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Pets with a Mission Inc. Pets and Stress

Pets with a Mission Inc. Pets and Stress

Pets and Stress

Sooner or later, all pet owners will encounter times when their pets are stressed.  Life happens and so does stress for people and for animals.  Any number of things or events may be stressors.  Some stressors for animals include:  a change in routine, meeting new people or animals, adding a new human or animal member to the family, visiting a new place, going to the veterinarian, changing foods, going to a dog park, riding in a vehicle, being injured or sick, entering a shelter, and being adopted.  In other words, most anything could stress our animals but not all animals are stressed by the same things.  One dog may love his adventures to the dog park while another dog may be very uncomfortable at the same dog park.  Therefore, it is important to know each animal’s personality and identify those things that cause them stress.

So, what is stress?  According to the Cleveland Clinic, “Stress is a normal reaction the body has when changes occur resulting in physical, emotional, and intellectual responses.  Stress keeps us alert, motivated, and ready to avoid danger”.  Stress can be major or minor and of long or short duration.  For example, I am not fond of climbing up a ladder to clean out the gutters on the house but it is a minor stress that only lasts a few minutes.  Stress, especially too much over a long period of time, may be harmful to an individual.  But not all stress is bad.  Encountering change or something unexpected may be stressful for some individuals but others may find the same change to be exhilarating.  Maybe the reason a situation is more stressful for some is because the individual feels that they have little or no control over the situation.  That could apply to both animals and humans.

My previous Australian Cattle Dog was a very confident and outgoing dog who was not stressed by much at all.  That is why she was a good therapy dog.  Put her in a room with forty first graders and she was a very happy girl who loved all the attention.  Adding a new dog to the family was no big deal.  Visiting the veterinarian was alright with her.  When I took her somewhere new for a therapy dog visit, she exhibited very minor stress (a yawn or two) for a minute.  She checked out her surroundings and realized that the location was different but her job was the same.  Then, she was ready to go visit lots of people and make their day better

My eleven-year-old Corgi has a very different personality.  Noise is a big stressor for her.  She has always been noise-adverse ever since she was a small puppy.  A dropped pan lid in the kitchen causes her to run to the far reaches of the house to get away from the noise.  When she was about eight months old, I used clicker training and treats while she was learning her basic manners skills.  The clicker noise bothered her a little bit so  I bought a clicker that had a volume adjustment and I set it on the quietest setting.  Then, she responded positively to clicker training.       Thunder is a major concern for her but instead of running away, she insists on sitting in my lap.  Putting her in a compression shirt helps with her stress level but she is still very unhappy until the storm moves away.  Now, we just deal with each situation as best we can as it comes along.

Dealing with stressed pets is frequently a challenge.  If the stressor is fairly minor and likely to be of short duration, the pet may respond well to verbal reassurance such as “it’s ok”  and a gentle touch on the shoulder may be all that is needed to make things better.  They know you are there with them and supporting them.  For other animals, additional socialization or more training may improve, but not necessarily eliminate, the stressful situation.

I had a puppy who experienced motion sickness every time she rode in a car.  As a three-month-old, she got sick on her initial car ride home.  She was sick going to the vet and socialization visits to Tractor Supply, Petco, and friend’s houses.  She enjoyed going but not the ride to get there.  Time, repetition, and short duration training rides kept her stress level low.  Within a couple months, she was used to riding and she no longer had any motion sickness.  Now, she thinks car rides are the best thing ever.

Teaching your dog manners can make them more pleasant to live with.  Some basic skills include sit, wait, come when called, walking nicely on a leash and not jumping up on people.  With those preliminary skills, a dog can learn to calmly and politely approach other people.  The person may be a stranger but the situation will be somewhat familiar so it does not have to be stressful.  Knowing what to expect will go a long way toward lowering your dog’s stress level.

We cannot eliminate all stress from our pet’s lives but we can be aware that pets are stressed and identify the things that cause them stress.  After that, we can eliminate their stressors where possible.  If they experience stress at the dog park do not take them there.  We can help lower their stress level by providing training and socialization.  For stressors that remain such as annual veterinary visits, we can try to distract them with their favorite treats and stay nearby to comfort them.  Therefore, a management plan for stress reduction should include eliminating what you can, reduce stress that cannot be eliminated if possible, and being supportive.  After all, when we lower their stress level, it is likely that we will lower our stress level as well.

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