We humans are getting more and more aware of the importance of mental health and noticing signs of anxiety and depression. But have you ever stopped to think about your pet’s mental wellbeing?
It’s not deliberately ignored, but pet owners don’t always have their furry friends’ mental health on their radar which can result in behavioral problems that a long walk or Google can’t always solve.
We chatted to pet psychologist Dionna Newton and TrustedHousesitters about the signs your pet could be depressed or mentally unwell. Newton says signs that your pet may be suffering from behavioral issues are many and varied.
“Most commonly is when a pet starts to behave in an antisocial manner or if they become hyper excited and difficult to control. For example, your pet may start to bark or growl at people or other animals passing by. Likewise, your cat may start to randomly attack you and behave unpredictably,” she says.
Common behavioral problems include:
- Generalized anxiety
- Separation anxiety (this can be a long-standing problem or may start from a change of circumstance or the onset of old age)
- Nervousness, fears, and phobias
- Excessive barking
- Aggression towards new dogs or dogs that they live with
- Compulsive/repetitive behaviors such as excessive licking, pacing, or digging
- Inappropriate urination
- Unruly, anti-social, or destructive behaviors
If you’ve noticed your pet show some of these symptoms though, there is something you can do. “The best way to improve your pet’s mental health and to effectively solve issues, including anxiety problems, is to work with an Animal Behaviorist who will create a plan specific to your pet’s anxieties (known as a Desensitization and Counter-Conditioning Plan),” says Newton.
“The plan guides you through a process to identify and overcome your pet’s anxiety in a structured, controlled, and positive way. This may sound complicated, but your Animal Behaviorist will build you a step by step plan so you can get on the right path in no time.”
If you’re traveling, you may also want to consider finding the perfect pet-sitter to take care of your furry friend and your pet can stay in the comfort of their own home. Not only is it better for your pet’s mental health, but they’re also generally cheaper too.
“By keeping your pet in its familiar environment, they are surrounded by the toys, bed, and walking tracks that they know and love.”
“Boarding pet motels can be confronting for pets as they are surrounded by unfamiliar animals and smells, but by using at-home pet care services, your pet can remain calm and happy and retain a normal routine with all of their usual creature comforts.”
Another tip from Newton is to try some mental stimulation aids.
“Rather than feeding breakfast in a bowl where it is wolfed down in seconds, you could feed it in a mental stimulation toy,” she suggests.
“This means that eating breakfast becomes a game and they have to work their brain. Kongs can be left filled with peanut butter which they lick and which can take them 30 minutes to complete.”
Using food is one technique but you can also set up games for them to do when you’re not home and include your pets in those day-to-day activities.
“Even by doing something as simple talking you your pet as you prepare the veggies for dinner, you are involving them.”
This article originally appeared on our sister site, Now to Love.