The festive period is a time to express gratitude, bond and make memories with your loved ones. For pet owners, furry friends unquestionably qualify as a loved one – 95% of dog owners and 93% of cat owners agree that owning their pet makes them happy, according to veterinary charity PDSA’s recent report. With this year having been a particularly tough one for all, involving your pets in traditional Christmas activities is a fantastic way to strengthen your connection with them.
Why should we consider our pets’ wellbeing at Christmas?
This year’s pandemic kickstarted a new wave of first-time pet owners, who will be celebrating Christmas with their latest family additions. Whilst Christmas is a welcome break from the usual routine for us, this can have the opposite effect on our pets, making it a stressful time for cats and dogs. When pets act up at Christmas, it could be a sign that they are feeling anxious or scared, even though new owners may attribute their disruptiveness to simple bad behaviour.
The RSPCA have already expressed their fears of a rise in pet abandonment, which calls for a reiteration of how to smoothly integrate pets into family activities this Christmas, while keeping them calm and content.
One of the UK’s best and most loved groomers, Laura Campanella, who is Styling Director and Head Teacher at GroomArts, is passionate about educating new owners on how to look after their pets’ needs and why this is more important than ever before. Here she shares her advice on how to safely integrate your pets into this year’s festivities – by addressing anxious behaviours early so you can do the right things to make your pet feel happy and comfortable.
Laura comments on the importance of making pets feel included in Christmas festivities: “Sometimes dogs can be nervous at Christmas time because it’s a period where routines tend to change. Pets are part of the family so it is important to include them in the festivities so they won’t be sad. Every year when Christmas is coming and we buy gifts for ourselves, we like to buy something similar for our pets. It can be a special Christmas biscuit, a Christms toy or any special gadget. When our dog is happy the owner feels happy too!”
Laura has drawn on her expertise in animal behaviour and grooming to put together a list of effective ways to include your pet in your family Christmas fun that are safe and reliable.
Include them in your meal-time
Christmas Day is famous for indulging in a big meal with your friends and family accompanied by sweet treats and festive recipes. Use this as an opportunity to treat your pet with a luxurious meal so they can take part in the festive magic along with the whole family. However, beware that certain festive foods can be dangerous for pets to consume, such as chocolate and currants, which are toxic for pets, and turkey bones, which can splinter whilst being chewed, risking damage to your pet’s throat or stomach. By being clued up on what foods are safe to feed your pets, you can ensure their overall health and mood remains positive this Christmas.
Additionally, it may help to create a space for your pet to escape to for some peace and quiet if they get too over-excited at the table – lots of new people combined with strange decorations can impact their typical levels of calm, so allowing them to have a break from this can help restore their composure.
Make a Christmas card together
Getting stuck into some arts and crafts is even more fun when you get your pet involved! Making a Christmas card with your pet is a great opportunity to bond with them and strengthen your connection as companions. Stick to using dog-safe materials – avoid glitter, toxic glue and permanent paints, and this activity will provide a simple way to include your pet in something festive. Laura Campanella has created a tutorial on how to safely create a Christmas card with your dog so you can both follow along in the video.
Commenting on this activity, Laura states: “Pets are part of the family, so of course when we create a card to send to our loved ones it’s great to include our pets too. The other benefit is that you can have fun with your dog and build a stronger relationship with them.”
Treat them to some grooming
Over the festive season we all like to treat ourselves to a spot of grooming, and this applies to our pets too. Earlier this, Pets at Home announced that 316 of their grooming salons groomed more than 27,000 dogs in the week before Christmas, hitting a peak on Christmas Eve. This data highlights the importance that owners like to make sure their dogs are looking their best for the family photos. Additionally, this is particularly important during winter with it being muddier outside – a nice warm bath is a great way to clean their fur and keep it free from mats and knots, keeping the quality of their coat in immaculate condition.
Some breeds with very short hair may not need traditional brushing, and you can instead buy a grooming glove that gently removes loose hair. When to brush depends on the type of dog. Dogs with short, dense hair like a husky can generally be brushed fortnightly as opposed to long-haired dogs who will probably need to be brushed weekly to prevent the coat from becoming tangled.
Take them on a family stroll
Wrapping up in your best woolly gear and going for a long family walk is a wholesome Christmas activity for everyone to get involved in, including your pup. When most festivities involve relaxing and lounging around at home, allowing your pet (as well as yourself!) to get active and take in the outdoors is essential to maintaining your overall sense of wellbeing over the festive period. This could involve embarking on a tour of the best local Christmas decorations, exploring a nearby nature spot or going to your pet’s favourite play location.
Play dress up together
Mintel research reveals that 30% of millennial pet care purchasers say they like their pet to keep up with the latest trends (eg. clothes, grooming styles), which equates to an average of one in five (19%) buyers. The key things to consider when dressing up your pet is whether they can move properly, are able to communicate or and do not seem stressed (which they may express by licking their lips or panting). As well as this, be aware of any potential choking hazards and try not to leave them alone whilst in their costume.
Ultimately, when done safely this activity can be a fun and light-hearted experience for you and your pet. Laura has created a tutorial on how you can ensure this activity is carried out in the best way possible. Laura says, “If you think this activity will help you have fun with your pet then it is good to start doing this with them when they are young so it becomes natural for them. I have a fox terrier who I have just bought a Christmas jumper because it keeps him warm. When we go for a walk in the cold and I call him with the jumper in my hand he comes to me as if he’s excited to put it on as- he is more than comfortable with it.”
Have a photoshoot with them
Immortalise the special memories you are making by taking some adorable images of your pet integrating with the rest of the family. You can increase the chances of your pet being comfortable with this by making sure you avoid using a flash. Also, try and capture the authentic moments without forcing your animal into any unnatural positions. Tips for making sure these photos look as professional as possible include getting on their level, playing with different angles and using props.
Decorate the tree
This one’s for the cats! There are a few things to bear in mind when you decorate your tree so that it is a safe and fun experience for your pet. Setting up the tree a few days before decorating gives your cat a chance to familiarise themselves with it and investigate the new addition to your home. Gather together some cat-friendly ornaments and give your pet something to play with whilst you decorate the tree with your cat having fun by your side. Take note that tinsel poses a hazard for cats, with the risk of them chewing and choking on it. Other pretty decor options include paper or felt decorations, which are less tempting to kitties compared to the shiny stuff.
When attempting these activities with your pets, Laura added: “The younger your pets are the happier they will feel with being bought out of their comfort zone each year. This way, it will become natural for them and they will look forward to it as much as you will”.
For more advice and guidance on how to look after you pets and incorporate them into your life, take a look at these resources: