Health issues triggered by lockdown stress in people and pets
We’re in a constant state of panic. Are our pets feeling it too?
While we know the reasons for the lockdown, the science behind it, and the fact that it’s one of the only ways to slow down the spread of this disease, what it’s exacerbated are our stress and anxiety levels with many people at their wits end. Turning our world upside down has had a profound effect on our mental and physical well-being, and it doesn’t stop with us. Our pets can feel it too.
Research has shown that our pets pick up on our anxiety and stress. In a recent study published in Nature’s Scientific Reports, Lina Roth, a professor at Linkoping University in Sweden, explains that dogs are sensitive to human stress and if the pet parent is stressed, dogs are likely to mirror that stress. And it is the same for cats, they can also pick up when we’re stressed out or anxious. Another study, published in the journal PLOS One, looked at the personality, behaviour, and health of thousands of cats and found that cat parents and cats mirrored each other’s wellbeing and behaviour. This finding won’t surprise cat parents at all!
“Dogs and cats suffering from chronic anxiety or stress may consequently experience different physical symptoms. Lockdown and all that comes with it for your pet such as changes in their household routine, lack of predictability and invasion of their personal space, to name a few, can have a direct impact on their health,” explains Dr. Guy Fyvie Hill’s Pet Nutrition’s veterinary advisor.
“It’s important to remember that stress is both a physical and mental issue and you can’t treat the physical problem without addressing the emotional one.”
The following can help relieve your pet’s mental stress:
Daily activity – When we’re stressed or feeling down sometimes the only thing that will help is a long walk or run for a much-needed release of endorphins, the same applies to our pets. Make a concerted effort to walk or run with your dog at least once a day. For cats, set aside some time out of your day to play with them; why not tie an empty toilet roll to a piece of string and entice your cat to run after it? Feathery toys, scratch posts, or even a good, old box, will help expend any pent-up energy and frustration.
Mental stimulation – A mentally unstimulated pet equals a bored pet which can lead to behavioural issues. Make different types of toys available to your dog such as chew toys, fluffy comforting toys, interactive toys, or Kongs, which can be stuffed with their regular Hill’s food. Or how about a ‘seek-a-treat’ puzzle toy? This will challenge your dog to use their nose and paws. For your cat create a game by cutting some holes in an old toilet paper roll, fold one edge down, fill it with treats, then fold the other edge down so your cat has to move the roll around to get food as it falls out the hole. These will help keep your pet’s mind sharp and engaged while burning energy.
Affection – Just like us, physical touch can be incredibly soothing for a distressed pet. Just by gently stroking your pet’s fur and speaking softly and calmly to them, you can help relieve their stress. Plus, petting, grooming, or snuggling with your pet has the added advantage of making you feel more relaxed too.
Soothing sounds – Sounds can directly impact your pet’s emotional state. Outside and loud noises can frighten your pet whereas constant, softer sounds can calm them down. Playing classical music has been found to reduce anxiety in pets as well as pet parents.
“Nutrition, along with the suggested physical and mental enrichment points above help reduce pets’ stress levels,” adds Dr. Fyvie. As we know stress manifests itself differently in cats and dogs. When a cat is exposed to a stressful environment, the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) is turned on. Long term, this can have various negative effects in the body, including changes to the urinary tract. This is especially obvious in cats with a pre-existing urinary tract condition called Feline Idiopathic Cystitis (FIC), which flares up during times of stress and causes symptoms similar to blocked bladders. Signs are, painful urination, ‘straining’ to urinate (even if the bladder is empty) and blood in the urine. Pet parents can consider, on the advice of their vet, changing their cat’s food to Hill’s Prescription Diet c/d Urinary Stress Feline – shown to dramatically reduce severity and episodes of FIC.
Dogs exposed to chronic stress or who have an abnormal stress response (the inability to adapt to sudden changes in their environment) can develop stress colitis, which has a direct impact on the gut. Dogs with stress colitis may experience diarrhoea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. This, in turn, creates more stress. Your vet may recommend your dog try Hill’s Prescription Diet Digestive Care i/d Stress.
For more information visit the Hill’s website