Mix pets, holiday guests carefully

By Dr. Beth Leermakers

Holiday house guests are on the horizon. My parents are coming for Thanksgiving, and I’m already worried that my new dog Maisie — a 65-pound lab who’s long on affection and short on manners — will accidentally knock over my 77-year-old, 100-pound mother. Because I rarely have visitors, my dogs aren’t used to interacting with new people.

Try to maintain your pet’s routine during the holidays.
Photo courtesy of Pet Hospital of Jacksonville


Holiday festivities can be dangerous for your pets. Well-meaning guests may feed your dog or cat foods that are toxic. Young children — or even adults who aren’t paying attention — may allow your cat or dog to slip out the front door. Here are a few tips to keep your pets safe and happy when you have new (or just extra) people in your home:

Establish a safe space for your pet. Think of it as your cat or dog’s “time out” room — a place to escape from the people and activity. Put your pet in a spare room with everything she needs to be comfortable (food, water, bed, litter box, scratching post, toys), and ask your guests to stay out of that room. Or put your dog in a crate in a corner of the room, so he can watch the activity without having to interact with people. Many people think crating a dog is cruel, but when it’s done properly, crating helps dogs feel safe. Many dogs need to keep an eye on their environment (your whole house and yard), so they constantly monitor the activity. When your dog is in his crate, his environment is much smaller, so it’s easier for him to settle down and relax. Put a crate mat or bed, water and toys in the crate to make it a comfortable and fun place to lounge.  

Keep your dog on a leash when guests enter your house. This prevents your dog from jumping on/knocking over the newcomers or darting out the door as people arrive. 

Exercise your dog before your visitors arrive, especially if you have a high-energy pooch. A tired dog is a good dog. 

Maintain your pets’ routine as much as possible. Change is stressful for many cats and dogs, so follow the same feeding and exercise schedules as much as possible. If you have to change your cat’s environment—such as by moving her litter box out of the guest bathroom—plan ahead and give your cat time to adapt before new people arrive. 

Tell your visitors how to interact with your pets. If your cat or dog is particularly shy, teach your friends how to greet your pet. Let them know whether and where she likes to be petted. Ask (I really mean “tell” but “ask” sounds nicer) your friends to avoid making eye contact and let your cat come to them when she’s ready. Offering your pet a treat may help break the ice. Ask your friends not to feed your pet table scraps that may cause stomach aches, pancreatitis or worse. 

Monitor children closely. Do NOT allow children to sit or lie on your dog, even if she’s a 180-lb Great Dane. Don’t let the kids chase your dog or cat or pull his tail or ears. Those behaviors are NOT cute; they’re a recipe for disaster. Even the most tolerant, patient dog or cat may eventually snap and bite or scratch the child. If you can’t supervise every interaction between children and your pet, put your pets in their safe room and close the door.  

Keep your guests’ bedroom doors closed. They may have medications (e.g., Tylenol, antidepressants, ADD medication), sugar-free gum containing Xylitol, or other substances that are toxic to pets. 

By establishing a safe space for your pets and communicating with your loved ones, you can make their visit less stressful for everyone.                Happy Thanksgiving!