Do you know how to tell when your pet is nervous or not feeling comfortable in their environment? Often, our pets are stressed by certain triggers or changes, such as thunderstorms, strangers, or new places. If pets are nervous, they may pace, pant, vocalize, freeze, pretend they are sleeping, or give us other obvious signs of fear, anxiety, or stress. Other indications may be much more subtle, such as eye or ear position – making it more challenging for owners and others to pick up on. Minimizing fear, stress, and anxiety is a great way to help your animals feel more comfortable and help increase the bond between pet and owner. Fear free centered care is a growing aspect in the pet health industry that utilizes techniques to recognize and decrease stress for your pet.
Identifying What Makes Your Pet Anxious or Uncomfortable
The first important step in reducing your pet’s stress, anxiety, or fear in an uncomfortable situation is being able to identify what makes them anxious or uncomfortable.
A relaxed, intrigued body position and soft eye can be indications of a comfortable pet. Tense body position, yawning, showing the whites of their eyes, or moving slowly can be signs of stress. For cats, tail and ear position can be helpful to interpret their comfort level. For pets that are a little more timid, using treats or positive motivators such as toys, calming scents, or soft voices can help decrease their anxiety levels. Moving slowly and using a low body position, such as sitting or kneeling, can make your pet feel more comfortable. Avoiding the use of strong scents such as perfumes and ensuring clean hands if you have been around multiple pets can also decrease stress.
Keeping Your Pets Calm When Leaving Town
Leaving town without your pet can be stressful for them. Unfamiliar dogs or places such as a boarding kennel can be full of strange noises and new scents. Whether your pet is staying at home with a pet sitter or going to a boarding facility, there are several ways to help keep them calm and comfortable while you are away.
- Leaving a toy, blanket, or personal item with them can help remind them of your scent.
- Providing noise, such as through television or classical music, has been shown to decrease stress, especially in dogs.
- Calming pheromone scents such as feliway or adaptil can be sprayed on furniture or objects, used as collars, or even put into diffusers to help provide comfort while you are away.
- Objects such as kong toys can be used to provide enrichment by being filled with treats or even frozen with peanut butter or kibble to help prevent boredom and relieve stress. If your pet is particularly anxious, they may even benefit from anti-anxiety medication while you are away to help them relax. If you feel like your pet may be a candidate, we recommend calling and speaking with your veterinarian.
Reduce Anxiety With Enrichment
Enrichment can be a great way to decrease anxiety and boredom while you are away. Even if your pet is only alone during the day, providing toys and treats to help entertain them can help to keep them calm and occupied. Puzzle bowls, interactive feeders, and other toys that can be stuffed with treats can be used and even hidden around the house. Some toys even have a microphone to allow your pet to hear your voice. Their normal meals can be split into snack portions and integrated into playtime to help occupy the time. If your pet is a chewer or is likely to destroy toys, please consult with your veterinarian or use personal discretion before leaving them unsupervised to prevent accidental ingestion.
Always Provide Encouragement
For the nervous dog or cat, a little encouragement can go a long way. Providing calming, positive interactions repeatedly over time can help an anxious dog or cat become more comfortable and confident. By becoming educated on pet body language and how they respond to their humans, it is easier to understand how your pet responds to their environment. By providing positive interactions, the goal is to increase your pet’s comfort level and confidence through treats or other rewards. It is important to start slowly. If your pet is too nervous to be motivated by treats or other rewards in certain scenarios, taking a step back and consulting with a trainer or a veterinarian may help to increase understanding and help identify what is the cause of your pet’s nervousness or discomfort.
By identifying triggers and minimizing events when your pet feels stressed, you are able to provide them comfort and enrichment while you are away. For more information on fear-free centered care visit the fear-free website. There are a multitude of resources for pet owners, as well as finding a fear-free certified veterinarian near you.
Dr. Meg Walker is an associate veterinarian at Weddington Animal Hospital and a North Carolina native. She is a proud graduate of the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine and is certified in veterinary acupuncture through the Chi Institute. She is a Fear Free Certified Practitioner and is passionate about getting to know her patients and minimizing their stress during their visits. In her free time, she likes to spend time with her husband and her two pets and watch Carolina Panther’s football.