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How to Help our Senior Pets through the Busy Festive Period

help senior pets through festive period

Christmas is an exciting and busy time for many families, with Christmas events to enjoy and family and friends to visit. However, our senior pets do not understand why their routine changes at Christmas, which can be disorientating for some pets. Fortunately, you can make your pet feel more comfortable by making a few small changes to your festive plans, allowing you to help your senior pet through the festive period.

Maintain your pet’s routine over the festive period

The Christmas season is a busy time of year with Christmas parties to attend and visitors to entertain, making it harder to follow our pet’s normal routine. For elderly pets, even small changes to their daily routine can be distressing. We can prevent our senior pets from becoming unsettled by keeping their routines as normal as possible.

Steps to help keep your pet settled over Christmas:

  • Try not to leave your pet alone at home for longer than they are used to. A family member may be happy to look after your pet while you are out. If not, pet sitters can be used to check on your pet if you need to leave them. Elderly dogs may also need to be let outside to the toilet more frequently.
  • Keep feeding times regular. Elderly pets can become confused if their feeding times change so try to keep them at a consistent time. Regular feeding times may also be important if your pet is on any medication.
  • Make sure you have enough medication for your pet. Many senior pets are on long-term medications, so ensure you have enough to last throughout the Christmas period. There are several bank holidays over Christmas, so order medications in plenty of time to ensure you do not run out.

Enjoying time with visitors over Christmas

Many families enjoy having visitors to stay over Christmas. However, not all of our senior pets find visitors exciting, with some becoming distressed by busy households. Many cats prefer to hide away in a quiet spot instead of joining in, while some dogs may become anxious to find strangers in their house.

Christmas visits do not need to be cancelled, as there are several steps you can take to minimise the stress caused by visitors.

  • Provide your pet with their own safe space. This gives your pet the option to interact with visitors or to hide. Their safe space should be quiet and comfortable and include their bed, food and water bowls. Make sure your pet has access to this area, and do not let visitors disturb your pet while they are using their safe space.
  • Provide cats with easy-to-access litter trays. Cats might avoid using rooms that are busy and noisy, which may prevent them from using their litter tray. To avoid causing any distress to your pet, make sure they have access to a litter tray in a quiet location.
  • Use pheromones such as Adaptil for dogs or Feliway for cats. Pheromone diffusers can be used near your pet’s safe space over the Christmas season to help reassure your pet and keep them calm. To be effective, they should be started a couple of weeks before the Christmas period.
  • Avoid elderly pets having to negotiate stairs or high places. Many senior pets are not as mobile as they used to be. When considering a safe space for pets avoid stairs to enable them to access this space comfortably. Many cats prefer hiding up on high spaces, such as shelves or the top of cupboards, but always offer elderly cats an alternative hiding space that they can easily access.

Keep your pet’s diet consistent

It is normal to want to treat your pet over Christmas but try not to alter their diet by introducing new treats or food. Over Christmas, there is always an increased number of pets developing gastrointestinal issues (digestive upsets) due to being fed a new food or scavenging food scraps. So it’s best to stick to your pet’s familiar diet to prevent any illnesses.

Also, many senior pets are fed a veterinary-prescribed or specific diets, so it’s important they’re kept on their normal diet. However, if an elderly pet does become unwell over Christmas, it is important they receive prompt veterinary treatment because they may need more intensive treatment compared to younger pets.

Toxic foods are found more frequently around many households over Christmas.

These are the most common toxic foods to avoid:

  • Chocolate. Theobromine found in chocolate and cocoa powder is toxic to pets if eaten.
  • Grapes, raisins, and sultanas. These fruits can cause kidney issues if eaten. In some cases, even one raisin is enough to be toxic.
  • Xylitol. This sweetener is found in a wide range of foods, from cakes to chewing gum. It is highly toxic to dogs, so owners should check the ingredients of any new foods they buy and keep them out of reach of dogs.
  • Lilies. All parts of a lily are highly toxic to cats and can cause kidney issues if ingested.
  • Alcohol. Alcohol toxicity can be severe and cause seizures or collapse in affected pets.

There are many other toxic items found around our homes over Christmas, so if you are unsure if something is toxic for your pet speak to one of our vets for advice. If you think that your pet has eaten something toxic, seek veterinary advice.

Maintain exercise levels during Christmas

It can be difficult to maintain our pet’s normal exercise levels over Christmas with the cold weather and early dark nights. However, our senior dogs will usually benefit from regular gentle exercise to prevent them from becoming painful and stiff if they have arthritis and to maintain their weight levels.

How to keep senior dogs safe when out walking,

  • Avoid icy routes and colder times of the day when paths may be slippery.
  • Use a correctly fitting dog coat to help your dog stay warm in cold weather.
  • If you are expecting fireworks over New Year, avoid walking your dog when it starts to get dark in case they hear fireworks while out.
  • If you cannot get your dog out for their normal exercise, provide them with mental stimulation to help keep them occupied. Puzzle feeders and Kong toys filled with food are great ways to entertain your pet.

Christmas can be a confusing time for our senior pets but a few small changes to our plans to help keep our pet’s routine the same can make a big difference and allow everyone to enjoy Christmas. However, if you think that your pet is struggling over Christmas, our vets are happy to discuss any concerns with you.

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To ensure accuracy, a professional vet has reviewed and verified the information presented in this article. It is important to note that when it comes to making decisions about euthanasia for your pet, there are no easy answers. It is always recommended to seek advice from your own veterinarian before making any decisions.