Stress can be defined as a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances. Stress can be felt instantaneously, can pass quickly or can become chronic when experienced over the long term. Your pampered pooch or pussycat may lead such a privileged life that you might wonder how they can possibly suffer from pet stress. Find out the signs of pet stress to watch out for. Renowned animal behaviourist Dr Joanne Righetti shares seven ways pet parents can reduce pet stress.
Ways to reduce pet stress
1. Remove source of stress
Work out, if possible, the source of your pet’s stress. It’s logical that if you can remove the source of their stress, or at least reduce it, then your pet’s symptoms of stress should diminish. So, for example, if your cat dislikes another cat in the neighbourhood entering their garden, try to discourage that cat from visiting.
2. Desensitise your pet
If your pet is fearful or anxious about certain events, it can help to desensitise them to that situation. This means conducting gradual, positive encounters and experiences over time, going at your pet’s pace. (See the case studies below…
For pets who are chronically stressed, anxious or finding it difficult to cope with the everyday tensions of life, veterinary medication may help. Tall to your vet about this possibility. Scientific studies show that medication combined with behavioural therapy can be the best way of alleviating your pet’s stress.
4. Sounds and scents
Lavender has been shown to help relax animals, as has calming music. Alone, these are unlikely to make great improvements to reduce pet stress levels but when combined with the other measures, these can help your pet cope.
Giving your pet some choices in life can also decrease their stress levels eg. a choice of sleeping spots, one in a warm spot, another in a cool one.
6. Give your pet a role in life
This can be especially important when leaving them alone. For example, you may leave your dog with a food-releasing toy, which enables them to ‘hunt’ for their food or treats. Be aware, however, that most pets who are very stressed will not respond to food or toys until their stress levels have been lowered. This is generally done through desensitisation and/or medication.
7. Look at your own stress levels
It is possible that some of your pet’s stress stems from or is made worse by your stress if you are constantly anxious, then you may be communicating this with your actions to your pet. If you fear thunderstorms, for instance, and you rush to close doors and draw curtains at the first sign of a storm, your pet may learn that storms are stressful. Try to remain calm in your pet’s presence.
Reduce pet stress case Study: Jax
Jax is an 18-month-old Terrier cross who hated car journeys. He used to get carsick as a puppy and has now grown out of this but still shakes when getting in the car. A gradual, desensitisation program was carried out by his owners and included:
- Taking the dog into the car without starting the engine. Leave the car.
- Taking Jax into the car and starting the engine but not driving.
- Driving out of the driveway and back inside again.
- Driving to the end of the road and back again.
- Driving a 5-minute journey, gradually increasing distance and time over the weeks and months.
You can find more about dog and cat behavioural problems at Dr Joanne Righetti’s website Pet Problem Solved.