As the busy holiday season approaches, your stress level likely rises through the roof with all the cooking, cleaning, shopping, and entertaining needed to prepare for your celebrations. Your loyal furry companion will pick up on your stress and anxiety about the holiday season, and may become stressed themselves when faced with the chaos and commotion of a full house. Although this year’s gatherings will be smaller or perhaps non-existent because of COVID-19, any changes in household routine may stress out your pet, and the best way to manage their nerves is through advance preparation and planning. By learning the signs of fear, anxiety, and stress (FAS) in pets, you can quickly detect your own pet’s stress and take steps to mitigate their anxiety. 

What does fear, anxiety, and stress look like in pets?

Pets can display FAS in many ways, and the signs are often difficult to detect unless you know what to look for, especially in cats. Dogs who are stressed generally send more obvious signals, with outright aggression the simplest to identify. You should learn to quickly recognize your pet’s anxiety cues to prevent escalation to aggression. During the holidays or other potentially stressful events, keep a close eye out for the following FAS signs in your pet:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Flattened ears
  • Tail tucked tight to the body
  • Furrowed brow
  • Crouched body position
  • Leaning away from threat
  • Increased respiratory rate
  • Raised hair along the spine and tail
  • Displaying the whites of the eye
  • Licking the lips
  • Trembling
  • Frozen in fear

During the holiday season, any number of these stress-induced signals from your pet are a cry for help. For example, a rowdy bunch of children won’t leave your poor cat alone, and keep toting them around your home, despite their frantic movements and panicked meows. Or, your dog is nervous when strange people keep bending down to pet them, which is threatening in the animal world, so they cower in the corner and display nervous body language. If your furry pal is not a social butterfly and prefers small family gatherings, ensure their comfort this holiday season.

How can I reduce my pet’s fear, anxiety, and stress during the holidays?

While you can anticipate certain stressful holiday events that can make your furry pal anxious, you may run into issues outside your control. To keep your four-legged friend calm and relaxed this holiday season, follow these tips:

  • Monitor your pet’s body language — You likely wish your pet could simply speak and tell you when they are nervous, not realizing they often do—without words. Be on the lookout for any clues that your pet may be uncomfortable, despite a seemingly benign situation.
  • Be your pet’s advocate — If you recognize a situation that your pet does not appreciate, tell your guests to leave them alone. Be your pet’s voice and advocate for their mental well-being. Do not let small children tug and prod, and especially do not let them sit on your pet. Tell guests not to chase your pet for any reason, but to let them come to the guest on their terms. 
  • Create a safe haven — Sometimes, though, all the hubbub is too much, and removing your pet from the situation makes for a happier cat or dog. Rather than leaving your pet in a chaotic, cacophonous celebration, create a special spot only for them in a back bedroom that is off-limits to guests. Put a cozy bed in the room, diffuse species-specific calming pheromones, play soothing music to drown out the noise, and distract your pet with a long-lasting, delicious treat. 

Why is low-stress veterinary care important for my pet?

Since situations in familiar surroundings can create stress and anxiety in your pet, it’s no surprise that veterinary visits can do the same. Here at Southwest Vet, we take extra time to evaluate pets for subtle FAS signals, and take steps to alleviate their discomfort. We understand how stressful veterinary visits can be for pets—and their owners—and we wanted to change that, to ensure more pets receive quality veterinary care. So, we embraced the low-stress initiative, which focuses on reading our patients’ body language, and reacting appropriately, by trying a different restraint method, a novel treat, or using sedation. We pride ourselves on being in-tune with your pet’s mental state by closely following the FAS scorecard and spectrum to determine your pet’s comfort while under our care. Our goal is to always achieve the lowest number possible on the FAS spectrum by trying new ways to soothe your pet during their visit. 

Learn more about the low-stress veterinary care Southwest Vet provides by giving us a call to schedule your pet’s next appointment. You will see what a difference our focus on FAS can make in your furry companion’s life.