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When veterinarians hear that a pet is aggressive, violent, or destructive there is a twitch in the back of their minds. Inherently vets know that reactive pets are, the vast majority of the time, stressed, anxious, afraid, or uncertain of how to respond to the situations they find themselves in.
Finding the right solution for a pet's stress or anxiety may take some trial and error. The best thing pet parents can do is to have patience and explore multiple behavioral solutions. Pet stress doesn't present in the same ways for every animal.
Pets don’t scratch or chew on things for no reason. Understanding the physical signs of stress or why destructive or unsafe habits are forming is the first step to corrective action.
Vocalizing - barking, meowing, whining, yowling, hissing, growling
Aggression - baring of teeth, biting, lashing out,
Withdrawal - isolation, hiding, cowering
Lack of Appetite - disinterest in food, treats, or normal meal times
Licking, Chewing, or Scratching - as soothing behaviors or as anxiety behaviors resulting in hair loss or skin damage
Destructive habits - damage to furniture, property, isolated areas, or home items
When it comes to minimizing the symptom through which a pet's stress is taking form, Fuzzy veterinarians recommend three phases of action:
Whether a pet is bored, anxious, stressed, or simply moody —environmental enrichment can be an easy way to keep the dog or cat mentally engaged in the house. This will keep them busy, mentally stimulated, and condition them to more flexible ways of communicating than their stressful coping mechanisms when not engaged. Effective environmental enrichment practices include:
Puzzle bowls - To keep energetic pets occupied during meal times, give them a puzzle bowl. Fill the bowl during regular feedings and even surprise with treats throughout the day. They’ll have to mentally learn the new ways of reaching the food or treats.
Treat-dispensing toys - For active-minded pets without a large territory to own or control, a treat-dispensing toy is a great way to spice up their day with some fun and provide a stress-relieving activity. Food-motivated pets love playing with interactive toys for hours on end. Be sure to provide a safe and secure place for them to play away from loud noises, other pets, young children, or stressors that may be preventing them from living their best, most engaged life.
Stimulating chew or hunting toys - A great chew toy is a must-have for any dog parents. Cats love hunting or chase toys like laser pointers. Ensure every pet has an indestructible toy that is safe for their size and jaw strength so they may work out their feelings.
Accessible scratch mats for cats - A readily accessible cat scratch mat or pad is a must-have for cat parents. Scratching is a natural behavior for cats, and without a place to buff their claws or mark their territory, a cat will turn to furniture to act out their stress.
Daily walks or play time - Set aside a special time every day to take pets on their favorite walk, to play their favorite game, and to keep them happy and healthy.
Separation anxiety is a common occurrence among pets of all ages. Fortunately, there are several solutions pet parents can try, including:
Calming Chews - There are a variety of Calming and Relaxing Chews pet parents can buy for their pet. These supplements help calm a dog with natural ingredients.
Herbal Sprays - As they use canine pheromones to help mitigate anxiety, Herbal Calming Sprays can be very useful.
Calming Collars or Diffusers - Much like the spray, a Calming Collar uses pheromones to calm pups, pheromone sprays or diffusers for cats use their strongest sense (smell).
Prescription medication - If all else fails up to this point, there are prescription medications vets can prescribe for pets to help calm their stress and anxiety symptoms. Veterinarians typically recommend using these for short periods in conjunction with training, retraining, or environmental changes... not as a first approach for relief.
If adjustments to the pet's environment, enrichment activities, and supplementation are not adequately helping reduce a pet's stress symptoms pet parents should do their best to create isolated safe spaces.
Dedicating a room or area away from children, other pets, or stressors can be a way to make the pet feel safe and secure. Baby gates or area fences are highly effective for segmenting parts of the home if space is limited.
Cats typically prefer elevation. A cat tree or accessible high shelf could be a good option to help them destress.
Individual time outside of the home can be an easy way for pets to do their own thing.
Pet stress doesn't always look the same. Different pets will present stress symptoms differently. Pet parents should observe and be aware of any changes in a pet's behavior and demeanor, taking into account their age, breed, and specific changes to their surroundings. Consulting with an online veterinarian is an easy way to work through some of the changes and potential ways of improving a dog or cat's mood. Addressing the source is the easiest way to manage a pet's stress and help them find more constructive, healthier, and safer outlets that support their long-term physical and emotional health.