One of the most cherished traditions of the holiday season is sharing our homes with family and friends—including their four-legged family members. While our own abodes may be pet-friendly, they may not be ready to receive pet guests. With a few extra steps, both before and during the visit, your home will be perfect for that holiday visit.
The preparations begin before your guests pull into the driveway. Dr. Elizabeth Benson, founder of Paws into Grace, notes that this can be the perfect opportunity for a holiday welcome basket themed to your guest’s needs. “Prior to the visit, ask your guests what some of their pet’s favorite treats or toys are and prepare a gift basket,” says the San Diego-based veterinarian.
Dr. Benson, who often travels with her own pets (which include two cats, two dogs and a horse) and frequently hosts guests with pets, explains to be aware of potential dangers when picking items for the welcome basket. “For doggy guests, remember to avoid rawhides and bones, especially if not supervised, since these may present a choking hazard. Fill the basket with some favorite dog biscuits or indestructible toys, as well as information about local dog-friendly restaurants, parks, and hiking trails. Don’t forget eco-friendly poop bags and an extra dog bed.”
And while most guests don’t travel with cats, felines can also be made to feel welcome and safe in a new surrounding. “Traveling is often more stressful for cats,” says Dr. Benson. “Pheromone therapy products can help relax cats and make the transition of the holidays less stressful.” Regardless of species, you’ll put your guest’s mind to rest if you also provide the number of your local veterinarian and emergency veterinary hospital.
Helping your pet visitors feel right at home may also mean making plans to keep your pet houseguest in his or her own area with the use of baby gates. Benson recommends this for concerns that range from potential food aggression to safeguarding your best rug.
Guests and Their Pets: Pre-Planning
Along with your own arrangements, be sure your guest has made pet preparations as well. “Confirm with your guests that vaccination and deworming records are current,” says Dr. Benson. “All pets should be on a flea preventative before entering your household to avoid any unwanted guests that tagged along with the dog or cat house guest. If you live in an area with mosquitoes, your guest may want to discuss with their vet if a heartworm preventative should be started prior to arriving in your area. High-risk areas for heartworm include Florida and the Southeast where there is stagnant water and mosquitoes.”
Prevent Holiday Pet Hazards
The holidays also present extra pet dangers—from delicate ornaments to Christmas lights, which could both potentially be a chewing hazard. Dr. Benson recommends puppy proofing your home by hiding or removing all wires that a dog—perhaps even one out of that puppy stage—might chew when stressed by new surroundings. And, as you make those cooking and baking preparations, remember to keep foods toxic to pets well out of reach including chocolate, macadamia nuts, grapes/raisins, onions, garlic, raw bread dough and candy with the artificial sweetener, xylitol. Medications—both your own and your guest’s—must be kept out of reach at all times as well.
It’s Nice To Meet You…Slowly
Once your guests—both two- and four-legged—arrive, “it is important to gradually introduce pets,” emphasizes Benson. “A neutral territory such as a park is good to get pets used to each other outside the home. You may want to keep pets separated from one another completely if one of the pets has had any episodes of aggression with other dogs or cats in the past.” That baby gate will come in handy for gradual introductions as well.
Along with introducing the visiting pet to your own pets, it’s also crucial that the new arrival be introduced to children properly—and slowly. Dr. Benson emphasizes the importance of supervising those introductions and watching for pet discomfort. “Signs of fear or aggression such as the tail between the legs, ears pinned backwards or failure to make eye contact should be taken seriously. If these signs are noted or there is history of aggression, children should be instructed to avoid interaction with a pet. A child should only approach a dog or cat with permission and supervision from the owner. Face-to-face contact should always be avoided.”
Hosting holiday guests is a great way to share the joy of the season with all the members of your family. With some pre-visit preparations, you, your guests, your guests’ pets, and your pets can all enjoy a peaceful and safe holiday season in your home.
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