It won’t surprise you to learn that pets, like humans, experience stress. The causes of stress in pets vary and can include any dramatic or sudden change in routine or environment, separation from their owners, or even a specific type of event, such as a thunderstorm.
Here we’ll look at some common causes of stress in pets, ways you can recognize and relieve anxiety in your pets, and ways your pets can help de-stress you.
Causes of Stress in Pets
Cats and dogs have been domesticated for centuries and have adapted to living on human schedules. Like many of us, they tend to thrive when their environment is safe, comfortable and predictable. Disruptions in environment or routine can create stress. A few common causes of stress in pets: relocating to a new home, addition of a new pet to the household, a new baby, a dramatic change in your schedule (e.g., moving from a day shift to night shift), lack of exercise, or prolonged confinement. Some pets also have particular triggers that can set off an anxiety episode. For example, an animal may be acutely afraid of thunderstorms, visits from strangers, car rides, or being left alone at home (separation anxiety). Recognizing what triggers stress in your pets can help you anticipate and minimize its effects.
How Pets Show Stress
Pets exhibit signs of stress in various ways. When alarmed, dogs may show agitation and rapid shallow panting. Some may even shiver. If the stressor is prolonged or repeated, your pup may begin to show physical symptoms such as an increased desire to isolate, decreased appetite, diarrhea or constipation, defecating indoors, destruction of home items, increased sleeping, or in some cases aggression against humans or other animals. Cats often display stress by hiding, changes in appetite (refusal to eat or overeating), or defecating or urinating outside the litter pan.
Understanding stress in pets can be complex, because the symptoms can mimic those of an underlying medical condition. To rule out any health issues, it’s important to consult with your veterinarian if your pet exhibits prolonged stress symptoms. Tell your vet if you are aware of any triggers (like electrical storms or sudden noises) that seem to accompany stress episodes in your pet.
How You Can Relieve Your Pet’s Stress
Relieving stress in your pet depends a great deal on your own mood and stress level. Dogs (and to some degree cats) take their cues from their environment and from us, their owners. Provide your pet with a safe space where it can go when it feels stressed. Also, projecting a calm confident demeanor around a stressed pet can help reduce the animal’s anxiety. If your pet senses that you are calm, it will more likely become calmer itself.
Distraction from a stressor can also help. Gentle affectionate touch, for example, can help a dog that is afraid of electrical storms. In some more severe cases, behavioral therapies can help as well. Slowly desensitizing your pet to a stress-producing stimulus (e.g. playing a CD of storm sounds at low volume) can help relieve anxiety in your pet. In some more severe cases, other measures may be necessary. Some storm-phobic dogs, for example, benefit from the pseudo-swaddling of a “thunder jacket.” If your animal exhibits severe or continuing stress symptoms, your vet can offer solutions ranging from behavioral to medical.
How Your Pet Can Help Relieve Your Stress
Stress relief isn’t just a one-way street: Our pets help us relieve stress every day, and often in ways we may not even notice. Simply being around a pet can lower blood pressure and reduce anxiety in humans. Pets satisfy a very basic human desire for touch and affection, and caring for a pet is often a great way to get outside the world of our own worries.
Pet owners tend, on average, to get more exercise than their non-pet-owning counterparts; and regular exercise such as walking or hiking has been shown to have a range of health benefits (including anxiety relief) in humans. They also help us feel less lonely and can even improve our feelings of competence and self-esteem.
Pets also provide stress relief simply by being around. People asked to perform a stressful task in the presence of their pet were less stressed than those performing the same task before a family member.
We hope these tips will help you and you pet enjoy a stress-free life together!
Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.