It’s well known that pets often help their owners de-stress. There’s nothing like coming home to a little friend who wags her tail or jumps into your arms as you walk through the door, ready to snuggle up with you on the couch and help you unwind. However, because they can be so helpful in meeting our needs, it can be easy to forget they may have issues of their own to deal with.
In fact, as most owners know, our pets can and do suffer from stresses and anxieties that can have a debilitating effect on their well-being. While that doesn’t necessarily mean they require the kind of professional or other assistance we might seek for ourselves, it does suggest they need some help, even if it is simply a version of the attention and affection they give us.
In another article, “The Warning Signs of Pet Distress,” we discussed the cues and clues that may indicate your pet is experiencing stress. Assuming this is the case, the focus should be on reducing or even eliminating her anxiety. Typically, this can be done through prevention or various soothing and calming techniques that are tailored to animals.
Preventing distress in the first place
As with humans, the best way to help your pet remain stress-free is to avoid those things that can cause her problems in the first place. For most pets, certain situations seem to automatically heighten stress and fear, including trips to the vet, the departure of a family member–even if only for a little while–and being introduced to new faces and places, especially if it happens too quickly.
Certainly, these things can’t be avoided altogether. However, by staying attuned to the impact they might have on your pet, you can make it easier for them cope. If, for example, you’ve just moved into a new apartment and you have some sense that your dog is on edge, organizing a house party with lots of people around is probably not a great idea.
Instead, it might be better for you and your pet to enjoy more of a transition period, or to make arrangements for her to be somewhere else when the festivities get going. In many respects, it’s much easier to reduce or eliminate stress creators than to try and deal with the fallout afterward. Since most people are generally sympathetic to our little friends, odds are they’ll understand your desire to make life easier for them.
Keep things consistent
Dogs, cats and other domesticated animals are creatures of habit and tend to prefer set routines. Virtually all of the triggers that can unsettle them involve some sort of change in their activities or environment. The surprising part, perhaps, is that it doesn’t necessarily have to be something dramatic. Even small variations can bring about distress or unusual behavior.
Indeed, seemingly ordinary or commonplace events – for humans, at least – such as the remodeling of a home, sending one or more children off to college, or even a change in the weather, can significantly impact your pet’s state of mind in a short period of time, regardless of how smoothly things appear to be going at first glance.
To help your pet successfully maneuver through situations like these, you should strive for a measure of consistency. In the case of cats, for example, it is important to keep their litter box areas in pristine shape and situated the same way each day. In addition, you should try to ensure that her food and litter products remain as they were, avoiding changing brands unless absolutely necessary. Similarly, your little one should have bowls, beds and other personal items that are clearly their own and that don’t have to be shared with others.
Dogs also crave consistency, though the focus should be on maintaining their routine rather than certain feeding and sleeping arrangements. To avoid aggravating them unnecessarily, you should think of them as toddlers. Typically, this means having familiar feeding, playing and walking routines in place, as well as ensuring that bedtime remains a familiar experience. If changes are necessary, try to introduce them slowly and gradually.
Give them opportunities to unwind
Making sure her surroundings and activities remain to her liking isn’t the only thing you can do. Like many of us, they may also benefit from listening to music, aromatherapy and essential oils, as well as reassuring physical contact, including hugs and petting. Indeed, simply stroking your dog while you are listening to your favorite music can immediately help her feel better. Creating a place in your home where your little one knows she is secure and can relax is a good way to enable her to alleviate stress and worry, even after the fact.
Bear in mind, however, that your pet may not necessarily need direct assistance. Many are capable of soothing themselves if given the opportunity to do so. Cats like to be alone when they are stressed; they may also be aggressive toward others when they are upset. To make things easier for her, ensure she has hideaways, such as a “cat tree,” where she can escape from people, other animals, or stimuli that may be unsettling her. Some dogs also like to have time on their own and should have adequate space to do so. Taking a nap in a quiet room may be just what your little one needs to get back up to speed.
When to seek help
If your pet is still having trouble even after providing her with a familiar environment and consistent routine, you may want to consider seeking professional assistance. Trainers may be able to show you calming and other techniques that have worked wonders for them. Alternatively, your veterinarian can suggest, if need be, medications and other strategies that can make a difference when your pet is suffering from stress and anxiety. Whatever way you go, you and your pet will likely end up all the better for it.