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Stress Awareness Month 2022: Pets and Stress
Since 1992, The Stress Management Society has designated April to be Stress Awareness Month, in order to “help raise awareness of the causes and cures for our modern stress epidemic”.
At this particular point in history, given the last two and half years of pandemic, lockdowns and new normals for many of us, keeping stress levels under control is of paramount importance for everyone and every animal in our family units. According to the World Health Organisation WHO, there has been an increase in depression and anxiety by over 25% in us humans, with many cases linked to increased levels of stress. During the pandemic, many of us will have faced undue amounts of stress due to any number of new and unknown social, work and familial situations. Multiple stress factors such as loneliness, fear, grief after a bereavement and financial worries may have caused an upturn in many people's stress levels. This is all said without mentioning the heroic people who worked through the pandemic in hospitals, supermarkets and other essential services being worked to their breaking point causing exhaustion, another major cause of stress in humans.
All of these major changes to our routines will have also caused stress in other important members of our families too, the furry ones! With our routines changed and our own stress levels through the roof, our animals can be directly affected and become stressed themselves.
So, in today’s post, we will be discussing Stress Awareness Month, the major causes of stress in our pets and what we can do about keeping our and our pet’s stress levels to a minimum with a few simple additions to our routines.
If you feel like your mental health is suffering in any way and are feeling unable to cope there are some great free resources available online and on the phone at the links below.
Stress Awareness Month
Although Stress Awareness Month has been around since 1992, we think that after the last few years it is as important to highlight the causes and cures for stress as it has ever been. Research from the Mental health Foundation has found that 74% of adults have felt overwhelmingly stressed at some point over the last year and 65% of people are feeling more stress since the onset of the pandemic. Stress Awareness Month is celebrated for the whole of April each and every year and is the perfect opportunity to find out more about stress and how to cope with it.
What is Stress?
Stress isn't always a bad thing, in fact, our ‘fight or flight’ response is one of the reasons humans were able to survive, allowing for quick reactions to potentially dangerous situations. Stress is manifested in a physical response caused by the release of a mix of hormones leading to a rush of energy, a raised heart rate and increased breathing. The problems with stress occur when this response is enacted in inappropriate situations, leading to potential mental and physical health problems.
Causes of Stress in Pets
This same inappropriate fight or flight response can also be found in our pets, causing them to feel irritable, scared and potentially aggressive. Pets at home can be stressed by a number of triggers including; changes in routine, decreased outside/exercise time, public places, new people and new animals in their space. However, one of the most common causes of stress in our pets is stress in their owners, so it's very important to keep the stress levels down for your whole furry family.
Signs of Stress In Your Pet
Common signs of stress in pets to look out for are; excessive grooming, vocalisation changes (especially in cats), accidents in the home and being destructive with furniture or other household items. It is important to watch out for these signs so you can take steps to ensure a calm and tranquil environment can be restored for your stressed pet.
Keeping Pet Stress Levels to a Minimum
The best way to keep both your and your pet’s stress levels to a minimum is with regular exercise. Walks for dogs are the most important aspect of maintaining a stress-free life, not only are they great for their physical wellbeing, but having lots of things to see, sniff and taste keeps their brains active and away from inappropriate behaviours too. Walks are also great for our mindset too, exercise and time outdoors are both proven to be beneficial for mental health, and as our mood can affect our animal's stress levels this is something we should do as regularly as possible.
Keeping your dogs entertained when not exercising is also very important, puzzle toys and other playthings can keep them amused when you have to be elsewhere or simply spending some time in a nice relaxing bath!
If your animal seems particularly stressed, try not to scold them too much as this can increase the stress and potentially lead to aggressive defensive behaviours. Try to reduce the triggers first before trying to amend your dog’s behaviour.
If you are still concerned about stress in your pets speak to your local vet and try to find a specialist pet behaviourist to help further.
So this April, why not take a minute to ensure you and your pets are living stress-free and are being as kind to your mental health as possible. It’s always worth remembering that our and our pet’s mental health is as important as any physical aspect, and ensuring we take time to look after it is extremely worthwhile.
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