Nipping Pet Stress in the Bud
Stress is a huge issue for human beings the world over, but did you know that dogs and cats can also struggle against this condition on a daily basis? Chronic stress can affect canine health in many ways, with one study indicating that in dogs, fear and anxiety disorders lead to more frequent and more severe disease, as well as a shortened lifespan. In this post we look into common triggers of stress and suggest ways to instill greater calm in your pet. We also look at ways to introduce a new or recently adopted pet to those you might already have at home.
Stress Triggers in Cats and Dogs
Despite being so vastly different, dogs and cats react very similarly to the same stress triggers, which include introducing a new pet or person into the home, moving to a new place of residence, changes in your daily routine, loud noises such as fireworks or thunder, separation from human family members, and punitive training methods (including shock collars in the case of dogs, hitting, and shouting).
Signs of Stress
Stressed dogs may behave in subtle ways that owners should watch out for. These include pulling their ears back, having a reduced appetite, licking their lips, and yawning. More severe signs can include digestive upset, tucking their tail in, hiding, trembling, and whining. Separation anxiety is just one of many types of stress your dog can feel. In this case, they may display additional behaviors such as gnawing on wooden furniture, howling and barking, and having “little accidents” in the home. Separation anxiety is different from general stress and will require desensitization therapy. If suspected, see your veterinarian to ensure that symptoms are not related to infections or other physiological conditions.
In cats, signs of stress include urinating outside the litter box, having tummy upset and other digestive issues, grooming excessively, hiding away excessively, eating less, sleeping for increasingly longer hours, activity changes, and excessive vocalization.
If you can identify the source of stress in your pets, take steps to eliminate it. For instance, if you are away from the home for many hours and you think this might be a trigger for stress, consider day pet setting or asking a pet walker to take Fido out for a long walk while you are away. When you are with your pet, give him quality time. Play with him, go out for a walk or run (in the case of dogs) and take part in indoor games like hide-and-seek or frisbee catching. Make sure your cat has his own mansion and scratch post; he should definitely have enough room to ‘hide out’ and enjoy some ‘me time’ when necessary.
For issues such as noise, consider a thunder vest for dogs (many owners report that this is a successful aid for anxiety during fireworks season and thunderous days). For cats, try a calming diffuser, which also rates highly on cat forums and which mimics a cat’s pheromones, thus helping them feel safer. If you have a big house, you will need more than one diffuser… ideally, every room should have one.
When introducing new pets into the house, do so slowly. When introducing dogs to each other, try introducing them in neutral territory, such as a park. Keep them on a leash, being wary of aggressive body language such as teeth baring and raised hackles. When introducing dogs to cats, ensure each pet has his own space in the house, to allow them to grow accustomed to each other’s scent gradually. Be realistic and know that not all cats or dogs are sociable and take well to new pets in the home. Once both pets are calm when they see each other, feel free to introduce them. To introduce two cats to each other, keep them separated for a few days until they become accustomed to the other cat’s presence. Let them peak at each other for a few days before allowing them to play.
Stress can hamper our pet’s lives and even lead to disease, so taking it seriously is key. In addition to trying out the techniques mentioned above, it is also vital to stay calm, so your pets don’t pick up on your own anxiety. Some animals take a little time to warm to each other, others never get along at all so make sure the pet you have is sociable enough to have a fruitful and fulfilling relationship with any new pets you bring into your home.