De-Stress Your Pet Month
Does your cat spend half the day under the bed? Does your dog bark at everyone walking by? People often think, “Well, that is what cats do.” But it’s not what cats should do, at least cats feeling comfortable. And often a cat that spends much of the day hiding is suffering from some fear, anxiety and/or stress. As for that barking dog, sure the dog might be barking for kicks. But some dogs get anxious about the parade of people walking by, and that is why they bark. Other dogs may suffer form more serious anxieties, such as separation anxiety or thunderstorm anxiety.
Ceva Animal Health and the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (ACVB) are working to help pet owners recognize the signs of stress in cats and dogs as well as solutions for creating happier and healthier pets as part of De-stress Your Pet Month.
Knowing the signs of stress in your dog or cat is essential to good pet parenting. Owners may feel like they communicate on a unique level with their furry friend, but oftentimes signs are mistaken as personality quirks or even misbehavior.
“Whether the problem is a dog afraid to be left home alone or a cat scratching the furniture, pet parents often get frustrated with their pet’s unwanted behaviors,” said veterinary behaviorist Dr. Valarie Tynes, president of the ACVB. “Many of the behaviors that pet owners find problematic are normal pet behavior or behaviors that arise due to fear, anxiety or stress.”
Signs of fear, anxiety and/or stress may be obvious to pet parents. But often times they’re not, or they’re mistaken for something else. For example, a 12-year-old dog who begins to have accidents indoors. It’s not typically that a dog is “just getting old,” it may be the onset of canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome (which is like Alzheimer’s in people) which may be intertwined with stress.
A cat who scratches the furniture (especially if it is a new behavior) is never doing this out spite. It may be a sign of stress. Or a cat who has a declining appetite may have a medical issue, and/or this could be a sign of stress.
Pet owners can create happier pets by providing basic essentials such as:
- Individual food and water bowls, and separate spaces to eat and drink for each member of the furry family.
- A good diet based on age, activity level and formulated to reduce digestive issues or food allergies.
- Comfortable bed or kennel in a quiet part of the house where the pet can relax and get away from the family from time to time.
- Exercise to help burn off excess energy and tap into instinctive urges.
- Classical music, or music created for pets, or a TV or radio on (for example, a certain pet radio show) in the house so the pet doesn’t feel all alone or to mask scary sounds like loud engines or thunderstorms.
- Toys and food puzzles to keep a pet busy. Dogs and cats are terrible multi-taskers. If they are focused and busy playing or working out a challenge for food or a treat, they won’t be as stressed out by other factors.
- A scratching post for each cat.
So, what do you do about it? Well, it depends how profound that stress is. “Any time a pet owner notices behavior changes, it’s always a good idea to schedule a veterinary appointment. This will help rule out a medical condition causing the behavior or contributing to a high stress level. If our pets don’t feel well they can be perceived as acting grumpy or agitated. That is their way of telling us something is wrong,” Tynes says.
If we’re talking about a pet that’s terrified of thunderstorms, do see your veterinarian. However, if you’ve identified a low level stress….Or, for example, you know your pet gets stressed with a car ride or when loud mouth Uncle Bobby comes to visit, try plugging in a pheromone diffusers like Feliway (for cats) or Adaptil (for dogs). The pheromones help pets feel more comfortable in their own environments.
And the book, “Decoding Your Dog,” edited by myself and authored by members of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists is filled with far more detail about identifying fear, anxiety and stress in dogs, and what to do to manage it.
I wish there was a De-Stress Your Person Month. Maybe that’s next.