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Thanksgiving Stress-Free For Pets


Candid shot of mature man giving his Labradoodle a piece of cheese while sitting at the dining table with his family, having dinner.

Avoid giving table food to your pets, but for a special Thanksgiving treat, you can give some bites of turkey with the skin removed and no gravy, plain green beans or a bite of bread.


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Thanksgiving is a day to be thankful, indulge in delicious food, and gather with friends and family. But our pets may find the holiday stressful if they suddenly find themselves surrounded by a large group of unfamiliar people.

As owners prepare to give thanks, Dr. Lori Teller, a clinical professor at the Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, offers tips that owners should keep in mind to ensure their pets have a stress-free holiday.

Introducing Pets To New Guests

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The key thing to remember when introducing pets to new visitors is that pets should be allowed to meet people on their own terms.

“Some animals are very eager to meet guests and will willingly approach them, but owners may need to help calm an overly excited dog to keep it from jumping on someone, especially if it’s a small kid or a frailer guest,” Teller explained. “On the other hand, pets that are more cautious around people they don’t know will need to be approached slowly.”

One way owners can help their pets adjust to guests is by providing treats.

“An owner can give the guests some treats to share with the pet as encouragement, but if a pet does not want to interact with someone, it should never be forced,” Teller said. “Some pets may be happier with a special treat or new toy in a quieter part of the home where they can avoid the festivities.”

If owners choose to give their pets treats throughout the day, they should be careful to avoid common holiday foods that can make pets ill.

Foods that should not be fed to pets include anything containing onions, garlic, grapes, raisins, walnuts, chocolate, or xylitol, which is typically found in baked desserts and sugarless goods. Owners should avoid giving anything that is rich, seasoned, or alcoholic as well.

“In general, it is a good idea to avoid giving table food to your pet,” Teller said. “If you feel you must share something, a couple bites of turkey with the skin removed and no gravy, some plain green beans, or a bite of bread can be fine.”

Signs Of A Stressed Pet

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Pets that may not easily adjust to holiday crowds could exhibit various signs of stress.

“One of the biggest results of stress in a pet is trying to hide or leave the home, so beware of doors that are left open as people enter and exit,” Teller said. “Dogs may also show stress by trembling, licking their lips, yawning, or avoiding people and activities.”

If a pet is not feeling the holiday, it’s important for owners and guests to not overwhelm them with attention, as it can lead to negative reactions.

“There’s a chance that if guests persist in giving unwanted attention to pets, the dog may growl or bark, or the dog or cat may bite or scratch someone in an effort to remove a perceived threat,” Teller said.

Owners should also evaluate and address their pet’s stress level at multiple points during the festivities so that they may determine the best solution for soothing their anxious companion.

“Pets with higher stress levels may need to be placed in a quieter part of the house where they won’t have to interact with guests, and some pets may be happier staying elsewhere, such as a boarding facility or at a friend’s home,” Teller said. “If pets have mild stress during parties or social gatherings, owners can speak with their veterinarian about using a short-acting medication to alleviate the anxiety.”

Preparing Pets Ahead Of Time

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Even though Thanksgiving can be filled with prepping delicious food or relaxing with family and friends, owners should still take time to give thanks for their animal companions and ensure they don’t get left out of holiday fun.

“Taking a long walk before guests arrive can be a great way to tire your dog and minimize stress for both of you,” Teller said. “If your cat likes to chase a laser pointer or other toys, you can do that before guests arrive as well. During the event, you can give your pet a long-lasting treat or new toy to occupy their attention for a while.”

Familiarizing your pets with guests who may visit during the holidays before the big day can also help pets more easily adjust to the festivities.

“Having people visit your home on a regular basis, where your pet can be exposed to guests and get used to the sounds and smells that go along with entertaining, goes a long way to prepare your pet for a gathering,” Teller said.

With a little bit of preparation and attention, you and your pet can have a healthy, happy, and stress-free Thanksgiving surrounded by those you love.

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