Pet Articles: Lifestyle

Tips for Taking Your Pet to Holiday Gatherings

Over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s, mom’s, brother’s, best friend’s house we go — with our four-legged family members at our sides. The last thing pet parents want to do is leave their dogs or cats alone for the holidays, and more than ever, pets are joining their humans as plus ones.

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dog being decorated with Christmas decorations by family

Here are some tips to keep in mind if you plan to take your cat or dog to seasonal celebrations:

Ask Permission to Bring Your Pet

Never assume your friends and family are pet lovers, and even if they are, they still may not want your dog or cat in their home for the holidays. Always ask your host if it’s okay to bring your four-legged family member, and check if other guests attending have pet allergies or are bringing their own dog or cat. Know your host’s expectations before you arrive. Does your pet have full run of the house or are they only allowed in the garage or yard? Do you need to have them crated or leashed?

Practice Good Behavior Skills

Being a welcomed guest directly relates to good behavior. Even the most obedient cat or dog can be triggered by the stress of traveling to a new place and meeting new people. Be sure your pet, especially your dog, is well-versed in the basics: Come, Sit, Stay and Heel.

Ideally, your pet should be able to handle new situations calmly and not overreact to environmental changes. If you have a pet who’s sensitive to crowds or loud noises, try to socialize them to those situations before you take them to holiday gatherings.

Distracting dogs and cats with favorite toys is a great way to calm their barking or meowing. Treat toys work especially well because they’ll keep your pet busy with the promise of a tasty reward. Remember, dogs love and need to walk. A tired dog is usually a well-behaved one, so exercise your dog by walking him before and during your visit to use up some of his energy. Cats need playtime too, so engage your feline in some rousing activity before you leave the house.

Pack the Essentials

Pack your pet’s travel bowls, favorite treats, food and toys. Even if you’re not staying overnight, bring your cat or dog’s bedding or blanket. This will provide pets with familiar smells they’ll recognize. You may even want to pack your own gate if your pet will be sequestered in safe areas of your host’s home. Or, you can bring a portable, folding dog crate with adjustable handles that makes it easy to pack and carry.

No matter how short the drive, be sure you have the right pet carrier or harness for traveling with a cat or dog. For more info on keeping pets safe in cars, check out this article for cat safety or this article for dog safety.

Holiday Visit Quick Tips

1. Be sure your dog or cat has all their vaccinations, worm and flea treatments up to date.
2. Be sure your pet gets along with other people and four-legged travelers.
3. Get the local veterinarian’s number and after-hours emergency numbers.

Plan for Travel Stops

Depending on how far you need to travel, plan for stops along the way. Whether it’s two or four legs, stopping to stretch them is a good idea for you and your pet. And, if the drive to grandma’s house takes you through colder weather, you may want to dress your dog or cat in a holiday sweater. Ugly or cute, pet sweaters aren’t just great for Instagram pics, they can help keep your best buddy warm. You can also help protect paws from snow and salt with pet booties.

Follow the Host’s House Rules

Once you arrive, ask your host which areas of their home are pet-friendly and which are off limits. Finding a quiet space or room where distressed pets can retreat is helpful during a bustling, loud gathering. A room where you can play soft music or a TV show quietly in the background may help calm a stressed dog or cat. Acquaint your pet with these areas before you bring your best buddy there to chill.

It's also a good idea to check your host’s home for common hazards in case your dog or cat gets loose. Look for toxic plants and holiday food baskets within easy reach on counters or under the tree. Beware of lit candles and, if there’s a working fireplace, see that the gate is secured to keep pets out.

Watch your dog or cat around choking hazards like tiny holiday lights and shiny tinsel. Though you’ll be catching up on conversation and possibly helping in the kitchen, be aware of your pet’s whereabouts. You may want to ask someone to keep tabs on your dog or cat while you’re busy, or consider having your pet leashed by your side.

Although holiday gatherings may throw off your everyday schedule, try to keep your pet’s walks and meals close to the time you’d normally do them at home.

Keep Pets Away From Food and Drinks

If your pets are welcome near the holiday table, even if it’s just the kiddy one, discourage begging. Loved ones may want to “reward” your pet with a special treat, but human food is off limits, especially the bones and fatty skin from turkey or chicken. Dispose of bones securely so your cat or dog doesn’t sniff them out. It’s okay for guests to give a small amount of plain, cooked white meat to your pet as a holiday treat, but have them do it away from the table.

Seasonal celebrations often involve adult beverages, so keep curious pets away from all cocktails. Dogs may love the smell of beer, but the hops, like many ingredients in human foods, are toxic to their systems.

Above all, no matter where or with whom you spend the holidays, we hope sharing this special time with loved ones, including your cat or dog, becomes a cherished holiday tradition.