Jonathan Van Ness with jumping dog
Credit: Courtesy of Purina

Jonathan Van Ness Shares Tips and Tricks for Pet Parents This Holiday Season

Our favorite Queer Eye star and pet lover shares his journey as a pet parent and making the most of the holiday season with your furry companions.

Jonathan Van Ness might be most well-known as the grooming expert and self-care guru on Queer Eye, but we pet lovers can't get enough of JVN's journey as pet parent to four cats (Larry, Liza, Matilda, and Genevieve) and one dog (Pablo) on Instagram. Van Ness has learned so much about being a pet parent and is sharing tips and tricks to help other furry friends and their humans.

The message is particularly well-timed as the holidays can add new stressors for our pets, who might need some extra down time or extra engagement and activity.

"The holidays can be a fun and exciting time for everyone in your house, including your pets. But with lots of people coming and going, new sights and sounds in the house, and the chaos that accompanies festivities, pets can quickly become overwhelmed and stressed," says Daily Paws pet behavior editor Haylee Bergeland, CPDT-KA, RBT. "Pet parents can show their pets they care this holiday season by ensuring pets have access to quality enrichment and exercise as well as quiet, relaxing spaces in your home they can retreat to when they need."

Quarantining with Cats

As JVN's travel schedule slowed down during the coronavirus pandemic earlier this year, the star quickly joined the rest of us as another pet parent who was spending more time at home than ever before. It was then that Van Ness realized some of the relatable behaviors many cat owners would describe as "ornery" were actually a result of not having enough stimulation. With four cats as roommates, the star experienced something of a lightbulb moment that many of us who've been stuck at home can relate to. "They were just bored and like, 'Why are you here all the time? You're bothering us.'" That realization marked the start of what JVN says is a more concerted effort to enrich the cats' lives through playtime. Now, the fur family spends time each day playing together, including fun hide-and-seek games and engaging feather toys.

Adopting Pablo During the Pandemic

Pets have been the glue holding this crazy year together with pet adoptions skyrocketing, and Van Ness is no exception. Pablo joined the adopted pet family as the only canine in the mix and came from the Austin Pets Alive! shelter in Texas where the Fab Five was shooting the next season of Queer Eye. "I fell in love with him so hard," JVN says about the pup.

When filming was eventually cancelled due to the pandemic, JVN began to focus on the animal version of the Fab Five, helping each pet live their best lives in a dog-and-cat household.

"We've really had to learn a lot about dog behavior and how dog minds work and how cat minds work so we can create a harmonious environment," Van Ness says. "It's never the dog or the cat; I think it's us as the human. We have to learn what environment is right for them."

Asking for Help

In true JVN fashion, the star has been open and honest about some relatable pet parent struggles since adding Pablo to the family. After he was adopted, the pup exhibited some resource guarding behavior. Van Ness attributes that in part to a lack of stability while moving across the country in those first few months after adoption.

Having never adopted a dog before, Van Ness says understanding dog behavior and Pablo's needs have been a bit of a learning curve, especially since not much is known about the 2-year-old pup's history. "I needed help, and I needed resources," JVN says. "We got him into a place that I jokingly refer to as The Center for Dogs Who Get Upset Sometimes. Pablo is such a sweet boy and we are totally going to be able to do this, but he needs a little bit of extra help. I needed to think about what was best for Pablo. We want to make sure that he is ready for any issue and any situation he finds himself in."

Van Ness says Pablo has made so much progress with his veterinary behavior specialist and will be back home just in time for Christmas. "We can't wait!"

Transitioning to Post-Quarantine Life

One thing Van Ness has learned during quarantine that will stick with the adopted fur family after the pandemic? Intentional play time is non-negotiable when it comes to pets.

"They gotta have that play. If they don't, Larry is going to wake you up at 4 in the morning meowing. Matilda is going to get in bad fights with Liza because they just get pent-up energy. When life goes back to our new normal, they still need that attention because that's what makes them harmonious and happy."

Bergeland points out that this strategy is important during the holidays, too. If you've got guests coming over or loud gift-opening on the agenda, she suggests taking your pooch for a nice long walk ahead of time. Then, let them settle in a quiet room to relax away from the chaos.

How to Keep Pets Engaged and Stimulated

Van Ness has had a lot of experience with working Pablo's mind and body through agility drills, which were shared on a recent Zoom call to discuss their partnership with the pet food brand Purina. With treats as positive reinforcement, Pablo has learned how to jump over boxes and through hula hoops. JVN will also hide treats and send the pup on a scavenger hunt to collect them all. Chews can be a great option for dogs to relieve stress through chewing (and it keeps them occupied while you're one of your many Zoom meetings). You can also bring the fun outside and play fetch with the chews to give your pup some much-needed exercise.

For the feline friends, it's easy to make an engaging and interactive toy for them out of household goods. Take an empty egg carton and sprinkle cat treats in the holes. Close the carton, and voilà! Van Ness says the cats stay busy for hours trying to get the treats. "If you have a 24-pack of eggs? Forget about it." You can even use those empty wrapping paper tubes this holiday season as an upcycled toy for your cat to bat around and chase!

The holidays can be especially stressful for pets, but as JVN knows, every day is the right time to find ways to engage and spend quality time with your pets.