It’s been estimated that more than 70% of pets are now suffering from stress or anxiety and, as a trainer, I see a lot of issues such as fear aggression, barking, digging and destructive chewing happening as a direct result of stress and anxiety in dogs and cats.
Just like humans, stress and anxiety in dogs and other pets can impact on their immune system and/or lead to behaviour problems and other issues.
So why is stress and anxiety in dogs on the rise? Firstly, urban density means more dogs and cats are forced to live in close proximity, which is not what would be occurring if they were in the wild, and so this isn’t ideal.
The next big issue is people working long hours leaving them alone all day. Again, this is not something dogs are designed for. They are pack animals and most crave human company and interaction. Many are also not getting adequate levels of mental and physical stimulation, exercise or socialisation that they need to help keep behaviour problems at bay.
Separation anxiety is a big issue that many dogs face due to this and also owners reinforcing their anxiety, whilst things like car travel and noise pollution can also be a trigger.
There are a number of signs as a dog trainer that indicate a dog is suffering from anxiety, like the barking and digging, aggression to other dogs which is usually fear-based aggression… as well as the more subtle signs like tongue flicking, yawning and panting.
Cats can be similar with aggression or toileting issues, but generally cats are really good at hiding a lot of their stress, which means it often goes unnoticed until it is too late. Some common, and often misunderstood, signs of stress and anxiety in cats are:
• Recurrent health problems like urinary tract disease
• Changes in grooming habits
• Unwanted scratching around the home
• hiding or avoiding human contact
Treatment for stress and anxiety in dogs and cats
Whilst there are some instances where it is evident medication is required in severe cases of anxiety, it is recommended to first work with a vet behaviourist or qualified dog trainer to get an assessment to identify the underlying cause and provide appropriate solutions.
A full environmental enrichment plan is likely to be suggested to ensure their mental and physical needs are met, tips on how you can reduce their stress when heading out to work each day provided such as changing up your routine, whilst calming products like Adaptil and Feliway for dogs and cats to help keep them calm in situations they may find stressful can also help.
Adaptil releases pheromones that mimic the chemical that a dog naturally produces, like a mother dog does to her puppies to provide a signal of security and comfort. Feliway does the same for cats and each can only be picked up by their own species and not humans or other animals.
The collars are great for use outdoors, or when you’re going on a holiday, whist the spray is good to use in small spaces, car travel and by spraying it on blankets and beds. Remember to never directly spray onto the animal and about 15 mins before they go into the car or space.
The diffuser is great at home to help them in situations like staying alone, thunderstorms, visitors or other loud noises, but to work at their best, they should be combined with a proper assessment and plan that addresses some of the other issue that are going on as well.
About the Author: Lara Shannon is co-Host of Pooches at Play and has completed a Certificate III in Dog Behaviour & Training with the National Dog Trainers Federation. Lara also runs her own dog training, minding and walking business in Melbourne’s Bayside area.