Holidays, travel and fireworks – how to care for our pets

The holiday season is traditionally a joyous time, but it can be a very stressful one for our pets. Paul Jacobson gives some hints on how to handle the situations that can arise.

The festivities associated with the end-of-year holidays can be very traumatic for our companion animals. We the owners relax in sun-soaked destinations like Mauritius (if we can still afford to travel, of course) or visit holiday spots in South Africa, but many of our pets remain at home under the supervision of friends, neighbours or house-sitters, and many more are kennelled.

The owners of some lucky pets choose only to travel to places where their companions are welcome. These animals nevertheless have to endure what must seem like endless hours in the car – and it may be a very hot car indeed if there is no air conditioning.

This is also the season of fireworks and boisterous celebration. We party and entertain, filling our houses with strangers on some nights and returning home in the small hours on others, sometimes under the influence and behaving strangely.

All this unfamiliar activity can be very traumatic and stressful indeed for our sensitive animal companions. In many instances it can result in medical and psychological conditions such as depression, skin conditions, respiratory problems and digestive complications. At the very least there may be a lack of appetite, and if this continues for any length of time your pet may even become under-nourished, which will compromise his immunity and well-being.

Diet and natural remedies can have a major impact in helping an animal cope with the almost inevitable stress and anxiety associated with the festive season. At the same time, it’s extremely important to understand the psyche of our pets and to behave appropriately. Aim to create a calm and relaxed atmosphere, remembering that our animal companions are very sensitive, and in tune with our own feelings and emotions.


From a behavioural point of view, whether you are placing your pet in a kennel and saying goodbye, travelling with him, or exposing him to firecrackers or a houseful of strangers and unfamiliar noises, it is of the utmost importance that you remain calm and in control. A classic example of incorrect behaviour is the sort of thing so often seen during Guy Fawkes fireworks displays – we hover over our pets in sympathy and block their ears, while at the same time we scream and shout with excitement. A sensitive animal will read these signs and understand that we are anxious, and become even more frightened himself.

Why not enjoy yourself and celebrate the fireworks? When there’s a bang or a noise, laugh and relax. Have fun and show your pet that you are not scared or stressed.

This same principle applies to all the other activities that go together with summer holidays and end-of-year celebrations. Leave your dog at the kennels cheerfully, wave goodbye to the pet-sitter with a joke and a laugh, drive with the car windows open, chatting or singing, and give your pet some attention when you arrive home from that party!

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Diet has a major influence on how your pet will react to stressful situations. Food that is natural, wholesome and free from preservatives impacts positively on health, and also on behaviour. The processed pellets so many of us feed our cats and dogs are very high in carbohydrates and calories – in essence, they are very high in energy. We all know what happens to a child who tends to be ‘hyper’ when he is fed sugar and sweets. Well, exactly the same applies to our pets, who already have copious amounts of energy.

If you understand herbs, you will know that herbs such as mints, sages and lemon verbena are high in magnesium. Magnesium calms the nerves, soothes and relaxes, and induces sleep. These are valuable ways to help deal with stressful situations. If you are able to include these raw herbs in your pet’s diet you will certainly improve the way he copes with stress.

There are also some wonderful and effective natural homeopathic remedies on the market that promote calm and relaxation. Some are even specific, for example to help with situations such as travel, aggression, grief and pining. I highly recommend that you find out about these remedies and administer them when it’s appropriate.

So enjoy your holiday, but don’t forget that this can be a difficult and unpleasant time for your pet. Like children, companion animals are sensitive and emotional beings. The way you handle the various situations that arise will impact negatively or positively on their well-being. Be a responsible and caring owner, and remember that there are natural alternatives that can assist.

Wishing you and the animals in your life a merry and safe holiday season!

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