Holiday Pet Visits

Are pet holiday visits in your travel plans? Family gatherings are a big part of the holidays, and pets double the fun—and the stress. Cats hate strange environments, so a pet sitter is the best choice for kitty. But dogs love new places, and you’ll save boarding cost by taking him along for the ride. Besides, pets are part of the family, so we want to share our furry loves with relatives.

But when your King meets Grandma’s Sheba for the first time, how do you keep the fur from flying? How would you like a stranger sleeping in your bed, eating from your plate, or (ahem) using your toilet? Pet introductions can take days, weeks, or sometimes months to be successful, so don’t expect overnight miracles. Follow these 10 tips to keep the pets happy and safe, and stay on speaking terms with your relatives.

  1. The Resident Pet “owns” the house and yard. Therefore, give him continued access to his territory.
  2. Confine the Guest Pet in one room. Provide familiar bowls, beds, litter pans, and toys in the room where the owner sleeps. The owner scent helps keep the Guest Pet calm even when he’s alone, and confinement provides a familiar home base where he’s safe from the Resident Pet. Confining him behind a closed door also tells the Resident Pet that only part of her territory has been invaded.
  3. Create good associations. Feed the pets on opposite sides of the closed door, or offer favorite toys or games. This helps each identify the other pet’s presence with “good stuff” and helps relieve tension.
  4. Use baby gates. The see-through barrier allows the Guest Pet to be part of the gathering without trespassing on the Resident Pet’s turf. A baby gate also gives curious, friendly pets (especially dogs) a safe way to meet. Moveable baby gates can divide a hallway or stairs to segregate whole sections of the house when necessary.
  5. Leash the guest dog. This keeps him under control around the resident pet. That’s especially important with a resident cat.
  6. “Potty” dogs separately. Distract the Resident Dog with treats or a game out of sight when the Guest Dog must leave his room.
  7. Supervise yard interactions. Once dogs experience friendly meetings through the door for a couple of days (no growls, or elevated fur—whines are okay), a nose-to-nose play meeting is possible. Be sure each dog’s owner is present.
  8. Leash both dogs. Bring the Resident Dog out first because he “owns” the yard. Remove any toys, bones or other resources they might argue over.
  9. Walk the leashed dogs parallel to each other on opposite sides of the yard, back and forth, slowly bringing them closer. Stop if you see tucked tail, growls, or fluffed fur—they aren’t ready to play. Play bows (“elevator butt” posture) buy the dogs a 5-10 minute off-leash game before separating them. Play time can be extended if they do well.
  10. Don’t force interactions. When an adult kitty visits, she’ll be happy to stay in the room and wait for your visits. A resident cat also may simply disappear to a safe place in the house to avoid contact with strangers (human or furred). Visiting kittens may be fearless–but also remember what potential “bugs” they may transmit before fully vaccinated so take care. Separation usually is best.

It’s hard to predict first meetings. You don’t love everyone you meet—(especially weird Cousin Cylene!) so why should your pets be any different? If pets will only be together a few days, aim for management or tolerance. There will be time enough over future visits for pet-to-pet love to blossom. You can find detailed tips in the book ComPETability: Solving Behavior Problems In Your Dog-Cat Household.

How have you managed visiting with pets–or visitors who bring pets? Had some success? What worked–and what didn’t work? Please share your experiences. Would you welcome them into your home again? Why/why not?

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Holiday Pet Visits — 2 Comments

  1. I don’t have any dog visit stories – yet – but I used to travel quite frequently with my cats to cat shows. Any time I was in the Quad Cities I would stay with my aunt who had cats of her own. My cats stayed in my bedroom away from hers.

    But there was a time when her big brute of a cat, Brady, was sniffing under the door just as I was about to exit the room. I struggled to keep him out and the much smaller Mewdy Blue in and failed! Mewdy Blue took out after Brady and trapped him under my aunt’s bed. I managed to grab Mewdy Blue before any contact ensued but poor Brady stayed under the bed for quite sometime.

    I still remember that event – the smaller cat chasing the big bully 🙂

    • Andrea, that’s a great story! And yes, cat show folks learn all the best tricks and tips for traveling with their feline beauties. Why am I not surprised that Mewdy Blue would get the upper “paw” with your aunt’s kitty? LOL!

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