1) Know the signs and identify the cause - There are a variety of behaviours that stressed animals exhibit – shaking, whining, licking, chewing, hiding, drooling, panting, barking, jumping in your lap, changed facial expressions (ears down, darting eyes, head down), inappetence, urinating/defecating in the house, pawing/scratching at things, and aggression to name the most commonly seen. Whenever you notice behaviour out of the ordinary for your pet, try to pinpoint what may have happened or is happening to trigger the behaviour. It can be something very small and seemingly insignificant! Some pets can even trigger a change in atmospheric pressure when a storm is moving in, and that is enough to set off their anxiety related behaviours. Sometimes, a trained veterinarian can help to shed light on what might be the cause of your pet’s stress – everything from a physical illness to pinpointing various triggers should be considered. The first step to help your stressed pet will always be realizing there is a problem AND identifying the cause.
2) Be prepared - This is the best way to get on top of the anxiety before it grows into something that is more difficult to reverse. Make a plan for your pet that includes what you will do when there is an anticipated stressful trigger that might occur and stocking up on any over the counter calming products that might be beneficial (see #3). If you know your pet does not like thunderstorms, try to employ calming measures as soon as you hear the forecast, instead of when the thunder is booming. If your cat hates when your friend’s dog is visiting, apply calming measures prior to the arrival and make sure your cat has a place to go where he feels safe and secure and does not have to see or interact with the dog. Get the whole family on board with the plan to ensure your pet is always treated the same way during potentially stressful events.
3) Give over the counter calming products a try -These products are typically drug free, natural and affordable. Use them even in anticipated stressful situations that your pet may not even have had a chance to be anxious about: Adding a new pet or human baby to the household? Moving? Construction? These are all events that can trigger anxiety because they represent a change occurring in our pet’s lives. Natural calming and anti-anxiety products can be used in all of these cases, as well as in our pets who are already exhibiting mild to moderate signs of fear and anxiety. See our Calming Agents Quick Reference Guide for Felines and Canines for more information on what is available.
4) Consult a Veterinary Behaviourist - This can be done in a huge variety of cases and is always an option to pet owners. A consult can be done as a preventative measure for puppies to ensure you are starting off on the right foot, for the dog that barks at strangers and during thunderstorms or for the more severe cases where there are signs of aggression. It is a simple procedure that involves a health check from your regular veterinarian to rule out any physical problems and filling out a questionnaire that is thoroughly evaluated by the specialist. A plan is then made that may include non-prescription or prescription medications, and behaviour modification therapies individualized for each case. This approach is the perfect way to ensure you are doing all you can for your stressed pet.
5) Confront the issue! Many times, we get used to our pet’s fearful behaviours and chalk it up to their individual quirks. However, it is important to realize that sustained levels of stress are not healthy because they do raise blood cortisol levels. High blood cortisol levels are linked to everything from decreased immune function to increased blood pressure. Rest assured that there are easy and affordable (and many free!) ways that you can help your pet! Time is of the essence – it is always easier to prevent and treat fears and anxieties early on when we first notice the related behaviours in our pets.