How to Handle Your Pets’ Stress During a Crisis

I know I typically write about business and mindset topics, but as the co-founder of a nonprofit animal rescue, I would be remiss to not write a story about our pets and what they’re going through during this time of heightened uncertainty and fear.

In times of crisis, there is no better companion than a pet. There are countless articles and research showing the mental and health benefits that come with caring for a pet. Pets are wonderful at helping us cope with stress, and there is no better time for the unconditional love and companionship that only a pet can provide during this time of crisis.

Pets have evolved to be attuned to their humans’ feelings and emotions. In the same way that we learn their likes and dislikes, they also learn about our emotions, behaviors, and and our stress levels. Pets can even learn our mannerisms and know what they can expect from us. Many pets can help us cope with stress and anxiety. However, because dogs and cats are the most affectionate of pets, they can reduce stress, anxiety, depression, ease loneliness, encourage exercise, weight loss, and improve our cardiovascular health .

But what happens to our pets when our stress and anxiety is too much to handle?

“We might see an uptick in depressive behavior like trouble sleeping, losing their appetite, not wanting to play or seeming listless.” — Ettel Edshteyn, a certified trainer at Karen Pryor Academy and owner of New York City’s Poodles to Pit Bulls Clicker Training

We are going through an unprecedented crisis with a global pandemic, social distancing, and quarantine restrictions. These are very uncertain times with heightened concerns about our health, the economy, jobs, our children, elderly family members, and if we can even get the every day necessities.

Because of the added fear and stress of it all, we may be projecting certain behaviors and emotions that our pets may be unaccustomed to.

Studies have shown that pets mirror their owners’ personalities. Researchers in Austria found that dogs can mirror the anxiety and negativity of owners. A study from the University of Vienna found that both owners and dogs influenced each other’s coping mechanisms with the human partner being more influential than the dog. So, during this time, we should expect that some dogs and even cats will be acting out in response to our current state of emotion, stress, or anxiety.

“Dogs are deeply sensitive to human emotions, especially in their particular guardians.” — Sally Morgan, a holistic physical therapist for pets and people, as well as the author of “Dances of the Heart — Connecting with Animals.”

Most of the behaviors that we can expect to see in dogs are associated with how nervous they may be feeling. Dogs do not understand why their owners are stressed, sad or angry, but they will react in many different ways. Expected behaviors associated with nervousness can include:

All of these behaviors are associated with a dog’s fight or flight response. Aggressive behaviors may occur out of fear, or as a way to let go of pent up negative energy.

In cats, you may see certain behaviors such as:

So, how should we handle these behaviors at a time when our emotions are running at an all-time high? Awareness is the first step. Being aware of our own feelings and being mindful of our emotions and addressing them or doing something to keep our stress and negative emotions at bay will help us to avoid unwanted behaviors in our pets.

We must realize that dogs are very intuitive and our body language alone can show stress without us even saying a word. They notice when we are tense and when something is wrong. It’s very important that you try to remain calm and do activities that help you relax and your pet relax such as:

Two simple puzzles that will entertain your dog:

Box Puzzle: If you have empty boxes, arrange them on the floor and hide treats in some of the boxes. Show your dog the boxes and let your pup use its nose to find the hidden treats. Rearrange the boxes with more treats.

Cupcake Puzzle: Get an empty cupcake or muffin pan and 12 (or as many as you have) tennis balls. Place treats or pieces of your dog’s kibble into some but not all of the pan’s cups, and cover all of the cups with the tennis balls. Show your dog the tray and see how long it takes for him or her to move the right balls and find the hidden food. Each time you play, change where you place the treats.

To address excitability in your cat, be mindful of his or her body language. You can get an idea of your kitty’s stress levels by looking into their eyes. If his or her pupils are dilated, and they flick their tail up and down, then it’s time to stop petting him or her and leave them alone.

Hyperactivity and destructive behaviors can be addressed by providing additional exercise with things such as a feathered toy, a laser pointer, or even playing fetch. Also keep you cat(s) away from the prized items by using a compressed air pet corrector, deterrent scents such as citronella, lavender, peppermint, lemongrass and orange.

Finally, when these behaviors occur during this time, don’t hold it against your pet or punish him or her for it. Be aware of the situation and remain calm. Provide guidance to your pet by responsibly correcting him or her so he/she understands that this behavior is unwanted. Help your pet by using one of the recommendations mentioned above. In the end, a tired pet is a happy and good pet.

If you are experiencing difficulties with your pet during this time, we’d love to help. Feel free to reach out to us at info@pawprintsinthesand.org. We want to make sure you and your pet(s) are happy and safe during this time and always.

Nameste

Written by

Writer & NLP Certified Coach. I teach people how to realize their greatest potential and use their gifts to make a difference in the world. I also save animals.

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