10 Simple Stress Busting Tips for Dogs and Cats
Stress in cats and dogs has a detrimental effect to the body. It delays wound healing. It causes increased risk of infection. Pets that are stressed are just miserable. Find out what stresses them out and my top stress busting tips to reduce stress in dogs and cats.
Our pets can also suffer from a lot of stress-related diseases. Cats will start urine spraying and scratching everywhere to mark their territory. They might start over grooming and actually lick themselves bald and even cause real damage to their skin in some cases. They may also be more prone to developing cystitis. In male cats this can actually cause a blocked bladder to develop which can be fatal.
Dogs can also experience stress related problems just as acutely. They can become really aggressive. They can be destructive and just freak out when you leave them for only a really short period of time. They can inappropriately urinate and defecate.
Causes of stress
There are lots of different causes of stress. Our cats are generally solitary animals so just having lots of other cats in the house is stressful in itself. Even if you think they're getting on chances are that they're under some degree of stress. That can be due to availability of food, water or litter trays. It can be stress with territory. Just with another cat in the neighborhood walking through the back garden. Building work out in the road or in the house. A new baby arriving, maybe another pet being introduced or even having strangers in the house.
For those cats that are more prone to stress it can actually be very subtle things that just set them off. It can sometimes be really hard, if not impossible to identify exactly what the stressful problem is.
Dogs too can be affected by the same things. In dogs, socialization is a really big factor to consider. It is essential that we socialize and train our dogs when they're puppies to help prevent phobias and behavioral issues, including inappropriate stress. Learn here just how to socialize your new puppy.
Socializing them when they're young helps them come across different noises, different people, and all kinds of different experiences. If they come across these when they are young then they're going to be much better, well-rounded individuals. It's really the period of up to about 16-18 weeks of age that ideally needs to be targeted for these socialization experiences.
Cats really benefit from socialization as well. We often think of it more in dogs and puppies but making sure your kitten is exposed to lots of different situations is equally beneficial.
Stress busting tips
Thankfully there's a lot that we can do about stress and today I want to give you 10 tips to reduce stress in your cat or dog.
Don't ignore stress
My first tip is that, much like our mental health, it won't get better by itself. If your cat or dog is super stressed about something, or even if they're only mildly stressed, you really need to recognize that and do something about it. It's only going to get worse with time.
I see this time and again. An owner will mention a small behavior change one year at their vaccination or health check appointment. I'll give some recommendations and they'll come back the next year and say things have got worse. Since visits nothing has been done and while this can be completely understandable, life is busy and a behavioral problem may not take priority, stress problems only get worse if not addressed.
If your pet is stressed, getting them checked out, getting advice and implementing some strategies is really important.
One thing that will often be suggested, either as temporary measure if we're then putting in other changes or if we're expecting kind of short periods of stress, is using pheromone therapy. Pheromones are chemicals that are released in different situations by different species but can only be detected by that species.
In cats we use something called feline facial pheromone (find out the price on amazon). If you've ever noticed a cat brushing their cheek up along something, they're releasing this pheromone against that object. It helps them feel at home and it marks out their territory and safe space.
Dogs have a similar response to a pheromone called dog appeasing pheromone.
These pheromone therapies are like little plug-in air fresheners and also come in collars for dogs and sprays for using in cat carriers, pet clothes or similar. They help our dogs and cats to relax. Help them feel more at home and can really go a long way to helping reduce stress.
I mentioned before, cats and resources can be a big source of stress. Only having food in one place in a multi-cat household is a big no-no. As a general rule for food, water and litter trays there should be one more than the number of cats in the house. As well as this number, they should also be set in separate locations.
So if you've got three cats really you need our food bowls in different locations, four water bowls (which can be next to the food bowls) and four litter trays separate from the food and water stations. We don't want to eat in the toilet and nor do our cats!
The next thing that we can do is provide a safe space for our pets. Cats like getting up high and they like going into enclosed spaces. So maybe the top shelf in a cupboard, the top of a wardrobe or similar. If you know somewhere that your cat likes to go you should always leave the door open so they have access to that area. Provide a nice soft bed or a blanket so that if they're feeling anxious or stressed they can always access their safe space.
For our dogs dogs we could have their crate or that spot behind the sofa as their safe space. Somewhere that's just out of the way, quiet and maybe a little bit darker. Again have it so that they can always access this space when they choose.
My fifth tip to reduce stress in our cats and dogs is to recognize stressful events and act appropriately. If you know that your dog always gets really stressed around fireworks or around storms and thunder for example then recognizing that at certain times of year there are more likely to be periods of high stress.
There are strategies that we can use for phobias like that which is too much to get into today, but find out what works and put in the coping strategies before the event. This might be wearing a thunder shirt. It might be playing music + closing the curtains.
Work on a "cure"
Better yet might be actually trying to desensitize them to that fear so it stops being a cause of stress in the future.
Desensitization is not something that can be done the day before a stressful event. It takes time, effort and consistency but is an excellent way to eliminate stress in the future.
Exercise is my next tip. It's good for us and it's good for our dogs and cats too. It's been shown that regular walking of our dogs can help just reduce their stress levels.
I cant find any studies in cats specifically but I can't see why they'd be any different. Playing with them, getting a laser or a mouse toy may help to reduce their stress levels. Raising their heart rate and burning off a few calories has been shown to significantly reduce stress in dogs. I imagine the same is true for cats.
Secure your home
My next two tips more for cats. One is to secure their environment. There's nothing more stressful than having other cats come into the house, eating your cats food and using their litter tray.
Securing the house might involve not actually using a cat flap and instead letting them in and out through the door. An alternative would be using a microchip cat flap that actually reads the microchip that hopefully is already inside your cat just under their skin. It reads that microchip and will only let them in or out. They work really well. I had just this problem with my cats where other cats were coming into the garage and eating their food. A microchip cat flap completely solved this issue.
The next tip is to allow your cat to come and go as they please. Our cats are very territorial but they will share territories with other cats. They are very well aware of who's where and when they will pass through each other's territory so they develop a strategy to avoid confrontation and avoid fighting. If you are kicking your cats out, or only letting them in, at certain periods of time then this may co-inside with the time their competitor is in their territory. Clearly this will lead to stress!
My final tip is to seek professional advice. This might be from your vet, it might be from an animal behaviorist or a trainer. Approaching these people, having a chat about what problems you're experiencing and recognizing that there will be solutions. There's seldom a quick fix but a little bit of effort, especially if you're recognizing it early and acting promptly, will make all the difference to your cat or your dogs stress levels. It will also lower your stress levels!
I hope that these tips help to reduce your pets anxiety and stress. Big thanks to Chris at The Rewired Soul for letting me spread the message that mental health is just as important an issue in our pets as it is in us. Make sure you check out his YouTube channel where he discusses mental health issues, talking about the problem but focusing on the solution.
Our Pets Health: because they're family