Moment of Paws: How to Deal With Your Pet’s Stress and Anxiety

Starting a new year usually brings a sense of renewed hope and optimism, but our level of anxiety as we approach 2022 could reach an all-time high.

Just like humans, pets can be prone to stress, anxiety, and depression. The start of the above may come from sensing, empathizing, and mirroring our own mental states. It can also occur in response to the addition or loss of a family member or pet, a change in routine, or moving to a new home.

At the Animal Rescue League of Boston (ARL), we regularly treat animals of all species with varied behaviors. It could be a dog with fearful body language, a chronically hiding cat, a feather-gathering bird, a nervous rabbit with bulging eyes, among others.

Signs that your pet may be experiencing stress, anxiety, or depression may include: lower than normal activity levels, lack of appetite, excessive grooming, regression in behavioral training, and destructive or aggressive behavior.

If your pet exhibits any of these symptoms, consider the following:
• Give them more attention. Spending more time with your pet ensures that they are neat and safe. Whether it’s playing, stroking, grooming, or cuddling, do what they love and love you.

• Increase activity. Just like us, when your pet is active, they can improve their mood. Inactivity can lead to boredom which can lead to sadness, so make sure your pet gets plenty of stimulation and exercise – this will not only improve their mental and physical health, but yours as well!

• Establish a routine. Having a routine is crucial for a healthy and happy pet. Providing structure to their day keeps them focused and energized.

• Continue to socialize and train. Socializing dogs is essential, and spending time with canine friends or at daycare can dramatically improve their mood. Training is also essential, as it adds another layer of stimulation and strengthens the bond between you and your pet.

• Talk to an expert. If you suspect your pet’s mental health is deteriorating, speak to your veterinarian. To troubleshoot your pet’s behavioral issues, you can also contact ARL’s Free Pet Behavior Helpline by calling (617) 226-5666 or emailing behaviorhelpline. @ arlboston.org.

Owning a pet can be tough, but we’re all in the same boat! This column is a forum for you, so please, if you have a specific question or topic that you would like me to address, please send an email to [email protected]

Dr. Edward Schettino is the President and CEO of the Animal Rescue League of Boston. He holds a doctorate from the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University.