BY RONIT BERDUGO D.V.M.
Dogs and cats are emotional beings and like us, suffer from the negative effects of stress and anxiety. In most pets the experience is short lived, but for some, the condition is chronic. These unpleasant emotions, characterized by nervousness, depression, and fear, can be expressed in a multitude of ways. This article will hopefully shed some light on recognizing when our pets are feeling this way and what we can do about it. Left untreated, stress and anxiety can impact the health of our furry family members negatively.
Stress and anxiety can be elicited by any number of things, including a change in the environment or routine, the presence or absence of a person or pet, noise (especially fireworks and thunderstorms) and lastly, discomfort or disease.
Manifestations of acute stress or anxiety are easily recognizable. Panting, drooling, pacing, shaking, vocalizing, anal gland expression, and pinned ears are among the most obvious signs of acute panic and usually resolve in a short time. Chronic stress or anxiety can affect the pet’s appetite, activity level, and degree of socialization. Some more subtle indications might include the classic stress yawn (not to be confused with the relaxed yawn), lip licking, over grooming, inappropriate urination or defecation. Many cats will lick and lick until they give themselves bald spots, usually on their flanks and bellies. Dogs tend to do the same along their extremities. These habits, although self-traumatic, release endorphins and give them relief.
The longer these conditions go unrecognized, the more complex they are to treat. Firstly, it’s important to consult with your veterinarian to rule out any underlying health issues. Your vet will perform a thorough physical exam looking for pain, parasites, and anything out of the norm.
Discomfort, pain, and internal diseases can all causes stress and anxiety. In a healthy pet, environmental considerations come next. Are there enough liter boxes in the house? (for example, 2 cats need 3 boxes). Has your dog’s exercise routine been reduced? Is your new housemate teasing your pet?
Here are some additional options for calming your pet:
THUNDERSHIRT – A snug shirt that calms and consoles your pet. It functions similar to swaddling a baby.
MUSIC – I recommend Through a Dog’s Ear, which provides music and sound therapy for dogs and cats.
‘ANXITANE’ – contains L-theonine, an amino acid from green tea that increases the feel good neurotransmitters GABA and Dopamine. For dogs and cats.
‘SAMe’ – a substance that increases the availability of the Serotonin and Dopamine. Among other health benefits, it can alleviate signs of cognitive dysfunction and help alleviate depression. For dogs and cats.
‘ZYLKENE’ – a product containing the milk protein casein that promotes relaxation. This is the same substance that makes puppies and kittens sleepy after they nurse. For dogs and cats.
FOOD TOYS & PUZZLES – These provide environmental enrichment. Check out The Hot Pursuit and The Frolicat automatic laser pointer for cats and The Kong for dogs. There are even phone apps for cats to play! Mouse for Cats and Cat Toys are two examples.
CAT NIP – This anti anxiety herb from the mint family has long been a kitty favorite.
CALMING DIETS – Royal Canin Calm and The Science Diet Multicare Stress contain casein, the amino acid Tryptophan, and Vitamin B, all which calm the nervous system.
PHEROMONE THERAPY – Feliway (cats) and Adaptil (dogs). These lines produce collars, sprays, wipes, and room plug-ins which contain scents which only pets can smell. These scents, which are naturally produced by both dogs and cats, help to reduce stress related behaviors.