The past year has been stressful for many of us, both pets and people. With the world opening up again and people going back to work, it’s important to be mindful of how our pets are feeling as our routines start to change. Although restrictions easing might well bring positives for your pet, it could also be confusing or worrying.
Stress can be caused by a variety of things, from loud noises to changes in routine and after a year of lockdowns your pet is likely to have adjusted to you being home more. They may also struggle as they start meeting other people again, whether that’s at home or while they’re out and about.
Whether you’re returning to work, planning a BBQ with some friends or getting back out in the world, it’s important to look out for stress signals in your pet and try to keep any changes gradual and positive. Identifying and acknowledging any signs of stress will help you to work out what your pet needs to live a happy, calm and less stressful life.
Identifying stress in dogs:
In their own way, our dogs often give us lots of signals to try to tell us how they’re feeling. Unfortunately, us humans aren’t always good at picking them up or knowing what they mean. Signs of stress in dogs include:
- Stiff/ tense bodies
- Turning away when approached or withdrawing from company
- Ears back
- Fixed gaze / staring at something or someone
- Panting when not hot
- Whale eye (when the head is stiff and the gaze is to the side)
- Yawning when not tired
- Not eating
- Low energy
If your dog is showing any of these signs, they might be feeling stressed so it's important to take steps to help them. If we don't take action, your dog's stress could lead them to show more severe signs of stress, including growling or aggression.
If your dog has a sudden change in their behaviour, they seem very anxious or ever shows aggressive behaviour, it’s important to contact your vet for a check-up and consider getting in touch with an ABTC accredited behaviourist.
Identify stress in cats:
Cats don’t communicate with each other (or people) in the same way as dogs so it can sometimes be difficult to tell if your cat is stressed or anxious.
Signs of stress in cats include:
- Stiff/ tense bodies
- Wide eyes with dilated pupils
- Standing with an arched back or curled up/ flattened to the ground to look as small as possible
- Puffed tail and twitching tail from side to side
- Eating less or not eating
- Peeing in the house
If these milder signs are ignored your cat could become even more stressed and may then start hissing, swiping or pouncing.
Left without help, cats can become chronically stressed, anxious and unhappy, which can even lead to health conditions such as stress cystitis. If you think your cat is nervous or stressed, it’s really important to get help from your vet and try to help them feel calmer and more comfortable.
Identifying stress in small pets
Our small pets can feel stressed just as much as cats and dogs but the signs they show can be even more difficult to detect. As many small pets are prey animals, they often hide signs of illness or stress, but there are still things we can look out for to check they’re happy. Signs like low energy, eating less and hiding can be related to stress, but any changes in your pet’s routine might mean they are feeling unwell or stressed.
How to reduce the risk of pet stress:
Create a safe space
Ensure your pet has a safe, quiet space to go to if they need it. This could be a den, crate, box or a bed in their favourite quiet place or corner. Make sure they have access to their toys, food and water and plenty of space to move around.
Building a den for your dog:
Building a den for your cat:
Keep to your normal routines
Your wake/ sleep schedule will have a huge impact on your pet if your times change from day to day. You should also stick to their feeding and exercise routines as close as possible. If this needs to change when returning to work then slowly introduce new things to them one by one to reduce any unwanted stress.
Spend quality time with them
When you are home, make an effort to give your pet your full attention for a while. As we get busier, it can be easy to forget to prioritise spending time focused on our pets no matter how much we love them. A good example is walking the dog while on the phone; your dog still gets their exercise but doesn’t benefit from spending time being the centre of your attention. Put some time in each day to play with them or go for a nice walk to let them release some energy.
Play some music or leave the radio on
If your pet is used to having you home more but you now have to spend more time out, then leaving background noise can help some pets to feel more relaxed.
Get back on the road gradually
Car travel can be stressful for pets, especially if they haven’t been used to travelling as much during lockdown. Before you hit the road for any long journeys, make sure you take a few shorter car trips to check your pet is happy back in the car. If you’re going on a summer staycation, make sure you’re prepared for travelling, especially in hot weather and know the signs of car sickness.
Many of us have enjoyed having more time with our pets but this close contact could lead to problems for your pet as they start to be left with more time to themselves. Separation related behaviour (SRB) or separation anxiety can be a big cause of stress for pets, especially for dogs, so we need to build up their time alone slowly and know how to spot the signs of any separation problems so we can help them.
What if my pet is struggling with stress?
All our pets are individuals, so they can all show different behaviours when they’re stressed. Many factors come into play when dealing with stressed and anxious pets so if these signals persist then consider asking your vet for professional advice. Ignoring these signs won’t help the problems go away and seeking advice may help come up with long-lasting solutions.