And just like that, the holidays are upon us.
Lots of food, lots of commotion, lots of family and friends. And lots of interactions between your guests and their children, your pets, your food and your pet’s sense of real estate.
It’s an exciting time, but unknown folks are treading on your pet’s personal space, and you need to be on guard.
A Literal Animal House
Not all people share your love of pets — shocking, I know. You might think your friends and family feel exactly the way you do about the mound of cats sleeping on the bed or that parrot throwing food around the kitchen. This is not the case. It’s your job to prepare your guests for your pets.
Veterinarians have particularly special households. We tend to have a lot of critters. Saving pets from unnecessary euthanasia often means giving them sanctuary in my own home.
This open-door pet policy worked pretty well with my nuclear family. My husband was very understanding, and my twin boys enjoyed having lots of animal life in their house.
But how about when my harshest critic came to visit my menagerie? Mom visited because she wanted to be with her grandchildren, not necessarily her grand-pets. My pets numbered up to 10 cats, 2 to 3 dogs, several birds, chinchillas, guinea pigs, hamsters and any sick pets in my bedroom-turned-ICU for the holidays.
Mom wanted to have cereal with the boys, not with an Amazon pecking at her granola. Getting fed up with her criticism, I finally told her about my dear colleague who did not renovate her kitchen because she had hay on the floor and a pig in it. From that point on, my mother realized her own daughter’s house could be worse.
Table Manners for Pets and Guests
If you don’t have perfectly behaved pets, take the initiative and instruct your guests on how to live in a pet house. For a big party lasting a few hours, you might consider keeping your pets in a safe place away from guests. But house guests staying for several days is a different story.
Instruct your guests:
- Not to feed your pets without asking, even if they are very good beggars. Soulful eyes say “I always get food when I beg.” I get lots of emergency calls about pets that have been overfed by well-meaning visitors.
- Not to leave any food or medications within reach of sniffing noses and curious whiskers. Buffet-style eating may mean guests leave plates on end tables or even on floors. Warn them that a plate left alone is a plate licked clean. That dish of Christmas candy or fancy appetizers might look nice on the end table, but those surfaces are perfect pet cafeterias.
- Not to keep trash receptacles uncovered. Don’t let your guests “help” by taking trash out and leaving a plastic bag on the back porch. I get so many emergency calls over the holidays that “the dog got into the trash.”
Note to self: As you are taking coats and greeting your guests, beware that Mistress Piggums is already helping herself to the tray of homemade brownies Mrs. Goodneighbor placed on the sideboard. Beware of holiday well-wishers bearing food gifts.
Children and Your Pets
Never assume that a child and a pet are “fine,” even if they have spent time together. Holidays bring more commotion and less supervision. It’s best to talk to your sister-in-law upon arrival with her 3 children and discuss a plan for child-pet supervision.
If these delicate conversations can take place ahead of time, it can save hard feelings or resentments. Some people believe children’s needs always trump those of pets. If little Annabelle is afraid of Snoopy or if Tim the 2-year-old terror likes to play “rough” with your terrier, many parents believe the pets should be “put away” while the children are visiting.
While child safety is paramount, it may be very difficult or not to your liking to confine your pets for several days. Better make sure there’s room at the local Holiday Inn if you have a stand-off with your sister-in-law. To box up your pets or box up the children — which will it be?
Here are some more helpful tips for creating a successful Thanksgiving holiday for your pets:
A Pet’s Safe Place
Non-animal people and particularly children may not understand that a pet’s bed is their castle. Tell everyone not to bother a pet when they’re in their “lair.” Don’t let children play in the bed or crate at any time.
Unfortunately, some pets think the guest bed is their bed and may guard it. So keep guest rooms off limits to pets, if possible. Company might leave their medications where a pet can get them or have food in open suitcases. Your dog might recognize a shoe as “foreign” and chew it, or your cat might mark (urinate) on a strange pile of clothing. And if your guests are bothered by pet fur, have that Holiday Inn number handy.
Let’s face it: The holidays are stressful for you, your guests and your pets. Safety is the big message here. Many pitfalls can be avoided by being more mindful of common hazards, but accidents are going to happen.
I remember the year I couldn’t find the giblets for the gravy — they were already in my coonhound’s stomach. That same hound dog ate from a guest’s dinner plate on her lap while she was in animated conversation. Elvis had an iron stomach, and my friend laughed out loud at the missing roast beef. She understood — she had 2 Beagles at home.