Stress isn’t just a problem for humans; your pet can experience the negative effects too. Illness, changes in the usual routine or the death of another pet can lead to an increase in your pet’s anxiety level. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to help your furry friend relax.
Signs of Stress
Your pet may not be able to tell you that it feels stressed, but you will probably notice some behavioral changes, including:
- Bathroom accidents, particularly if your pet has been successfully house or litter trained
- Excessive grooming, licking or scratching
- Chewing walls, couches or other items in your home (dogs)
- Scratching furniture, doors and walls (cats)
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Excessive barking or howling
- Hiding (cats)
Identifying the Cause
In some cases, the cause of your pet’s stress is obvious. Perhaps you got a new puppy or kitten, and your pet is having trouble adjusting to the new addition. In other cases, the cause might be less obvious. Something that you view as a minor event, such as rearranging furniture, can be stressful for some animals. Other potential causes of stress are:
- Moving to a new home
- Holiday celebrations, which may include scary Halloween costumes, 4th of July fireworks or loud parties
- The death of a person or pet
- The addition of a new person to the home
- Being left at home alone
- Changes in the usual family routine
- The absence of a family member
- Car trips
- Visits to the veterinarian or groomer
Once you have identified the stressor, you can make changes to help your pet feel more relaxed. For example, the start of a new school year obviously means that your family must make changes to its normal routine. If you notice that your cat or dog seems to be stressed by the flurry of early morning activity in your home, offer a quiet refuge far from the chaos. Provide a crate with several toys for your dog or put your cat in a quiet room with a few favorite things.
Your dog may become stressed about riding in the car if he only associates car trips with visits to the vet. Take him on a few short trips to a place he enjoys, such as a local park, and provide treats at the end of the trip. Turning a car ride into a pleasant experience means that short and long trips will be more enjoyable for both you and your pet.
Products and Medications That Can Help
A variety of products and medications may help reduce your pet’s stress level, including:
- Pheromone-based sprays, collars and diffusers. Pheromones are scents animals produce to communicate with each other. Pheromone products mimic scents that help calm your pets.
- Herbal products. Some pets react well to herbal products; others do not experience any decrease in stress levels. Catnip and valerian may be helpful in relaxing your cat while oat seed or California poppy might help your dog.
- Natural supplements. Your pet may experience less stress after taking supplements containing vitamin B1, colostrum and L-theanine. Before you give your pet any herbal or natural product, check with your veterinarian to make sure it is safe.
When to Call Your Vet
If home remedies and removing stressors do not help your pet, it’s time for a visit to the veterinarian. Your veterinarian may recommend anti-anxiety medication or suggest that you consult with an animal behaviorist. The behaviorist will evaluate your pet’s behavior and suggest strategies that will help him or her cope with stress.