You may not realise it, but our pets also experience stress and anxiety. It Is actually more common that most people know. Just like with humans, excessive stress can have a negative impact on the health of your animal.
Major reasons for stress include:
- Loud noises
- Separation anxiety
- Changes in their routine
Unfortunately, our pets cannot tell us how they are feeling, so it’s important to be aware of the symptoms, so that you can identify the signs that your furry friend is stressed, and seek help quickly.
There are two kinds of stress that animals experience.
- Acute stress: a stress reflex, caused by an unexpected incident or threat like noise disruption, or encountering a new animal, or person.
2. Chronic stress: a result of ongoing stress in the home, or of the owner/s and develops over a longer period.
Some signs that your pet may be experiencing acute stress are:
- They are crouched or cowering, and/or shaking
- Eyes are wide open, pupils are fully dilated
- Ears are flattened back on their head
- Growling, whimpering, hissing, moaning/miaowing, yowling, rapid breathing
- Involuntary urination, defecation (possibly diarrhoea)
- They act aggressively when approached
- Hiding or retreating from social spaces
Some signs that your pet is experiencing chronic stress are:
- Increased lethargy and sleeping more than usual
- Defensive aggression towards people and other animals
- They are easily startled (jumping at the slightest noise)
- Listless, or not engaging in their usual play
- Over-grooming (cleaning themselves more than usual)
- Scratching on surfaces
- Withdrawn from their usual activities, and/or hiding
- Decrease in appetite
Reasons for your pets stress
Many owners are not aware of the extent to which we can create stress in our animals. Pets can be very sensitive to their carers’ emotional states. If you are upset or unsettled, there is a good chance that your pet may be upset.
Another factor is a disruption to routine or a change in the household. The introduction of new elements to the environment can cause the animal distress, and you may notice a change in their behaviour as a result.
A major disruption to their normal life can be moving house where animals must adjust to the unfamiliarity of their new environment. This is particularly evident in cats (but a major change like this can affect any pet). Moving is known to be a high-stress situation for humans, so your pet may simply be picking up on your emotional response to the experience.
Pets frequently suffer from separation anxiety this is particularly common in dogs. (Read our Back to School article.) Sometimes, this is a short-term situation but when carers are apart from their pet for an extended period, it could lead to more serious symptoms of anxiety.
Studies have also shown that other animals in the environment (other pets, or neighbouring animals, for example) that are creating conflict with your pet, can be a major source of anxiety for pets. In the wild, animals are used to living with the constant possibility of other creatures encroaching on their territory or threatening them, but domestic animals tend to not to have the same resilience to this form of stress, and can develop the symptoms of chronic stress or anxiety.
How can you help an animal who is experiencing stress?
Maintain a stable routine for your pet. Domestic animals can be very sensitive to changes in routine. Try to keep a regular routine in place around eating, walks etc. for your pet, and use rewards to encourage positive behaviour.
Prioritise regular play and exercise with your pet. Physical activities, like a game of fetch or a walk around your neighbourhood can be a great stress reducer for dogs. For other species, any kind of playful interaction can offer stress-relief for both you and your pet. It’s important to make this a regular aspect of your pet’s life.
Create a “safe zone” as a retreat for your pet. Set apart a dedicated space in your home for your pet to escape high-stress situations. It is common for dogs to react with symptoms of acute stress to events like fireworks, thunderstorms and many pets find noisy parties uncomfortable. Plan an area for your pet that they can retreat to, or take them to this space at this time. Furnish it with familiar toys, blankets, and if possible, stay with your pet during a high-stress event, as your presence is a great reassurance to them.
For a happy, healthy pet, discuss the options with your vet
If your pet’s behaviour changes suddenly in any way, schedule an appointment with your Vets4Pets hospital. Our experts can help check for any underlying medical issues, and make recommendations about behavioural changes or, if necessary, help find a medication program to alleviate your pet’s anxiety and get them back to being happy and healthy.