Mental Health and Your Pet

Jan 30, 2023

Living in a fast paced world, over the years we’ve seen a rapid increase in stress and anxiety, two key contributors to a decline in good mental health. We have also learned that there a probably just as many different manifestations of stress and anxiety as there are potential ways to ease these feelings, and as much as we are affected by these stressors, it is important to also remember that our fur family feel the effects of it too. Animals with a history of abuse or neglect are especially prone, but even the most pampered of pets who seem to ‘have it all’ can find themselves in a less than ideal mental health position. Essentially, your pet can perceive a threat, generating an emotional response like anxiety or stress, regardless of whether the threat is a genuine or not.

Why our four-legged friends find themselves in anxious twists is not definitively known, but key triggers can include loud noises like thunder or firewords, being separated from important people, a change in environment or schedule, or changes in who they are sharing their home with – human or otherwise. External changes, such as a neighbour doing renovations, can also trigger anxiety. And yes, a trip in to see yours truly – the vet – can also be a catalyst for some of our more sensitive souls.

So, without inducing our own anxiety, what signs should we be on the look out for that might indicate our pet may not be in the best mental shape? Both cats and dogs exhibit behaviours that might have you thinking they have lost their manners, such as urinating/defecating inappropriately or destructive behaviours like scratching carpet in cats or scratching down doors in dogs – all possible symptoms of stress. More subtle signs in dogs such as lip licking, yawning, scratching, sniffing, turning their head away, pulling their ears back or standing with their tail tucked under their body, may indicate distress, but much more obvious signs including escaping, and destruction when you are leaving or attempting to leave them are easier to spot. Cats can be a little less subtle in sharing their distress with the world, and excessive grooming, hiding behaviours, aggression, and toileting outside the litter box are more common indicators.

Fortunately, these behaviours and experiences are not something you or your wired pet have to live with, and as the caring pet parent that you are, you can take positive steps towards making some changes for the better.

  1. The first step is to rule out any medical issue that may be the cause. Any changes in toileting can also indicative of stressor other underlying medical issues, something Vetmed can check for and treat accordingly.
  2. The other important thing to remember is that anxious behaviours are not always as a result of your fur child being naughty or spiteful, so punishing them could have the complete opposite impact you are seeking. If managing anxiety and stress behaviours is the journey required to restore peace and calm to your pet, then your vet can advise on a plan which may include specific strategies and/or medication options in severe cases, to support the road to recovery.
  3. A referral to a certified animal behaviourist could also be recommended to support you with a more complex intervention plan, if therapies like conditioning, desensitisation or crate training aren’t enough.
  4. Minimise your stress and anxiety and trust the experts. The professional team at VetMed have the experience, knowledge and skills to assist and guide you to solutions that will help ease and calm both you and your pet.
  5. Remember, you are not alone. If you have a pet that is displaying even the smallest signs of stress or anxiety, call Vetmed and let the professionals assess and take that weight off your shoulders. You and your pet are in safe hands – we’ve got you.