Pets aren’t really all that different from people. Just like their fur-parents, your cats and canines have the capability to get down in the dumps, or, more frequently, suffer from stress and anxiety.
Now, stress and anxiety aren’t inherently bad; they’re necessary to make your pets aware of their surroundings and keep them safe. Sometimes though, something can cause your pet to become overly stressed or anxious, and this can really start to take a toll on their overall wellbeing.
Not to worry though, we can help - and there’s no better time to consider the wellbeing of your pet than during Responsible Animal Guardian Month. Keep reading to discover exactly how to tell if your pet is stressed, including the signs of stress in cats and dogs, what causes animal anxiety, and how you can help them feel better.
Signs of Stress in Dogs
As much as we wish that dogs could talk like the lovable mascots in children’s movies, they can’t - so they don’t have the power to tell us if something is wrong. That means it’s up to their guardian to look for the signals and signs that something has gone amiss.
Luckily, the bond that we form with our dogs is a strong one, and this allows us to develop a pretty keen sense of what they’re saying - or what they would be saying - so we can gage whether or not they’re acting like their usual selves based on their typical behaviour.
If your dog suddenly starts acting different, it’s a surefire sign that something might be off. Some common signs of stress in dogs include:
- Barking excessively
- Digestive problems, such as an increased or decreased appetite, changes in stool or diarrhea
- Changes in demeanour, from cowering and hiding to becoming more visibly aggressive to humans or animals
- Excessive drooling or yawning
- Excessive itching or scratching
- Changes in physical appearance, such as dilated pupils or ears pushed forwards or back
All dogs are different. Some breeds will have similar indicators to watch out for, but no one knows your pup like you do. It’s important to note your pooch's usual mannerisms to mark whether or not they are acting differently, and whether these are signs that your pet is stressed.
Signs of Stress in Cats
The same very much applies to our cats. Although they have a bit of a rep for being cool and aloof, they too can experience stress and anxiety which can begin to impact their overall health.
That said, the stereotype can ring true sometimes. See, as a result of their predatory ancestry, cats have a tendency to try to disguise signs of fear or weakness as in the wilderness this would make them vulnerable. That disposition has passed down even to our lovable house cats who don't do much other than lounge around on the sofa, so it can sometimes be difficult to identify that your cat is experiencing these feelings.
Here are some of the physical indications of stress that you can look for:
- Excessive hissing or meowing
- Shaking or shivering
- Cowering or hiding, even from their most beloved humans
- Digestive issues or changes in appetite
- Excessive grooming or scratching
- 'Accidents' involving a lack of litter box
- Excessive aggression
It's important to try and identify the signs of stress in your cat, because excess stress can actually have a pretty detrimental effect on your kitty. Plus, some of these symptoms in themselves can cause problems. For example, excessive grooming or licking can actually damage your cat's skin by creating sore spots - and in turn, cause more stress when they become painful.
Causes of Stress in Pets
There's not one reason why a pet becomes stressed or anxious. Like people, all animals are different and can become unsettled by different factors. An important step in helping your cat or dog with anxiety is to first of all ask, "why is my pet stressed?"
While significant life changes are often a trigger for stress - such as moving house or welcoming a new furbaby (or person-baby) into the family - this isn't always the case. Often it's something much smaller that can trigger a bout of anxiety.
Stress in cats and dogs can often be caused by an unsettled - or unhealthy - routine. Pets need plenty of socialisation, exercise and mental stimulation, so anxiety can be caused when they're not getting enough. Similarly, cats and dogs are creatures of routine; if that routine has been disrupted, due to a family holiday or special occasions like Christmas, your pet can become stressed. Remember, they don't necessarily understand what's going on around them.
Although we see our four-legged friends as family, we can actually be the main cause of stress; though our pets might not understand our festive traditions, they learn to read our behaviour in their own way. As their human, you're the most important person to them. If you're particularly unhappy or stressed out, your pet may have noticed and have become unsettled as a result.
Sometimes stress is caused by a temporary environmental factor, such as fireworks and other noisy events or big crowds. This is relatively normal. The problem begins once your pet begins to show repeated signs of distress or it becomes clear that their anxiety isn't going away.
Separation anxiety is a pretty common cause of stress in pets. It's exactly as it sounds - your pet is simply becomes stressed or anxious whenever you're not around. Although the stress is alleviated when you come back to them, this is obviously impractical. As much as we'd love to spend all day lounging around with our cats or playing with our pups, humans have pesky job responsibilities and other things that mean they have to leave their pets at home sometimes.
How to Help Your Pet With Stress
What does all of this mean? Put simply, it means the best way to help your pet is really dependent on what's giving them the jitters in the first place.
If it's noise or crowds that's triggering anxiety in your pet, the first instance would be to remove them from the situation. Give them a place to rest and recharge; this is one of the reasons why it's so important that your pet has a comfy bed and their own space away from people when they need a break.
However, it's also important not to reinforce their anxious behaviour. Whilst it's good to show reassurance, avoid making too much of a fuss over the stressful situation; otherwise, your pet is just going to be more convinced that there was something to be scared of. Instead use positive reinforcement to reward their good behaviour. Strike a happy balance.
The same goes for bigger life events or major changes. Give your pet the love and affection they deserve whilst still making sure you're not encouraging negative behaviour. A lack of training can also cause your pet to become stressed - remember, they are creatures of routine - so it's always a good idea to encourage learning, especially if there's a treat or two in it!
Finally, keep your pet happy with a good, healthy lifestyle and a solid routine. Exercise both your dogs and cats daily to keep them at a healthy weight and ensure they're eating a healthy, natural diet. Bad food can actually be a huge trigger for stress - and we can imagine why! If you're eating junk food all day it's bound to take a toll on your body eventually. Don't subscribe to horrible pet food brands who bulk out their product with artificial or GM products and animal derivatives - choose a company like us! Both our Barking Heads and Meowing Heads recipes use only high quality meat, supplemented with specifically chosen vegetables, herbs and more to ensure it's nutritious (and totally yummy).
Look at Jackson, the smile says it all:
Sometimes stress or anxiety in cats or dogs is a bit too much (particularly for pets who have troubled pasts) and that's also okay. If the problem is persistent, don't let it take a toll on the wellbeing of your kitty or canine. Instead, seek advice from your vet. Sometimes, like in bad cases of separation anxiety, your vet can put you in contact with a super-qualified person who can properly help, like an animal behavioural therapist. There's nothing wrong with that - it just means you're helping your pet to live a happier life.
Do you have any tips of your own on reducing stress in animals? How did you help your own furbaby overcome anxiety? Make sure to let us know on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. And as always, if you have a super cute photo of your own four-legged friend enjoying a Barking Heads dinner, send them over, we'd love to see it!