Gassy dogs and barfing cats: how to reduce your pets’ stress during the holidays

My first hint of a problem was the disappearance of Tucker, my Velcro dog, who is rarely out of sight.

An absence of Tucker means a presence of trouble, and it didn’t take me long to find him at the top of the stairs, licking the carpet. He’s a mooch of a pooch, who will eat anything that even slightly resembles food including bird seed and cat poo, so I knew he must have discovered something tasty–but what could a dog find up there?

It couldn’t have been good, so I shooed him away. Elsa Clair sat nearby, quietly cleaning herself. That’s when I saw what was left of cat vomit.

Tucker smiled and waltzed over to give me a big sloppy doggy kiss.

Tucker from Life with Dogs and Cats on stairs

Did someone say, “food?”

I stood up quickly to avoid the encounter and called for reinforcements.

With my son corralling the troops–so nobody else could partake of the barf buffet–and my husband grabbing the Anti Icky Poo and a few of our handy machine washable “dog cloths,” the mess was disposed of quickly.

When do you call the vet?

Now the hard part. Is Elsa Clair sick? This was not the first time she had thrown up. The previous night she had vomited in the hammock part of the mini cat tree in my office. (That was a fun clean-up!)  Do I need to call the vet?

Elsa Clair enjoys the sun on her hammock.

Elsa Clair in a peaceful moment. Imagine trying to clean cat vomit off of that.

As luck would have it, I was scheduled to talk with Dr. Laura Pletz, a veterinarian with Royal Canin, about pets’ gastrointestinal issues–a common occurrence around the holidays and other disruptive events.

The first thing she told me was that only my veterinarian could make an accurate diagnosis, and in person of course. (Wise advice, dear readers. Please see your vet if your pet is sick.)

But the question I had for her was when to call the vet; how many pukes warrants a phone call or a visit? Was there a magic number?

It depends on the animal, according to Dr. Pletz. “Know your pet,” she said. “Cats are going to vomit every once in a while.” Same with dogs. It’s important to watch your cat or dog and look for personality changes. Is your normally outgoing cat hiding? Your typically hungry dog not eating?

It’s also good to have a “proactive discussion with your vet,” said Dr. Pletz. “I never minded if people called to ask me a question. That’s part of a good relationship with your vet.”

Making adjustments for Elsa Clair

I changed her food routine a bit, though, just to give Elsa Clair’s digestive system a break. She tends to snarf her food, finishing her meal way ahead of the other kitties. She is particularly intense when I add a “sauce” of Honest Kitchen poured over top of the cats’ dinner. I add it to their food to help mask the yucky taste of Dawn’s nightly medication.

Because both barfages took place in the evening, I wondered whether Elsa Clair increased her snarf speed at night due to the extra deliciousness of the food. Not only did I temporarily stop serving the special sauce, I added warm water to the cats’ meals, swishing it around in the empty food tins to give it flavor. And for Elsa Clair, I mushed up her food into the water so it took a little more effort–and time–for her to eat.

Athena, Calvin, Elsa Clair and Dawn eat dinner.

Notice whose bowl is empty.

Dr. Pletz said it may also be related to hairballs. “Even if you never see a hairball,” she said, “it could be mixed in.”

I had noticed the cats shedding a bit more recently. Time to ramp up the brushing.

Happy holidays, pass the gas

After we talked about Elsa Clair, Dr. Pletz and I discussed the increased chances of digestive issues for pets this time of year.

There are the obvious culprits: consuming new food when Grandma sneaks the pups something from the table, or a kitty helps herself to the cookies on the counter. (Yes, I saw you Athena!)

However, Dr. Pletz told me that stress is one of the main causes of diarrhea, particularly in dogs. And stress in pets is often traced to a change in routine or environment.

Think about what happens when all the family arrives for the Thanksgiving or Christmas . Fifi may be confined to the basement so she doesn’t knock over the young ‘uns and Mr. Mancat might spend the entire day hiding under the bed. You may even choose to board your pets to keep them out from under foot during the holidays.

The change in routine, people, and place can disturb your pets and lead to gastrointestinal issues, ranging from vomiting to diarrhea, to increased gas (though you may be able to blame that on Uncle Stu.)

Tucker, Lilah and Jasper wait for company.

Tucker, Lilah and Jasper wait for company.

Back to normal

Elsa Clair spent the next day being Elsa Clair. Zooming, climbing, pouncing, purring, running, napping.

Tucker got some extra attention when getting his teeth brushed.

 Elsa Clair on the stairs

Back to normal; crazy Elsa Clair on the stairs

And there have been no additional puke piles, much to Tucker’s grief.

As for the holidays, here are some tips to help reduce stress for your pets, provided by Dr. Pletz.

How to Reduce Stress for Your Dog or Cat During the Holidays

To help reduce your pets ‘stress during the holidays–and other times of disruption–here are some helpful tips from Dr. Pletz.

  • Maintain routine as much as possible. Feed your dogs and cats in the same place and the same time with the same food as usual. If you normally walk your dog every morning, continue to do so. If you play a nightly game of Chase the Mousie with your cat, find a way to squeeze that into your schedule.
  • Get your pets used to being fed elsewhere in your home, ahead of time if the place where you normally feed them won’t be accessible, such as during a party.
  • Send your dog for a couple of short stays at a kennel before you leave her for two weeks while you visit the homestead in Oklahoma for your holiday gathering. This will help your pet get used to the environment and know what to expect.
  • When entertaining, offer your dog or cat a safe space to retire to–or hide in–where guests are unlikely to go. Place food, water and litter boxes in areas that cats can access without encountering strangers along the way.
  • Get your pets acclimated to new people in their space–before you host a large gathering. Have a few people over every once in a while, so your animal family members can learn to deal with a people invasion.
  • Manage the environment during a party, giving guests specific places to put trash, half-empty cups, unfinished plates of food that are not easily accessible to sneaky cats and nosey dogs.
  • If your dog or cat does get sick, pay close attention to their behavior, and don’t be afraid to call your veterinarian--even on the holidays. She will have a way to deal with emergencies, either by being on-call, or having an emergency vet as back up.

4 Comments on "Gassy dogs and barfing cats: how to reduce your pets’ stress during the holidays"

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  1. Those are some great pointers. We have company this week (adding 2 dogs to the mix) and the visiting dogs have had some gut issues. It is a lot of change for them but we will watch them.

    Merry Christmas!

  2. We think stress from Mom being gone to hospital might have contributed to my being susceptible to conjunctivitis. Our holiday stress is kept to a minimum cuz our humans seldome leave us for more than 4 hours and we don’t have tons of people to entertain.

  3. Sandy says:

    I love the picture of Elsa Clair on the stairs

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