People aren’t the only ones affected by stress and anxiety. In fact, pets are also prone to battling fear, anxiety, and stress, so much so that a national initiative to relieve their anxiety—the Fear Free movement—has been taking the veterinary world by storm. Fear Free provides innovative education regarding emotional well-being and enrichment, and the reduction of fear, anxiety, and stress in pets. As more pet owners realize their pets are stressed, and recognise the signs their pets show, they can take steps to create a calmer environment. Here are our Top 10 ways to help your four-legged friend be happier and more relaxed.
#1: Engage in daily activity with your pet
When you’re stressed or upset, a sweaty workout helps calm your mind and soothe your stress with endorphin release. The same goes for our pets. Routine daily exercise allows your pet to burn off steam and excess energy that can contribute to behavioral issues—not to mention that she also will benefit by maintaining a healthy weight and strong cardiovascular function. Engage in daily walks, jogs, hikes, fetch, or indoor games to keep your pet happy and healthy.
#2: Stick to similar routines, especially for cats
Despite changes you experience in your own life (e.g., switching from a 9-to-5 day at the office to working from home), stick to a set schedule for your pet. Cats especially thrive on routine, and benefit from regular mealtimes, playtimes, and bedtimes. Changes in your cat’s schedule or environment can create stress and anxiety, and may trigger inappropriate urination.
#3: Create a safe haven for your nervous pet
Build a sanctuary for your furry friend where she can retreat in times of fear, anxiety, or stress. Your pet may flee in panic from fireworks, thunderstorms, or guests, so offer her a safe haven where she can relax. Use a covered crate lined with a cozy bed and stocked with toys and treats.
#4: Stimulate your pet’s mind
Without ample mental stimulation, boredom in pets can lead to behavioral issues, such as separation anxiety, inappropriate elimination, and destructive activities. Keep your pet’s mind sharp and engaged with food puzzles, interactive toys, and long-lasting treat puzzles.
#5: Swaddle your pet in a compression wrap
Acupressure points have been shown to release calming neurochemicals, and a variety of compression wraps that apply pressure to these calming points are available. The ThunderShirt, which can be used for cats or dogs, is one of the most commonly used wraps.
#6: Help soothe an anxious pet with supplements
Many natural supplements have been shown to ease anxiety, relieve stress, and assuage fear in pets. Keep in mind that these products are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, so talk with us before starting your pet on any supplement.
#7: Diffuse your pet’s anxiety with pheromones
If you have an anxious cat and dog, you can use species-specific pheromone diffusers, sprays, and collars designed to produce a calming effect. Feliway works well in cats, and is available in a multi-cat formula to alleviate inter-cat tension, while Adaptil helps to calm dogs.
#8: Play music to mellow a stressed pet
Although you may prefer heavy metal bands over classical composers, your pet may appreciate the soothing sounds of mellow music. For clinically tested calming music, try streaming iCalmDog and iCalmCat. Or, when you’re away from home, try leaving the television on for your pet.
#9: Practice behavior-modification techniques to help your pet adjust to scary situations
The behavior-modification techniques of counterconditioning and desensitization work well to reduce your pet’s panic response to a trigger. For example, your dog may be extremely fearful of nail trims, but behavior modification can change the way she views the trims. For help retraining your pet’s fear response, consult a licensed trainer or veterinary behaviorist.
#10: Be a calm role model for your pet
Your pet is your best friend who is so in tune with your moods that she easily picks up on your anxiety and stress. Practice staying calm, and consider meditation to help relieve your worries, and you will soothe your pet by association.
Occasionally, a pet cannot cope well with the stresses of daily life. If your pet is struggling to find her inner zen, call us for a behavioral consult.