Just like humans, our pets can experience worry, anxiety and stress. Since we know how these emotions make us feel, we certainly want to help alleviate our pet’s distress where we can. However, our pets cannot voice their feelings, so how can we tell they are experiencing these emotions? The signs in pets are often subtle.
Do you know the most common events that your pet may find stressful?
- Addition of new members to your household, such as another pet or a baby
- Moving house
- Loud noises such as fireworks or thunderstorms
- Drastic changes to their routine
- Trips to the kennels, cattery or vet
What does worry, anxiety and stress look like in pets?
- Hyperactivity or stillness
- Urination or defaecation
- Baring of teeth, lunging or biting
- Excessive sniffing
- Changes in appetite
- Excessive grooming
- Cowering or hiding away
- Tense muscles
- Raised hackles
- Tight lips
- Flattened ears
- Lowered tail that may be wagging in a short arc
Stressed dogs can startle easily, jumping at the slightest noise or movement. Some shake and shiver excessively or drool. They may use self-calming techniques, such as yawning, lip licking, excessive grooming or spinning. Dogs may become uncharacteristically aggressive, start growling or snapping.
As for cats, you will need to look for more subtle signs, such as overgrooming, increased vocalisation or hiding. If your cat is not using a litter box or your dog is urinating inside your home, these could be signs of stress. For many pets, stressors can lead to a relapse on previous training because they solely focus on their source of anxiety and stress. For cats, stress can cause feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC), which is bladder inflammation. Inflammation in the bladder causes the need to urinate more frequently and often will result in urinating in places other than the litter box.
Short term stress and anxiety can change your pet’s interest in food because chemicals such as adrenaline and noradrenaline are released, which causes an increase in breathing, heart rate and blood pressure.
When this happens, appetite is reduced (fight or flight response).
If you think your pet is experiencing the above, please contact us.
What impact does it have?
Chronic worry, anxiety and stress can negatively impact your pet’s immune system, making it more likely for them to get sick from a range of illnesses and slow their healing process. Stress hormones cause a decrease in the production of some white blood cells that create antibodies and fight off bacteria and viruses.
How can we overcome worry, anxiety and stress in pets?
There is no single answer that can overcome all issues. Often, it is a mixture of strategies that work best. We have detailed some tips below.
- Find a new mentally stimulating outdoor exercise with your dog. Playing with your cat is essential in reducing their anxiety and stress, even if they spend all their time indoors.
- Interact with your pet to stimulate their mind. Using a toy which you can both engage with will also help form a stronger relationship with your pet. Consider something you could throw, drag or swing to get their attention and maintain their interest.
- Introduce new toys and rotate existing ones; there are lots of interactive indoor and outdoor toys available for both cats and dogs. By rotating new and old toys, you will keep your pet interested in what they are playing with. Whether a hide and seek mouse game or an IQ treat-dispensing puzzle, there is bound to be something available for your pet.
- Give your pets places to escape for a break, especially if you have a lot going on in your home. Designate their favourite spot as a place where others don’t bother them. This will help your pet build their resilience and ability to cope with unusually high levels of social interaction.
- A safe place to go during a storm and firework season is essential. When pets are afraid, they go where they feel the safest: the closet; under the covers in the bed; or a crate. Background noise such as a television, fans or soft music can help block out other sounds. Music therapy can help calm pets.
- Canine and feline pheromone products can help relax your pet in strange or stressful situations. They are available as a spray or a plug-in diffuser, like an air freshener. They are best used for a few days before fireworks start and help to encourage your pet to relax.
There is lots of evidence that a mentally and physically stimulated pet is happier and healthier. By knowing your pet and observing changes in their behaviour, you will spot whether their mental wellbeing is being impacted.
If you have tried several of the techniques we’ve suggested and are concerned your pet is exhibiting signs of distress, contact your vet who will be able to offer more advice. After ensuring that your pet’s behaviour does not have a medical basis, we may refer you to a veterinary behaviourist to evaluate stress-related issues. We may also prescribe anxiety-reducing medications if appropriate.
If you need help with any behavioural issues, please contact us at one of our Gloucester practices.