Studies have long shown that pets benefit human well-being. They provide feelings of calm and connection that raise feel-good hormones like dopamine and oxytocin levels. They encourage healthy habits that can contribute to a longer life for their owners and lower stress.
We know dogs and cats experience stress, so what can we do for them? The following tips will help you understand what you can do to provide stress relief for cats and how to relieve stress in dogs to keep the animal in your life as happy and healthy as possible.
Stress relief for cats
According to the American Humane Society, it can be hard for cat owners to recognize the signs of stress since cats aren’t always as communicative as dogs are. That makes it even more important to pay close attention to your cat’s body language and be proactive in creating a calm home for your pet. Some good strategies for preventing or relieving stress in cats include:/p>
Get the litterbox sorted
Making it easy and comfortable for your cat to use the bathroom when needed is an important part of stress relief in cats. Pick a place for the litterbox and leave it there — don’t move it around or keep your cat guessing. Also, make sure to scoop it out regularly and find a litter that your cat likes. You may even try setting up two boxes with different litters or styles (one open and one closed, for instance) and seeing which your cat prefers.
Make a cat-friendly space
Cats love to climb and seeing their whole territory from a high vantage point can be reassuring. Create an environment with vertical spaces for them to explore if you want to help relieve stress in your cats.
Dog stress relief
Dogs can usually make it clear when they’re stressed out. Dogs tend to be more sociable than cats, so they may seek you out when stressed. The following tips can help you relieve dog stress when you see it.
Quality time together
Dogs are social animals, and separation anxiety is a common cause of stress. Some pets are experiencing stress as pet owners return to the office after working remotely. Spending quality time with your dog at home can help them feel safe. Petting, sitting together, and other forms of physical touch are reassuring to most dogs and an effective form of dog stress relief. According to the American Kennel Club, herding and working dogs have a powerful drive to stay with you as much as possible since they’re bred to work closely with people. These breeds may benefit even more from quality time together.
According to VCA Animal Hospitals, because dogs respond so well to training, you can relieve dog stress and anxiety with training techniques like counterconditioning. Your dog might get stressed when encountering a certain stimulus or situation, such as, when strangers come to the house. Training the dog to find you or to go to its crate when a stranger arrives can help your dog know what to do. This training can reduce problematic behaviors that result from stress.
It may not seem intuitive but asking your dog to perform basic commands like sit, down, or shake can be calming. That’s because dogs are comfortable doing familiar things, especially things associated with a reward. Giving your dog a chance to perform commands it knows well can help it concentrate on something it understands and is an easy, effective strategy to help a stressed dog.
Stress relief for both cats and dogs
Stick to a routine
Animals thrive on consistency. 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, so stick to a schedule for your pets as much as possible. If you know a major, unavoidable disruption is coming up — like moving to a new home with a pet — it’s important to start preparing them for the change in advance to minimize shock.
Exercise and mental stimulation
Regular daily exercise burns off excess energy and helps animals maintain health. Beyond that, exercise can help calm both animal and human minds, meaning that while helping our dear animals relieve stress, we’re likely doing the same for ourselves.
For many animals, moving their bodies isn’t enough. Dogs and cats both benefit from mental stimulation and different kinds of play. Try interactive toys and games to challenge your pet’s mind or engage their instincts. Even simple games, like dangling string for cats or providing dog chew toys, can go a long way to relieving stress in cats and dogs.
Swaddling and safe havens
Some animals — especially dogs — feel safer when held close or wrapped up. If your pet is one of them, wrapping it in a blanket or a special compression jacket can relieve dog or cat stress by creating a gentle, hug-like pressure. Remember to remove the swaddle once anxiety symptoms have abated so it doesn’t lose its potency.
If swaddling isn’t right for your pet, giving them a safe space to be alone may be a better fit. Pick an area that will feel like a cozy nook and furnish it with one of their favorite toys and a blanket or article of clothing that smells like you. Initially, you can feed them some of their meals here to increase their positive feelings about the space.
Supplements and alternative therapies
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). In recent years, products using CBD oil (derived from hemp, not marijuana, and therefore not containing THC) have shown anecdotal evidence of success in reducing anxiety in animals. Always consult your veterinarian before administering any supplements or medications.
Another option is to use synthetic pheromones to send messages of safety and belonging. For example, some cat pheromone diffusers replicate the pheromones that mother cats produce while nursing, which can be a major source of stress relief for many cats. Not every pet will respond to synthetic pheromones, but for those that do, they can even help cats and dogs share a home more successfully.
Providing for your pet’s ongoing wellness
The most important thing to remember is that by modeling calm behavior, you can help your animal remain calm. Many problem behaviors — like pets damaging furniture or housebroken animals doing their business indoors — are signs of stress. Scolding pets for these behaviors can make those behaviors worse, not better.
In addition to finding ways to de-stress your home for your pet, you may also consider a pet insurance policy with additional pet insurance coverages for wellness and routine care. These policies can provide for regular wellness check-ups for your pet and may be a good fit for pet owners interested in a more comprehensive approach to pet well-being.