There are many people who feel symptoms of stress and anxiety in daily life and many whose mental health suffer because of this. These same feelings of stress and anxiety are also felt in companion animals, many of whom make up invaluable family members that in many cases help ourselves deal with stress and anxiety.
A wide range of factors influences mental health in our pets. These include the breed and species of the pet, their genes, the environment that they were brought up in as well as the environment and interaction they have with their owner now. Within each of these factors, there is a long list of co-factors that will influence how your pet sees the modern world. It is impossible to control all these factors, however it is possible to recognise behaviours that suggest your pet is suffering from mental health distress and put into place changes to their everyday environment and routine that will help them.
Many animals will show obvious symptoms that they are uncomfortable in a certain situation. This may include aggressive behaviour such as ears changing position, hair coat becoming raised, growling, biting, clawing or barking. It may also include frightened behaviour such as excessive vocalisation or barking, cowering or hiding, heightened attention to a particular person or object and inappetence.
It is more common for animals to show subtle behavioural changes when they are stressed or anxious. These can include inappetence, lip licking, pacing or unable to become comfortable, excessive panting and changes in toilet habits. These behaviours also include an excessive attachment to a particular person, excessive barking and destruction of the backyard, objects or interior of the home.
It is important to note that many of the behaviours mentioned above can be due to other medical issues rather than a behavioural or mental health problem. There are many things that owners can do to try and help their pet’s mental health. This can range from simple environmental changes such as moving a bed or increasing the number of litter trays in multi-cat households to having multiple chew toys or problem solving activities available to stimulate your pet to use their brain.
Regular exercise that is suitable for your pet is also an important consideration.
Adjunctive therapies such as Adaptil and Feliway are pheromones that are beneficial in many cases. Nutraceuticals such as Zylkene also help in reducing stress levels around the home.
Many pets may experience extremely stressful situations that are out of our control. These are commonly thunderstorms, fireworks, going to the veterinary clinic and even the departure of their owner in the case of separation anxiety. These animals commonly require prescription anxiolytic medication to help them (and their owners!) through these stressful situations. We always recommend trying to conduct behavioural training in conjunction with any prescription medication to achieve better results.
If you have any questions regarding your pet’s mental health or you recognise some of these symptoms in your pet, please don’t hesitate to contact the friend team at Albion Park and Gerringong Veterinary Hospitals.