Stress in dogs and cats is increasingly common yet repeatedly ignored. Parents don't realise their pet is stressed until that stress has caused some kind of noticeable mental or physical harm to the pet. Unfortunately, when diagnosed at that stage, stress would've grown into depression, aggression, hypertension, obsessive-compulsive disorder, uncontrollable behaviour, self-harm, and much more. Whilst these sound like symptoms humans exhibit from stress, we often forget that our pets do too.
Read along to know what causes stress in dogs and cats and the steps you can take to avoid them!
What causes stress in dogs & cats?
Stress can arise from a single or a culmination of things, situations, past experiences, and people.
A few of the many reasons for stress in pets are -
What does stress look like in dogs & cats?
Dogs and cats exhibit different signs of stress but more often than not, they're right in front of our eyes and we ignore them until it turns into something more noticeable like aggression or depression.
Look out for the signs we've covered below and try to identify when it happens and what causes it - this can be something as subtle as the time of the day to something more evident like the presence of a particular person or occurrence of an event.
What signs to look out for in dogs?
2. Licking of lips
3. Excessive yawning
4. Hunching down
5. Toileting more frequently
6. Loss of appetite
9. Destructive chewing
10. Destructive scratching
11. Excessive drooling & panting
12. Sudden hiding or hiding more than usual
What signs to look out for in cats?
1. Hiding more than usual
2. Less tolerant towards people
4. Hissing/growling without reason
5. Excessive swallowing or licking of the nose
7. Drinking less/more water than usual
8. Reluctant to use the litter tray/box
9. Change in toileting habits
10. Excessive scratching of furniture
11. Excessive meowing
12. Loss of appetite
How can I help avoid stress?
1. Encourage relaxation
It is important for pets to feel relaxed even when there are stressful triggers around them. In order to implement this, you need to encourage relaxation on an everyday basis. Massages, slow-paced walks, treasure hunts are all excellent way to encourage relaxation.
2. Regular exercise
No matter what you do to minimise stress, if regular exercise isn't taken care of, none of your methods would yield promising results - simply because, every dog needs to let out steam by indulging in some kind of aerobic exercise - swimming, jogging, fetching, fast-paced walking etc. The amount of exercise varies as per breed, age, and existing medical conditions, but daily aerobic exercise is of utmost importance when it comes to reducing stress.
3. Minimise triggers
If you notice that a particular trigger, i.e. a particular person's presence, a place, a thing, an animal, or an event triggers your pet to exhibit signs of stress, it is crucial to remove those triggers from their environment to the best of your ability.
4. Encourage mental stimulation
Mental stimulation in the form of puzzles, KONGS, and interactive toys are fantastic ways to help your pet focus all their energy onto something productive instead of stress. Every pet requires a minimum of 3-4 hours of daily mental exercise regardless of their age or breed.
5. Use calming sprays
In situations beyond your control, for example, loud noises from construction, you can use calming mists to decrease stress. In such cases, closing windows and blinds also help to minimise stressful situations.
6. Look for signs of pain
Stress can also result from pain, especially in cats who are exceptional at hiding pain. Hence, if your pet is exhibiting signs of stress, you might want to rule out pain from an underlying medical condition.
7. Encourage positive chewing
Chewing isn't wrong, it's what they chew. In fact, several studies indicate that chewing is beneficial in reducing stress, maintaining dental health and relieving boredom. Positive chewing refers to chewing on bones/bars and chew toys, i.e. where there is no destruction involved.
8. Stick to routine
Animals, both dogs and cats are creatures of habit and appreciate a good routine. Too many fluctuations in their daily routine often leads to stress simply because they are in anticipation of what will come next during the day instead of already being in the know of how the day will pan out. That said, routine includes feeding, exercise, mental stimulation, and sleep times.
9. Manage separation anxiety
Separation anxiety is fairly common amongst dogs and cats of all ages ans is easily treatable if caught early. Read more about what separation anxiety is and what you can do about it right here.
10. Create a safe space
If you live in a household with too many people or pets, things can get crowded at times leading to stress-based fights, destructive behaviour, toileting accidents and so on. This can also happen in a house with too much noise or a particular kind of noise that acts as a trigger. Creating a safe space means allowing your pet to retreat to a private corner of the house that's away from all the hustle. It allows them to calm down and de-stress when needed, which in turn, helps them mentally.
11. Encourage positive scratching
Like with positive chewing, positive scratching refers to providing your cats with tools that encourage de-stressing through scratching such as, scratch posts, scratch boards, scratch mats, cat trees and so on.
12. Seek help
When things go out of hand, it is best to seek help from a trained canine/feline behaviourist to help navigate through the problem. Remember, it's all about helping your pet feel their best, so don't shy away from asking for help!
Stress in dogs and cats can be managed but the earlier you catch the symptoms, the better it is to help your pet overcome it. Remember, there are a number of things that stress our pets everyday, but by minimising these triggers, you can ensure they live a long, healthy, and stress-free life!
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