Being cute and furry is a big job, but somebody’s got to do it. Fortunately, your pet’s a pro. And the perks aren’t bad either: fresh daily meal service, flexible napping hours, and of course, the love and doting attention of the boss (that’s you). It’s hard to imagine too many pets cracking under the pressure of this gig. And with no mortgage to pay, or schedule to keep, what could possibly stress out your cat or dog?
It all comes down to people. Somehow, without even meaning to, humans can press our pets’ panic buttons - even with a simple hug. In fact, a study in Animal Cognition Journal showed that pets pick up on more human behavior than we previously understood.
Of course, just because your pet is stressed, it doesn't mean that they’re picking up vibes from you; anxiety can exhibit in our pets for a number of reasons including separation anxiety, noise aversion (thunderstorms, loud traffic), even things like new pets in the neighborhood!
Signs of stress in pets
So how do you know if your pets are stressed? The good news is, your cats and dogs aren’t reading the evening stock reports or worrying about layoffs at the office. They watch you, and respond to your tone, body language and general disposition. If you’re stressed, your pet may be too. Here’s what to watch for:
- Destructive Tendencies. Your cat sharpens her claws on your bedspread. Your dog dines on your leather handbag. And this is how they relax?!
- I Am Dog, Hear Me Bark. Stressed-out pooches can become what we might term whiney! The “stress” vocalizations are most often monotonous and persistent whining, barking or even howling.
- Saliva Shoelaces. Anxiety can cause an increase in drooling and salivation, so extra ropes of goopy saliva around the muzzle or puddles of thick saliva around the house can be an indication.
- New Bathroom Habits. Your pet usually makes it to the yard or litter box, but suddenly he’s leaving presents in new, unusual and generally undesirable places. Inappropriate elimination is a common problem in cats.
- Keep Your Hands To Yourself. Your generally docile dog or cat may accidentally bite, growl or otherwise lose his temper when he’s under pressure. Approach with caution.
- Hide and Go Seek. Your pet passes up his favorite spot on the sofa to cower under the bed or behind the drapes.
- A Touch Of OCD: Your dog licks the same spot on his leg or your cat obsessively grooms her belly until the fur falls out. Frightening? Positively hair-raising.
Tips for dealing with stress in pets
So what’s a pet parent to do?
Your first stop is your veterinarian’s office to rule out medical conditions that may contribute to your pet’s new behaviors.
For example, cats with urinary tract infections might pee on the floor. Or, dogs in pain might growl or snap. It’s incredibly important to rule out underlying medical reasons, usually accomplished with a full physical exam and usually blood, urine and/or stool tests.
If your vet determines that your pet is stressed, they may recommend behavioral training alone or in combination with anti-anxiety medication. Some vets also suggest “pheromonatherapy” pet products that release pheromones to calm and soothe a worried pet, like Feliway for cats and DAP (Dog Appeasing Pheromone) for dogs.
In some cases, getting a grip on your pet's behavioral issues can even be covered by pet insurance. For policies with an annual limit of $15,000 or greater, Petplan offers $1,000 in coverage per policy term for consultations with a licensed veterinarian to diagnose and treat behavioral problems where an underlying medical condition is the cause of the issue.
Life’s ruff sometimes, even for pets. By working with your vet, you can help keep yours happy on the job for years to come.