The holiday season brings fun and festivity, gatherings and gift-giving with family and friends. It’s a special time, and like everything else it’s more special when our animal friends participate. Holidays can be stressful, too, but with good attention and a bit of creativity, we can maximize the fun and minimize the stress for everyone. Include EVERYONE when you visit with family and friends.

When you dress them up in a fancy new collar, some dogs light up, just knowing something special is about to happen. Something as simple as a few ribbons wrapped around her old standby can help put your dog in the holiday spirit. It will also garner special attention for her from your human loved ones—and she’ll love knowing everyone can see how beautiful she is. Unless she’s truly a fashion maven, avoid elaborate costumes that may be uncomfortable or even dangerous.

Are you having company over in the coming weeks? If your dog helps host the party your guests will feel especially welcome. Let him help greet them at the door, or even escort them to the dining room when dinner’s ready. If you’re planning to visit friends across town, why not ask if your dog can come along? Often our hosts just don’t think to invite nonhuman family members, but may welcome the idea when you suggest it.

If she sometimes has trouble containing her exuberance, help her polish her manners by showing her which behaviors will put everyone at ease. Before the big day arrives ask a friends to help with a practice visit or two, and reward your companion when she sits politely at your side as you greet them at the door. Bring your dog’s most comfortable bed into the living room or dining area so he can relax close by and visit along with the rest of the family. Use the occasion to help visiting children learn to be polite to animals. Your companions shouldn’t be subjected to rough or unruly treatment, and will appreciate it if the noise level doesn’t get out of hand. Be sure to have a quiet space available, in a separate room if possible, where your dog, cat, or other animal friend can retreat when she’s had enough excitement. Ask guests not to disturb her when she’s in her quiet space.

Include I.D. tags as part of all your animals’ party attire. When people are coming and going and everyone’s a bit distracted, it’s easy for a small loved one to slip out the door unnoticed. Be ever watchful to avoid an incident—but take precautions just in case. Prevent—but prepare for—overindulgence. As careful as you are, sometimes the excitement and the disruption in routine can upset anyone’s nerves or digestive system. Do what you can to avoid trouble, but have some safe and easy remedies on hand should the need arise.

Avoid dramatic changes in the diet. If it’s been years since your dog has eaten anything but packaged food, keep unusual treats to a minimum. But if he’s accustomed to eating a variety of fresh, home-prepared foods, it’s wonderful to let him share some delicious holiday fare, as long as it’s not too rich, too sweet, too spicy—or just too much!

Be alert for signs of stress. Include animal family members as long as they’re enjoying themselves, but remember their tolerance for fun might be different from yours. If your dog seems overexcited or irritable, encourage him to retreat from the festivities in his bed or his quiet room.

If your animal friend does seem stressed, place a few drops of the flower essence Rescue Remedy on her gums if that’s comfortable for her; if not, place it anywhere on her body. A dose of the homeopathic remedy Aconite can also help relieve anxiety or fearfulness. If you know she’s a little sensitive, a bit of chamomile tea mixed into her meal before guests arrive or before you travel will help calm her nerves and her stomach. If your dog is very anxious, valerian tea or capsules will help. All of these natural medicines are available at most health food stores. [NOTE: Homeopathic remedies are safe for all species. Most herbs intended for human use are safe for dogs, but be sure to adjust dosage in proportion to body weight. Some herbs, however, are harmful for other species, including cats. Check with a veterinary practitioner to be sure.]

If you discover that your dog has succumbed to temptation and gobbled that plate of cookies on the coffee table, a dose or two of the homeopathic remedy Nux vomica will help minimize digestive upset. It’s particularly useful for any digestive disturbance that results from eating unusual foods or from eating too much. Chamomile tea also helps calm the stomach. Let there be presents! Quite possibly the most fun you’ll have all season is treating your animal family members to presents, presents, and more presents. That doesn’t mean overloading them with edible goodies. Let your creativity run wild and discover a whole new selection of presents for them and for the humans who love them.

Explore your local health food store for new options in healthy—and in many cases organic—animal treats. From organic catnip and dog biscuits to a bag of organic carrots or apples for the true canine connoisseur, you’ll find ways to satisfy their appetites without compromising good health.

Treat yourself or your dog-loving friends to a book of recipes for home-prepared dog or cat food. Many include tips for making treats as well as daily dietary fare. Some bookstores even offer kits that include cookie cutters along with recipe ideas.

A comfortable, sporty new harness may inspire both you and your dog to get out for a walk on those cold winter mornings.  A warm sweater or rain-proof jacket will come in handy when its time for a walk, or just a visit to the outdoor lavatory. If your sidewalks are covered with ice or salt this time of year, a pair of boots may be in order. Shop around a bit and you’ll even find a selection of adorable pajamas for lounging in front of the fire.

Who doesn’t feel loved and pampered with a luxurious bed to snuggle into on a cold winter evening? If his favorite cushion has lost its loft, or if her senior bones are due for some special orthopedic support, you’ll all feel comforted to find a soft warm bed under the tree.

Browse your local book store for something new to add to your library. It’s one place you’re sure to find something for everyone in the family, no matter what the species. Check out books on animal health or education, or just some new ideas for games you can play together.  Is it time for a new cuddly toy bunny or bear to snuggle with? Some dogs chew stuffed toys to shreds, so watch your friend closely if you’re not sure. But many find comfort in them, and even carry them from one bed to 3 another. Look for those designed for very young children, with no plastic button eyes or decorations your pup might choke on. You can save money and help recycle by searching for adorable treasures at your local thrift store. Just be sure to launder them with a mild, non-toxic laundry soap (available at your health food store) when you get them home.

Does the dog in your life live to go for a ride in the car? He’ll be the king of the road as well as smarter and safer with a seatbelt designed especially for him. Check online or in local retail outlets for a variety of designs.

If you haven’t yet gotten around to signing your dog up for that socialization class, this may be the chance you’ve been waiting for. You’ll make a great investment in her quality of life—and yours—if you buy her tuition this holiday season. Make sure the instructor uses only positive reinforcement and lots of encouragement to teach her canine students—humans, too. Classes should be fun for everyone!

If both of you have been very, very good, Santa just might want to reward you with a vacation for two. More and more hotels—from your basic Motel 6 to the luxurious MontBleu in Lake Tahoe—welcome canine travelers, so it’s easy to include your best friend in this year’s getaway trip. Google dog+vacation (my latest search yielded 5,550,000 hits—give or take a few) and you’ll find doggie camps, ski trips, even services that specialize in designing a vacation customized for your dog and the traveling companion of his choice.

Of course, opening a gift is more fun than anything you’ll ever put inside the wrapping paper, so let your dog do the honors. (Most every dog I’ve known has the uncanny ability to scan all the presents under the tree and find the one with her name on it, even if it’s a sweater made from the same knit as Uncle Jerry’s!) Keep wrapping simple—avoid tinsel and anything else that might break or flake and find its way to your dog’s belly—and make sure it gets opened but not eaten. Then pile up the presents and let the fun begin! And finally,…let us take this moment to extend heartfelt holiday wishes from our family to yours. We wish you and your loved ones of every size, shape, color, and species a safe season filled with all the comforts a gentle heart can hold. We join with all of you in looking forward to a year when our planet will celebrate an ever growing wave of compassion, respect, and understanding for all creatures, and a renewed awareness of the gifts of wisdom each one has to offer.

Many blessings to you all!