Recognising and Treating Stress in your Pet
Anxiety and stress is common in our companion animals and some pets are more prone to this than others. Some of the signs of stress, particularly in cats, are unusual and owners will often misinterpret these signs of stress as a clinical problem. Some of the signs of stress can go on to cause a clinical problem if the underlying stress is not managed appropriately. The following signs could indicate that your pet is stressed:-
• Shaking • Biting/scratching • Foot licking • Hair loss • Altered sleep patterns • Altered eating patterns
• Vomiting • Diarrhoea • Increased heart rate • Blood in the urine • Changes to toileting habits
• Increased respiratory rate • Salivating • Panting • Increased blood pressure • Vocalising
• Dilated pupils
This stress can be short lived, usually due to temporary changes such as;
• Changes to a pets home environment such as building work or a relative coming to stay
• Temporary changes in a pet’s external environment such as fireworks
• Changes in the weather such as thunder storms or unpleasant weather
Or it may be more long lived due to more permanent changes in a pets environment such as;
• New cat in the neighbourhood
• New pet in the household
• New person in the household e.g. new partner or new child
• Change in house
• Change in household routine e.g. caused by new job or altered working hours
For pets that are experiencing temporary changes and this associated stress, there are short term solutions to help. There are plug in diffusers and medications to help allow the pet to cope to these temporary changes and they usually work best if provided a week or so prior to the anticipated stress. If the stress is becoming a phobia in these temporary situations, it is still worth considering referral by a veterinary surgeon to an association of pet behavioural councillors accredited behaviourist for behavioural modification therapy that will help to reduce the source of the stress. The common example of this would be firework phobias, if temporary solutions are used each time, the phobia tends to get worse and a pet may start to become fearful of other loud noises such as thunder or traffic at which point behavioural referral is likely to be required alongside stronger drugs with greater side effects.
Longer term stress can be more difficult to treat as new members of the family or new houses are not as easy to change. Behavioural referral is a good option in these conditions as there are often small changes that can be made to your routine that will help your pet cope with the changes and come to terms with this long term change. Some of the short term medications can also help in the short term to help the pet cope and there is also a diet that may be more appropriate in the medium to long term for animals that just have a nervous disposition to everything.
The drugs we tend to use for behavioural therapy tend to be mild calming drugs that are used as nutritional supplements.
Zylkene is the most common and consists of a concentrated milk protein. In the 1930s the anxiolytic properties of milk were studied on people based on the observation that “drinking milk at bedtime made one sleep better”. Zylkene is a concentrated form of the protein in milk that has this calming effect but without the other proteins in milk that a lot of pets are intolerant to.
Cystease is a medication we use in cats with chronic bladder problems. As these problems are often secondary to stress it doesn’t only contain a drug to help the bladder, it also contains L-tryptophan, which is a precursor of serotonin (which some people call the “happy hormone”). This drug plays an essential role in the regulation of mood, anxiety, sleep and appetite so can often help an animal cope with their underlying stress.
Royal Canin produce a CALM diet. It is a complete dog food that contains both of the above drugs to help calm a patient without the need to administer any medication. It works best if given for a week or two prior to expected anxiety and can be used to replace the current diet your pet is being fed. It is a little more expensive than a normal commercial diet but it does contain the two calming medications along with added vitamin B3, which can also have a calming effect.
If you are having concerns about stress in your pet, please contact the surgery on 01670 457271 and we can arrange an appointment with our veterinary nurse who can discuss your options with you. Your pet does not necessarily have to put up with a stressful situation, there may be something you can do to help them.