ones we love. Ensuring that everyone is comfortable (and happy) should be a priority. Take your time, enjoy the journey and have fun at your destination!