Helping Combat Pet Stress
As pet owners, we all want to make sure our furry friends are happy and healthy. However, sometimes life can get stressful, not just for us but for our pets as well. Just like us, pets can experience stress from a variety of different sources, such as loud noises, changes in their routine, social interactions, or separation anxiety. Here are a few ways to help combat stress and keep your pet feeling happy and relaxed.
Stay Consistent - Pets thrive on routine and consistency. Try to keep their feeding, exercise, and playtime schedules as consistent as possible. This will help them feel secure and reduce stress levels. Having consistent social interactions also can help pets feel safe. Always engage in the same ways, try to use the same voice and body language. "Unpredictable" behaviors we do can make our pets unsure of how interactions will go, and can make them nervous.
Understand Body Language - Many people incorrectly interpret their pet's body language. One study found that 65% of dog-owning adults incorrectly identified videos of dogs as "confident" or "relaxed" when they were displaying obvious signs of fearful or anxious behaviors. Dr. Sophia Yin has wonderful videos and handouts illustrating dog and cat body language.
Give Them Space - Most adult dogs and cats only want very specific kinds of social interactions with very specific, familiar people. Consider using consistent known "consent" interactions to allow pets to engage or disengage based on their comfort. Sometimes pets want to share space with us, but not physically touch, and that's okay!
Training and Exercise - Exercise is not only good for our physical health, but it's also great for our mental health. Exercise doesn't reduce stress, but it can be a great outlet to burn off energy and provide mental and physical stimulation. Consider that running around for 20 minutes is much less tiring than 20 minutes of intensive training, and many dogs love training sessions and routines as part of the normal daily schedule. Another great way to provide mental stimulation without human interaction is with food puzzles, which can be made more challenging as pets become experts at them.
Seek Professional Help - If your pet is experiencing high levels of stress or anxiety, especially involving activities or environments that cannot be avoided, it may be time to seek professional help. Talk to your veterinarian about possible solutions such as medications or behavioral therapy. In some cases, referral to a board-certified veterinary behaviorist may be recommended for a more comprehensive or involved plan.
Author: Dr. Zachary Glantz