Preparing Pets for a Visit From a Houseguest

Don't Let Your Dog Chew Your Houseguests to Pieces! (S.R.B. Photo)
Don't Let Your Dog Chew Your Guests Shoes to Pieces! (S.R.B. Photo)

Hosting a houseguest can be a wonderful experience for humans, but a visitor staying in the home is often a less-than-good experiences for pets like dogs, cats and birds.

Whether you have a German Shepherd, a Siamese, a Cockatoo or a portly potbellied pig, there’s one thing they all share in common – there’s a chance that your pet may not react well to a houseguest staying in the home. There’s also a chance that your pet could get injured, sick or lost during a friend or family member’s visit. So let’s go over some of the reasons why houseguests can cause problems for pet owners and how to remedy the issues that can arise when a houseguest is scheduled to arrive!

Why Do Some Pets Get Upset and Bent Out of Shape With the Arrival of Houseguests?

If there’s one thing that animals appreciate, it’s a living environment that’s void of change. All animals thrive in a home where feedings are scheduled, where walks occur at the same time each day, and where training commands and human-pet interactions remain predictable and safe.

Simply stated, most pets do not like change; animals do best with consistency. A houseguest and the departure from the animal’s normal schedule that occurs when a houseguest visits can turn a pet’s world upside down. This sudden inconsistency in feeding or walking times, combined with new interactions with new people can be extremely stressful for a dog, cat, bird or other pet who is accustomed to the same thing happening at the same time each day.

Change in the pet’s home life can be upsetting, and it tends to bring out any underlying insecurities and behavioral problems that a pet may have. This can lead to unpredictable behavior on the animal’s part, including acts of aggression, anxiety, a refusal to eat, destructive behaviors like chewing or barking, along with a regression in training skills like housebreaking. Just what every pet owner needs when there’s a visitor in the home!

Pet owners must also remember that pets do not understand that a houseguest’s visit is a temporary. For all your bird or dog knows, this new visitor could be staying forever! On a mental level, some dogs in particular do very poorly with houseguests due to their “pack animal” tendencies. New members in a dog pack always trigger social reorganization and upheaval – something that can be a very stressful time for dogs, who naturally live within a social hierarchy. Think of it like this: as a child, you know that mom and dad are in charge, they’re at the head of the “pack.” Now, imagine that the next day your brother is in charge, the leader of the pack. And the day after that, the neighbor from three houses down comes to live with you and now he’s in charge in the “alpha” role. This sudden shift and confusion about roles and hierarchy is confusing and unsettling, and it’s a large part of why dogs are so apt to get upset when their family’s home is “invaded” by a new houseguest.

How to Help a Dog, Cat, Bird or Other Pet Stay Mentally and Physically Healthy When a Houseguest Comes to Stay

There are several ways that pet owners can help their dogs, cats, birds and other animals feel safe and secure when there are visitors in the home.

Maintain Feeding Times – Feeding time is an important time of day for pets. And altering a pet’s feeding schedule can be very upsetting and stressful, triggering bouts of anxiety and insecurity, which can ultimately lead to problems like destructive behavior and even aggression. So while it may be difficult since outings are more common when there’s visitors in the home, pet owners should make every attempt to keep the animal’s feeding time the same.

Keep Your Normal Schedule for Walks and Bathroom Trips Outside – For dog owners, it’s important to keep a dog’s walking schedule or outdoor bathroom break schedule constant, even when a houseguest arrives. This will lessen the instance of accidents in the home and it will prevent the anxiety and stress that arises in a dog who is forced to “hold it” for hours.

Educate Your Houseguests About Animal Interactions – Your visitors must understand what types of interactions are appropriate for the pet, particularly when children are involved. Does your indoor cat try to run out the back door every time you open it? Your guests need to know this or your cat could end up lost. Some dogs get extremely excited and mouthy when playing tug, so if a visitor plays tug with a mouthy dog, he or she could get injured or the visitor could get frightened and act inappropriately in a moment of fear. Another common problem involves treats and foods. Guests must be informed about what foods and treats are acceptable and what is not acceptable for a pet. In short, familiarize houseguests with your dog’s habits, quirks and behaviors.

Keep the Houseguest’s Belongings Off-Limits to Pets – A normally docile dog may chew a houseguest’s shoe or find a toxic pack of sugarless gum inside a jacket pocket or purse. An upset cat may use the guest’s luggage as a litter box. These occurrences are not rare, so pet owners should take precautions to protect the houseguest’s belongings and the pet’s health. Keep guestroom doors closed, and keep coats, shoes and bags in the closet and off-limits.

Make Any Necessary Changes in the Home or in Scheduling Before the Houseguest Arrives – Will a guestroom be off limits during a visitor’s stay? If so, keep the door closed for a week or two before the guest arrives. Do you have day trips planned during your guest’s upcoming stay? If so, you may return home later in the day, causing you to miss your dog’s normal feeding time. So a week or two before the guest arrives, adjust the pet’s feeding schedule and start feeding your dog a bit later in the evening. Will your dog have to sleep in a crate when the houseguest arrives? Anticipate this and let the dog sleep in the crate for a period of time before the scheduled visit.

Pet owners should also take their guests needs into consideration when it comes to their pets. In particular, if a guest is allergic to your pets, you will need to provide a fur-free guestroom and you’ll want to recommend that your guest bring along some extra allergy medication.

The key to planning for a houseguest’s arrival involves planning ahead so that you can minimize schedule changes and upset in your pet’s life, while also educating guests about how to live with your pet.

The holidays are a common times for visits from houseguests and the holiday season brings its own unique set of dangers and cautions. Check out Holiday Decoration Hazards for Pets and Safety Tips for Pet Birds During the Holidays for advice on keeping pets safe during the holiday season.

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Mia Carter is a professional journalist and animal lover. Her furry family members include 6 dogs and 12 cats. She is also a feral cat colony caretaker. Carter specializes in pet training and special needs pet care. All of her animals have special needs such as paralysis, blindness, deafness and FIV, just to name a few. She also serves as a pet foster parent and she actively rehabilitates and rescues local strays and feral kittens.

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