The holidays can be a stressful time for anyone, but when it comes to cats, this stress can be overwhelming. Whether it’s new decorations, changes in the home, or frequent visitors, there are multiple stressors for cats that show up throughout the holiday season. The good news is that there are lots of ways you can help reduce your cat’s stress levels, ensuring that the holidays are a joyous time for the entire family.
Top 10 Tips to Reduce Stress in Cats Over the Holidays
1. Safe Décor
There are a surprising number of dangerous items that enter our homes during the holidays. From tinsel and strings of lights to toxic plants, a curious cat can easily find themselves in harm’s way. It’s extremely important that you ensure the environment is safe for your cat throughout the holidays.
Avoid bringing any toxic plants into your home, including poinsettias and lilies. Keep lights and electrical cords out of reach, using bitter spray or other pet-safe deterrents to keep your cat away when needed. Avoid using string, tinsel, ribbon, and other items that your cat may consume or get tangled up in.
2. Secure the Tree
The Christmas tree is the holiday centerpiece in many homes, and for many cats, the presence of a tree in the home is absolutely irresistible. Many cats love to climb Christmas trees, steal ornaments, and chew on the branches. You should do everything in your power to keep your cat away from your tree, such as keeping it in a closed room or using a baby gate to keep them away.
It’s also important that you ensure that your Christmas tree is secure. If your cat does manage to get into the tree, they can easily be injured if they knock it down (not to mention anything else that gets caught in the crossfire!). The presence of the tree may also be a stressor for your cat in and of itself, simply due to it being such a big change out of your home’s normal environment. If this is the case, keeping the tree out of your cat’s favorite areas will help reduce stress.
3. Allow for Proper Introductions
If you’re expecting visitors over the holidays, whether it’s because you’re hosting the family holiday celebration or you have a pet sitter coming to watch your cat while you’re away, new people can be a major source of stress for cats. Proper introductions with all visitors are a necessary part of reducing your cat’s stress during the holidays.
Ask guests to enter the home quietly and calmly, and think about keeping part of the house off-limits to guests so your cat has a safe area to retire to. Your cat should be provided with plenty of space if they want it, but guests may be encouraged to quietly approach your cat with a treat or favorite toy. In some cases, it may simply take time with having the guest in the home for your cat to adjust. No matter what, avoid letting visiting children and pets chase or harass your cat.
4. Create a Safe Space
Having a safe, quiet space to spend time is important for your cat no matter what, but during the added stress of the holiday season, it’s especially important. Ensure your cat has a place in your home that is specifically made for them. This location should be away from the hustle and bustle of the home and provide your cat with the ability to come and go from the area as they please.
Ideally, your cat’s safe space should also be out of reach of visitors and other pets. Cat doors, baby gates, and door props are all effective ways to provide your cat with access to an area without allowing everyone else free access. Make the safe place comfortable for your cat by adding their favorite bedding and maybe some toys or even some of your clothes that have your scent on them.
Locking your cat in a room to keep them out of the way might seem like a good idea, but if it’s a room they don’t usually spend time in, or they feel trapped, this can end up adding stress, rather than removing it. If you do need to lock them away, make sure it is only for a short time, and provide them with plenty of familiar blankets and beds.
5. Make Use of Gifts
With people coming and going from your home throughout the holidays, you’re sure to have lots of gifts going in and out as well. Pets are often overlooked in gift-giving, though. Encourage guests to bring gifts for your cat, whether they’re new toys or pre-approved treats that you know your cat likes.
Of course, there’s something cats often enjoy even more than gifts: the boxes and wrapping paper they came in! Many cats find the crinkling sound of paper irresistible, and nothing says ‘cat bed’ like a comfy cardboard box. You can even encourage them to play by turning larger boxes into games. Just make sure you remove any ribbons or strings if you’re going to let your cat play with gift wrap, and also remove cellophane – it tends to become soggy and sticky if wet.
6. Give Them Your Time
If your cat is stressed, they’re likely feeling unsure and unsafe. Make sure you don’t neglect to spend time with your cat during this stressful season. Set aside time every day to spend with your cat, whether it’s for play or quiet time spent together.
By simply being together and focusing only on each other in a comfortable setting, your cat will likely begin feeling less stressed immediately. If you maintain a routine of spending this time together, it may help keep your cat’s stress levels at a minimum throughout the season.
7. Provide Enriching Activities
Exercising both body and brain is important for keeping your cat healthy, even when you’re busy with the holidays. Offer interesting and fun toys and games to your cat, and you may even consider introducing novel toys that encourage play and exercise, like wand toys and electronic toys.
Puzzles and games are also great ways to reduce your cat’s stress and keep their brain active and engaged throughout the holiday season. Food puzzles are a wonderful way to get your cat thinking and moving while allowing them to receive an instant reward for their efforts. Enrichment activities can also be a good time for you to actively spend with your cat.
8. Use OTC Calming Products
There are many products on the market that are designed to help maintain calm in your home. Pheromone plug-ins and sprays are often considered the best over-the-counter options, but calming supplements and some cat-safe herbs can also help maintain a sense of calm and help reduce stress.
If you’re unsure of where to start when it comes to calming products, it’s best to talk to your vet about what they recommend. Give the products a trial run before the holidays start so you can get a good idea of the best products for your cat.
9. Talk to Your Vet
In some cases, the stress of the holidays may simply be too much for your cat, no matter how much effort you put into keeping them feeling calm and safe. If your cat seems excessively stressed or has begun showing inappropriate behaviors, like aggression, excessive hiding, or urinating or defecating outside of their litter box, then you may need to talk to your vet about calming options.
There’s a possibility that your cat may need prescription medications to help keep them calm throughout the holidays. If your cat is predisposed to anxiety or stress-related behavioral problems, you may need to talk to your vet before the holidays so you can work together to make a plan for your cat.
10. Stick to a Routine
The best way to help reduce your cat’s stress throughout the holidays is simply to stick to your normal routine as much as possible. During the holidays, the daily routine is likely to shift since many people are off work or out of school, traveling, or welcoming visitors. If you can find a sustainable routine that is similar to your normal routine and keep it going until things are back to normal after the holidays, then your cat is likely going to feel significantly less stressed.
Cats are creatures of habit, and changing everything about their daily routine can be extremely stressful, especially if they’re used to receiving food at a certain time or having the house to themselves throughout the day. It may take a couple of days, but you should work to find the best holiday routine to support your cat’s well-being.
The holidays can be stressful for us, and it’s easy to forget that they can be even more stressful for our cats. As creatures that find security in routine, the disruption, noise, and new people can result in some seriously frazzled felines, but this doesn’t have to be the case.
If you have a cat who is particularly sensitive to change, or if you are expecting this year to be a busy one, getting prepared early can save you a lot of worry later on. Start creating your cat’s safe zone, and use beds and calming products to turn it into a zen palace. Make sure your visitors are aware of your cat’s needs, whether that means including them in playtime, or asking them to give your cats plenty of space.
Try to stick to their routine as best you can, and by using our tips, we’re sure that you and your cat will make it through the holidays unscathed!
Featured Image Credit: Karolina Grabowska, Pexels