Stress & Anxiety – How to Help Your Pet

Stress has an important role to play in the survival of any species but it becomes a problem when it is severe or ongoing and an animal is unable to cope. Stress can impair the body’s ability to heal and impact on an animal’s quality of life. Stress and anxiety can predispose to a number of health issues including infections, allergies, skin problems, bladder inflammation in cats and a number of other diseases.

Symptoms of stress can include behavioral changes, obsessive licking or chewing, aggression, depressed behavior or hiding, barking and even diarrhea to name but a few. A number of factors can cause stress and anxiety including extreme weather, fireworks, storms, moving house, changes in routine, feeling unwell, not getting enough exercise, overcrowding, the loss of another pet or owner, or even not knowing their place in the family “pack” or being constantly badgered by another animal eg. A newly introduced cat in the area or a new puppy that just wants to play the whole time when the old dog needs to rest.

Limiting stress by getting to the root of the problem and avoiding stressful situations is ideal but sometimes this is impossible. In these cases, it is important to help the animal to cope with the stress as effectively as possible.

A vet check will help to identify underlying issues. A balanced approach is important ensuring that your pet has enough exercise, rest and relaxation, playtime and optimal nutrition. Sub-optimal nutrition is a huge factor undermining animals’ sense of well-being and their ability to cope with stress. Good nutrition with a well-balanced, wholesome diet that is free of chemicals and preservatives and has optimal amounts of important micro-nutrients is an important first step in helping to take the edge off (and sometimes alleviate!) behavioral disorders, stress and anxiety.

Nutrients such as B vitamins are well known for helping animals and humans deal with stress and reduce nervousness. Other nutrients such as omega 3 fatty acids are helpful to moderate extreme behaviors and anti-oxidants can be incredibly useful to help an animal to “feel well in itself” and thereby cope better with stress. The latter are also helpful to help boost the immune system and prevent infection. Tryptophan, an amino acid, helps to bring about the feeling of calmness and well-being;

A “magic bullet” that many animal owners make use of for themselves and their animals is Flower Essences, the most well-known being Rescue Remedy. Individualised Bach Flower Essences can be wonderful at helping animals and I have witnessed a number of animals transformed with their use. Homeopathic remedies may also be helpful. Calming herbs such as skullcap, valerian and lavender have a calming effect are useful. Other herbs such as ginseng and astragalus are adaptogenic and help animals to cope better with stress. These are best used with input from a qualified practitioner.

There are also commercially available pheromones, types of chemicals that animals use to communicate, which help dogs and cats to feel calm and relaxed available from vets. Compression coats have been helpful to reduce anxiety by providing gentle compression which seems to set some pets at ease. Behavioral training is generally also very important.

In some cases, anti-anxiety medication is greatly beneficial to help some animals to cope, especially when it is combined with behavioral training.

There are many options to help alleviate stress. Often a combination provides a highly effective approach and animals are transformed to enjoy improved health and vitality.