How to get your pandemic pet ready for visitors this Christmas

During lockdown, some people got themselves sourdough starters or grew their loungewear collections.

Others grew their families, joining the 3.2 million households in the UK that got themselves a pandemic pet.

This moniker applies to animals acquired during the height of Covid, many of whom share similar traits due to their unusual puppy or kittenhood.

Emma Sword for Blue Cross tells Metro.co.uk: ‘Due to the restrictions imposed at the time, they missed out on a variety of experiences and situations during a really important time in their development.

‘This “sensitive” period during the early weeks is when young animals are most receptive to learning about the world in which they live in.’

It’s important for pets – dogs in particular – to be exposed to a range of different environments and situations, and to be around different people and fellow furry friends.

‘Pandemic pets of course, missed out on this important socialisation period,’ says Emma. ‘And unfortunately anything new introduced after this time is often viewed by the pet as scary.’

Lockdown periods also meant a lack of visitors and a lack of ‘normality’ for our new cats and dogs to get used to. This makes Christmas, with all its hustle and bustle, something of a sensory overload.

Whether you’re hosting or taking your pet with you for the festive season, you’ll want to ensure your pet is as comfortable as possible, alongside avoiding any bad behaviour as a result of stressed.

According to Blue Cross, subtle signs a dog may be stressed include:

  • Panting
  • Pacing
  • Dilated pupils or red around their eyes
  • Yawning
  • Licking their lips
  • Ears pinned back
  • Whites of their eyes showing

More obvious signs include:

  • Lack of appetite
  • Backing away
  • Tail tucked between their legs
  • Cowering
  • Diarrhoea or increased bowel movements
  • Trembling/shivering

Cats are a bit more difficult to read, with Emma saying their signs encompass behaviour and body language changes and changes to their habits and observable health.

Look out for these signals of stress in a cat:

  • Avoiding situations or people more than usual eg not wanting to interact with you anymore
  • Toileting or spraying inside the house
  • Hiding away for long periods of time
  • Irritability or agitation
  • Aggressive behaviour
  • Over grooming
  • Increased vocalisation
  • Staying inside and not going outside
  • Scratching furniture
  • Tense, hunched up body
  • Dilated pupils
  • Flattened ears
  • Lip licking or swallowing
  • Skin twitching/rippling
  • Urinary tract issues/cystitis
  • Diarrhoea
  • Skin issues
  • Digestive problems
  • Loss of appetite
  • General decline in physical conditions

As you know your pet best, you’ll be able to tell if they’re showing anxiety or pain. If it’s the latter, contact your vet.

Otherwise, the key to helping nervous cats or dogs is patience.

Emma says: ‘For all nervous pets, it’s important to allow them to hide away if they want to, never force them to interact with people they don’t know if it’s clear they would prefer to stay away.

‘Never to be tempted to let people stroke or pick at a nervous pet, as this will make them feel more scared – always give them the option to leave.’

It may be best to pre-warn guests about issues so they can arrive without fuss. Emma recommends encouraging people to ignore them in the first instance, then let the pet approach in their own time if and when they’re ready.

When it comes to shy dogs and visitors, Blue Cross advises avoiding strong eye contact, avoiding stroking until the dog seems comfortable and relaxed, and taking regular breaks to allow your dog to move away if they want to.

You may be keen to use food to encourage your pet to be sociable, but this is best avoided.

‘Their interest in food may lead them into a situation they didn’t want to be in,’ says Emma. ‘When the food is gone, they may suddenly panic.’

If in any doubt over the safety of your guests and your pet, though, you should seek professional help and keep the dog or cat separate from visitors in the meantime.

Emma adds: ‘For pets who are particularly worried, anxious and for those who have displayed aggressive behaviour (which is usually because they are very worried), it is best to seek the support of a behaviourist.

‘Contact your vet who should direct you to an Animal Behaviour and Training Council recognised professional. Blue Cross also has a behaviour team who your vet can refer you to.’

And always, always keep them away from the chocolates.

This Christmas national pet charity Blue Cross has never been needed more to help sick, injured and homeless pets at its animal hospitals and rehoming centres. Make a donation here.

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