Science can measure stress and its effect on the health and well-being of our pets. Both short-lived and chronic stress can impact their health, healing process, and lifespan. Fear Free ideas help lower our pet’s level of anxiety, which results in a happier pet and a safer environment for treatment (both at the vet clinic and at home).
It’s All About Communication
Understanding how pets communicate their stress helps to identify stressors. They perceive their world very differently than we do (and can be more sensitive) because we don’t use our senses the same way. Once you know what those stressors are, you can adapt an area to help your pet cope better, or work to change our pet’s response to them (from fearful to accepting).
In a separate article, we touched on how to recognize subtle signs of fear & stress. In this article, we want to touch on a few simple things that can help reduce stress (especially at home). These options can work separately, as well as combined for more relief.
Just a little to the left…
1. Smelly Pheromones
a chemical substance produced and released into the environment by an animal, especially a mammal or an insect, affecting the behavior or physiology of others of its species.
Are you a pet owner? Then there are pheromones all around your home already, and the only creature able to smell and read them is your pet. Have you ever wondered if there was a second reason behind Kitty rubbing their face on you when you’re snuggling and she’s happy? She is spreading a calming/happy pheromone, signalling that you’re “A-OK”.
Scientists have managed to isolate the calming pheromone in cats and dogs, and create a number of products we can use. Cats do not react to a canine pheromone, and vice versa. The idea behind these products is to help your pet relax because their body is naturally reacting to a protein that it can already make on its own. Pretty cool, right?
Pheromones will not work by themselves on an already highly reactive, charging, overstimulated pet. Although it can help in conjunction with other options, it works best on the low to moderately stressed pet, or in anticipation of a stressful event. Feliway is the most common brand for cat products while Adaptil is most common for dogs.
- Plugins: The air should be saturated; 1 plugin for an entire apartment will not be strong enough to help your pet. In vet offices, it is recommended to have 2 or 3 in an exam room (about the size of a small bedroom or large bathroom). Designate a space to be your pet’s “Stress Free Land”, a space that does not have a lot of traffic, for best results.
- Sprays: These can go on anything! Bandanas, blankets, towels, collars, car seats, etc. If your pet is already a little stressed, spray some on a towel or blanket and wait 15 minutes for the alcohol in the spray to dry off. Let them soak that in for a while.
- Wipes: Great for carriers and anything other than cloth.
Lavender essential oil is also a good thing to try, and it smells great!
Since dog’s noses are so incredibly strong, it’s best to heavily dilute essential oils before use, and try it on a bandana first in case the dog doesn’t care for it. Otherwise, if they are aversive and the oil is directly on them, there’s no way to provide relief.
-Julie Parker of Rocky Mountain Dog Training
2. Sound (of Music)
Sometimes all you need to help your pet is a quiet place, away from hustle and bustle. Barring that, a distraction from louder noise is helpful. White noise machines can work, as well as music. For the simplest option, go classical. Pets respond well to that type of music and can relax. There are also many places to find music that is specifically oriented for your dog or cat. These programs or tracks take tone, tempo, pattern, and frequency into consideration for the best results. My personal favorite is the Pet Tunes Bluetooth Speaker. You can also do a Google or Youtube search: Calming Cat or Dog, as well as Through a Dog’s Ear or Through a Cat’s Ear.
3. Safe & Secure (Touch)
What do I mean by that? Touch is a fountain of sensory input, and the right kind can help a lot with stress. Studies show that a 20 second hug can release more oxytocin (the ‘love hormone’) that can cause a physiological change in people to help cope with stress. The appropriate type of touch can also help a pet feel safer and more secure. A towel wrap or tool such as a Thundershirt can decrease stress in pets using similar principles. Gentle, constant pressure has a dramatic calming effect for most dogs and cats if they are anxious.
Another option is using an ace bandage in a half wrap:
4. Tasteful Treats!
Who doesn’t like treats (and lots of them!)? When pets are in a situation that stresses them out, that stress can lead up the ladder to fear. It is a reflex that creates very strong memory pathways (they’ll remember what stressed or scared them, and that feeling might be worse next time). But if we notice the subtle signs, acknowledge and help support our pet, we can change how they feel about that trigger or situation. Treats are a great way to make them feel good and more comfortable.
This type of simple conditioning and positive reinforcement can help in many ways, especially for behavior modification. There are many facets to behavior modification that can be discussed, but for this instance, we’re focused on simple classical conditioning.
For example, if your pet is scared of a specific item in the house, you can help change their negative emotion to a positive one by connecting said object with treats. This is accomplished by taking very small steps and giving treats every time your pet reacts appropriately (without stress). For more complicated situations or those that create higher levels of reactivity, a behaviorist may need to step in.
There are also great supplements on the market to help with anxiety (that contain colostrum calming complexes and tryptophan, for example). Composure treats are good ones to try.
Examples of Stressful Situations:
- Thunderstorm & Fireworks
- There are some good sedation options as well. Please do NOT use Acepromazine for loud noise/storm/fireworks! This type of medication might make things worse by heightening sensitivity to noise, instead of the other way around. Talk to your veterinarian about Sileo, which inhibits norepinephrine (one of the big chemicals involved in the fear response) and isn’t just a sedative (or band-aid).
- A group of people over for dinner.
- Moving to a new home.
- New pet or addition to the family.
- Construction outside.
- Nail trims
- Anything new and foreign.