Dogs and cats under stress often display symptoms such as hiding, cowering, whining, barking, aggression and destructive behaviour.
"Cats and dogs can be very sensitive to changes in routine," says Dr. Gary Landsberg, a board-certified veterinary behaviourist. "There are a number of important environmental and behaviour modification techniques that can be used to help animals cope over the long term."
A recent survey on pet anxiety conducted by Harris/Decima on behalf of Intervet/Schering-Plough Animal Health Canada found that 50 per cent of Canadians own a dog, a cat or both – and 98 per cent are aware their pets can display signs of stress.
Loud noises, separation anxiety and changes around the home topped the list as common causes of stress in dogs and cats, with dogs experiencing significantly more separation anxiety than cats (68 per cent versus 48 per cent). Cats showed stress more than dogs due to moving (65 per cent versus 50 per cent)
When it comes to ways animals show their anxiety, owners identified hiding or cowering as the most common symptom of stress for both dogs and cats, followed by whining or barking. Other reactions to stress, including aggression, scratching, and urine marking can also pose significant challenges for pet owners.
Dr. Landsberg offers the following tips to help reduce anxiety in pets:
Keep a regular routine
When adopting a new pet, moving to a new home or if there has been an unexpected change in the household that causes anxiety for your pet, try to maintain a regular routine and use rewards to encourage desirable behaviours. If you are upset, your pet is likely to be upset.
Back off and stay positive
If your dog or cat cowers every time there's a thunderstorm, for example, help her to find a place to settle where she feels most comfortable. Scolding or punishing your pet will only escalate her stress.
Take it slow
Take gradual steps to reduce undesirable behaviour. Try using a recording of the stress-inducing sounds, such as thunderstorms or fireworks, so that you can begin to accustom your pet to these sounds at a low level while your pet is calm, playing with a toy or eating a favourite treat. As the sound becomes familiar, your pet should begin to ignore the sounds, at which point you can gradually increase the volume. Go slowly and keep these sessions positive.
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