Although studies continue to be run to determine the various ways in which pets are beneficial to our lives, it’s already clear that sharing your life with a pet brings even more than joy and laughter. Pets help decrease stress and anxiety in their humans’ lives by lowering cortisol levels while increasing feelings of calm by raising their levels of dopamine and serotonin. Beyond these benefits, animal companionship also reduces loneliness and can aid in children’s social and emotional development.
But what about our beloved pets? We know that they can suffer from stress and anxiety as well. What can we do to help relieve their stress?
Regular routines and daily exercise
Animals thrive with consistency (much like children). When they can anticipate when they’ll eat or go for their daily walk, they feel safe and secure. Changes in routine can cause anxiety to spike, leading to stress and behavioral issues. Of course, disruptions to our daily schedules can occur, but if we keep to the same schedule most of the time, we can help mitigate stress in our animals’ lives.
In addition, regular daily exercise burns off excess energy (often a root cause of misbehavior) and helps animals maintain their health. Beyond that, exercise can help calm both animal and human minds, meaning that while we’re helping our dear animals relieve stress, we’re likely doing the same for ourselves.
Swaddling and safe havens
Many pet owners have had success in swaddling their pets, especially dogs, much like we would do with a newborn baby. Start by researching the various options for swaddling, and then do a trial run, as some animals are NOT a fan. For those who do like swaddling, being wrapped up and held close helps them feel safe and secure. It reduces feelings of stress and anxiety by providing gentle pressure, which, much like a hug, is calming. It’s important to remove the swaddle once symptoms of anxiety have abated so that it doesn’t lose its potency.
Swaddling can even be used to help pets healing from injuries. Injuries tend to mean that animals are getting less exercise than usual, which can increase feelings of anxiety. In turn, anxiety can slow the healing process, thus prolonging their period of inaction.
If swaddling isn’t right for your pet, try creating a safe place for them to retreat to in times of high stress. Pick an area that will feel like a cozy nook and furnish it with one of their favorite toys as well as a blanket or article of clothing that smells like you. In the beginning, you can feed them some of their meals here to increase their positive feelings about the space.
Natural supplements and holistic healing
First and foremost, always consult your veterinarian before administering any supplements or medications. There has been success using supplements like L-Theanine (an amino acid known for its calming effects) and s-adenosylmethionine (a natural chemical known as SAMe which is created by the body and can elevate moods). Melatonin can be used to aid sleep or help an animal to stay calm during car rides and synthetic pheromones (specific to each species of animal) send messages of safety and belonging.
There are other possibilities with essential oils—like lavender, which might help increase feelings of tranquility—but they can be toxic to animals if ingested and they cannot be applied directly on the skin or fur. And in recent years, products using CBD oil (derived from hemp, not marijuana, and therefore not containing THC) have begun showing anecdotal evidence of success in reducing anxiety in animals.
In addition, holistic approaches like massage and acupuncture can sometimes help reduce stress and relieve anxiety in animals, provided you work with a practitioner experienced in working with animals. However, it’s wise to remember that something as simple as spending 15 minutes each day grooming your pet yourself can have a positive effect, too. It costs nothing but time and energy and offers a huge return.
Soothing sounds and behavior modification
Sometimes, all it takes is the right tunes to help animals get into a calmer headspace. It may take some trial and error to find out which music your pet prefers, but if it helps keep their anxiety at bay, it’s well worth the effort. If music isn’t part of their milieu, finding a TV channel for them to watch might do the trick. There are even TV channels that have been created specifically with animals in mind!
And if none of the above seem to help, working with a licensed trainer or animal behaviorist may be what your pet needs. They work on teaching animals to remain calm while they’re exposed to small amounts and moments of situations that would normally trigger their anxiety. They’re then rewarded for their good behavior, before the intensity and duration of their exposure to triggers is increased, continuing until their ability to remain calm in stressful situations has grown.
In the end, no matter which treatment helps your beloved pet best, the most important thing to remember is that by modeling calm behavior yourself, you can do much to help your animal remain calm.