How to Manage Stress in Pets
The year 2020 has been very different, filled with uncertainty and many ups and downs, but we’ve pulled together (from a distance) and we’re almost there. The stress and strain has been felt by all family members and this includes your pets, we’ve put together our top tips to try and help you all through the festive period and changes coming over the next few months.
Although Christmas and New Year will be slightly different this year with smaller gatherings, there’s still lots of change going on that your pets may perceive as stressful. The decorations go up, the kitchen is filled, music may be playing and those who have been lucky enough to continue working as normal this year may be spending more time at home.
The current period of lockdown in England has ended but, as we know, there is a good chance things may change again in the New Year. With the starts and stops of lockdown come changes in working patterns, and the amount of time spent at home with our pets. When some pets are then left alone again they become unsure, worried and upset – this is known as separation anxiety.
You may also have heard of the increase in so-called ‘lockdown puppies’. There has been a reported increase in purchases of puppies since people have been at home more this year. The social distancing we have all experienced has also had an effect on the social development of many of these puppies due to their limited chances to socialise with other dogs or people. They have also become used to having their owners as company at home with them, which may not always be the case in the future.
Signs of Stress in Your Pet:
Cats, dogs and other pets may show stress in different ways. They are all individuals and some are more prone to suffering from stress and showing the signs of it.
In cats this may be:
Over grooming (can result in patches of hair loss)
Toileting in the house/outside the litterbox
Hiding or more time spent outside
Vocalising Eating less
In dogs we may see:
Barking or crying
Destructive behaviour (chewing, digging, scratching)
Trying to hide/run away
Small animals may show:
Hiding or being too scared to move
Stop eating/passing poo (gut stasis – this can be fatal).
What can we do to help?
This is simply making sure that your pet has the option of taking themselves to a quiet area and having their own space where they can feel secure. For a dog this may be a crate or bed; for cats, a covered or raised bed (off the floor); for small animals cardboard boxes (or ‘forts’) to hide in can help.
These are chemical messages released by the body which are detected in the animal’s nose. There are products available which release ‘happy’ pheromones, often based on the ones released by the female when puppies or kittens are feeding. These are species specific so won’t be detected by humans or other pets. They are available for dogs or cats as plug-ins, sprays or collars to be used at home.
Other Calming Sprays
These are based on essential oils which encourage a calming effect (such as valerian) and are suitable for all mammals, birds and reptiles. They are not based on pheromones. Be cautious of using essential oil products not designed for pets, as many are potentially toxic.
There are calming supplements available in the form of tablets, capsules or chews (treats). These contain natural ingredients which help to have a calming effect within the brain but without the need of sedative drugs.
In some animals, medications are required either temporarily or (more rarely) long-term to help support improvement in behaviour and quality of life. This is not necessary or appropriate in every case and would be following a discussion with one of our vets as they are prescription only.
Following a consultation our vet may advise, treat or refer you to a specialist behaviourist if appropriate.
If your pet is showing signs of separation anxiety or stress there are some things you can do to try and help:
Use supportive calming supplements, plug-ins or sprays.
Exercise – make sure they’ve been exercised (mentally/physically) so that they are relaxed.
Environmental enrichment – there are many safe toys that can be used to distract your pet or give them something to do and think about whilst they’re on their own. Speak to us for recommendations.
Ensure your pet has a safe and private place to go if they wish.
Consider crate training: a crate is a safe place or den for your dog, it is not a cage. It must be introduced and used properly and as a positive place only.
Graduated introduction of time spent on their own: don’t suddenly go out for a whole day and expect them to be okay. Start with short periods of time.
Routine where possible.
What to do?
Try to prevent stressful situations occurring, know how to recognise the signs of stress in your pet and when (and how) to act on them.
If you feel that your pet is likely to experience stress, or that they may be already, then please give our friendly reception team a call who will make an appointment with one of our vets for you, or be able to recommend calming products for your pet. We wish you all a very safe and stress free festive period and year 2021.