5 Tips Your Veterinarian Wants You To Know This Holiday Season

Christina Fernandez, DVM, DACVECC
By Christina Fernandez, DVM, DACVECC on Dec. 4, 2023
dog and cat sitting in front of christmas tree

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This time of year is especially busy as pet parents dash off to holiday events, host out-of-town guests, and fill their homes with holiday joy.

It’s also a time of year that can impact the health and happiness of our pets. I sat down with Dr. Benjamin Carter, Chief Medical Officer at Chewy Health, during our recent PetMD Facebook Live, to discuss considerations your vet wants you to know this holiday season.

1. Make Sure Gifts Match Personality

Everyone loves watching their dog or cat discover a new holiday treat or toy. But keep in mind that new gifts, especially from people unfamiliar with your pet’s personality, could be an issue.

If your dog notoriously chews through any plush toys given to him, stick to non-destructible gifts. Chew toys like Kong® or Nylabone® are great options for pups that like to put up a fight with their toys. Any toy given to your pet should be durable without the risk of falling apart.  

Additionally, if your pet has a food allergy, check any treats or flavored bones Santa left in their stocking. Even a small amount of their known allergen may trigger a reaction.

As you’re penning your pet’s holiday list, consider the size of your pet when selecting things like chew toys, bones, and other fun options. This can help prevent unintended issues such as swallowing toys whole or choking. For pups that have lots of energy and need a job to do, consider puzzle feeders to keep them engaged during the day. For senior pups, an orthopedic bed for their aging joints can be at the top of their list.

For cats, puzzlesinteractive toys, and ball chasers are great gifts. Be mindful of any toy with string (or long threads) to avoid accidental ingestion and a possible vet trip.

2. Prep for Travel Ahead of Time

The holidays usher in a lot of traveling, with pet parents opting to bring their animals along for the celebrations. As you prepare your dog or cat for the road ahead, the goal is to make the experience for them as smooth as possible.

If your travel requires your pet to be in a pet carrier, make sure they have a travel carrier that is appropriately sized to match their height and weight. As a rule of thumb, your pet should be able to stand up, sit down, and turn around comfortably in any crate or carrier. If you’re planning a long road trip or even a long stay outside the house, add clip-on food and water bowls (or water bottles), so they have everything available to them within the comfort of their carrier.

If your pet has a history of nausea (motion sickness in the car) or anxiety, chat with your veterinarian before your holiday travel. Your vet will be able to recommend over-the-counter supplements or medications that may help a pet feel better during the journey. Your vet may also recommend that you test the medication before hitting the road in case there are any side effects, so the sooner you schedule this chat with your vet, the better.

If your pet is new to car rides or even their carrier, practice before the actual trip may help. Short car trips around the neighborhood is a great dress-rehearsal before a long adventure ahead.

3. Keep Safe Spaces Top of Mind as Guests Visit

Pets don’t always love holiday visitors as much as we do, so it’s important you know how your dog or cat reacts to strangers. Knowing whether they’re shy or attention-seeking around new people will help you understand how they will act amid the holiday bustle. Just like we humans sometimes need a break from family in the house, so do pets.

Regardless of how much your dog or cat likes or dislikes visitors, it’s critical they have their own “safe space” away from the noise and commotion. This area should be somewhere away from loud areas of the home. Whether it’s a mudroom or your bedroom, make sure they have food and water accessible in case they prefer to camp out there for mealtimes. If you have a cat, add a litter box to this location so they have everything they need in one area. Just make sure whichever area you choose is climate-controlled and well-ventilated so your dog or cat is comfortable.

Some guests love to spoil the pet of the house, and they may be tempted to give them holiday food scraps as treats. Educate your family on the importance of not feeding from the table (yes, we know the dog’s eyes are too cute to resist), and how some holiday foods are toxic to dogs and cats. Instead, offer guests a list of safe foods for your dog or cat, and remind them to not overdo it on the treats.

If you notice that your pet struggles with potential anxiety during the holiday season—or whenever there is a change in routine—chat with your veterinarian about the next best steps. This might include behavioral modification and training, environmental modification, or even the addition of supplements or medications. It's also important to ensure your pet does not have any underlying medical conditions that could be contributing to the behavior changes. Sometimes, calming treats or supplements, along with some environmental changes, can help.

4. Treat Senior Pets With Care and Consideration

Senior pets are the best. We typically want to include them in all our holiday activities, but we have to be mindful that our aging friends are limited in what they can and cannot do in their golden years.

If you plan on traveling with your senior pet, comfort and ease must be a priority, since their agility is not what it once was. Pack an extra orthopedic bed for road trips to help pad their joints. Orthopedic beds can be added to your cat’s carrier or under your pup in the backseat. Additionally, make sure to travel with steps or a ramp so senior dogs don’t risk injuring themselves trying to hop in and out of the car.

Add more rest stops to your road trip so your pup has plenty of opportunities to relieve herself. As senior pets age, they can’t hold their bladder like they used to, and allowing them to move around outside the car helps to avoid stiffness from sitting too long.

Many senior pets begin taking more than one medication as they age, and with holidays often causing commotion, it’s easy to run out of their meds mid-holiday. Make sure to stock up on inventory ahead of time.

And while senior pets should be the toast of the holiday season, they may not tolerate change or company as easily as they once did. Be mindful of who is interacting with your aging pet, especially younger kids, and make sure to monitor those interactions.

Above all, provide them with a safe space tucked away from the noise, should they want some quiet time.

5. Update Your Emergency Veterinarian Information

Vet clinics across the country often update their hours during the holidays, so make sure you have the most up to date information regarding office hours.

While we hope to avoid emergencies, remember to get organized ahead of time. If you don’t already have an emergency or 24-hour vet contact in your area, ask your vet for a recommendation or do a search online to find one close to you. You can also educate yourself and your family about common holiday toxins that are visible this time of year, including winter plants that are toxic to dogs and cats.

If your pet is feeling under the weather or if you aren’t sure if their symptoms are cause for alarm, check out our free symptom checker tool to help determine next steps.

Additionally, Chewy’s Connect with a Vet telehealth service allows you to chat with a veterinary professional in real time should you need to reach a vet immediately.

If your dog or cat is on any routine medication, including flea/tick preventatives, a heartworm preventative, or special vet-authorized diets, make sure you have refills at least one to two weeks before the holidays begin. Even if you aren’t traveling, it’s easy to lose track of these staples. If you are traveling, keep a record of vaccinations on hand should you unexpectedly need to see a different vet, or your holiday plans change and you need to find pet accommodations.

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This time of year is full of joy and cheer, and with the proper organization ahead of the season, you can ensure your pet is set up for a relaxing and safe holiday.




My two cats are rude whenever guests come over. They dash under the bed and refuse to come out. Any tips to encourage them to be a little friendlier with guests around the holidays?

Cats tend to be most comfortable with what their familiar with, and may take time to adjust to new people, pets, or things in the home. You can help your pet by introducing them to a new person in a calm quiet environment. Avoid loud noises and encourage your guest to move slowly, allowing your cat to explore the new person and not the other way around.

Encourage your guest to sit calmly and let the cat come to them, discourage picking up your cat or petting your cat at first. These things come with time. If your cat is motivated by food consider allowing a few treats, or if they enjoy swatting at a toy let your guest lead the way. 

Learn more about how to keep pets safe this holiday season by visiting our pet holiday corner for additional education. 

Featured Image: vgajic/E+ via Getty Images

Christina Fernandez, DVM, DACVECC


Christina Fernandez, DVM, DACVECC

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