How you can support your dog’s mental well-being

How you can support your dog's mental well-being

We often turn to our dogs for support when we’re feeling anxious or worried. In a recent study 89% of owners said that owning their pet dog makes them mentally healthier*.

But did you know dogs can feel stress and worry just like us? Changes in their routine or new additions to the household can trigger anxiety. Sadly, unlike us they can’t tell us how they are feeling, but there are signs in their behaviour to look out for and things you can do to help your dog’s mental well-being.

Why Dogs Get Stressed

Dogs can become anxious for a number of reasons, including:

Separation Anxiety: Dogs are generally social creatures and can feel anxious if they are left home alone with no social contact. This can be indicated by signs such as destructive chewing, barking, inappropriate urination and/or defecation, and digging.

A New Addition to the Household: Bringing a new puppy, kitten or baby home can be hugely stressful for dogs. This is linked to territorial anxiety and fears that they will no longer be as important now that your attention is being shared.

Disruption to Routine: Like cats, dogs are not keen on changes to their daily routine. Moving house is a big culprit for this but generally, any form of change to normal everyday life can have a big impact. For example, disruption to their usual feeding routine or walks can cause lots of distress for dogs.

Illness and Injury: Pain and distress from an illness and injury can make your dog more dependent on you than normal. This can make them more anxious when left alone.

Spotting the Signs of Stress

Some of the symptoms that your dog may be suffering from stress and anxiety includes:

  • Withdrawing into themselves
  • Appetite loss
  • Barking
  • Whining, panting, trembling and shivering
  • Restlessness, lethargy and destructive behaviour (especially destructive chewing). Destructive behaviour is particularly common in dogs who are experiencing stress due to separation anxiety.

Because some of these symptoms can be caused by medical problems, it’s strongly advised that you consult your vet to look at underlying causes that may be to blame for your dog’s behaviour. If these have been ruled out, stress and anxiety becomes a much more likely factor.

Helping Your Dog to Feel Less Stressed

While you can’t remove all sources of stress for your dog, you can reduce the potential for anxiety. Our tips include:

Stimulating Playtime: Lack of exercise can negatively affect your dog’s wellbeing and stress them out. This becomes even more likely if a lack of playtime also means that there is less interaction with you. Try playing some stimulating indoor games with your dog to build a stronger bond and ensure that your dog doesn’t become stressed due to lack of contact.

Stick to a Normal Routine: As far as possible, always try to keep to your dog’s normal schedule. This can be challenging if you’re moving house or if there is a new arrival in the home but a lack of routine will only increase your dog’s anxiety in these situations.

Be Careful With Introductions: Bringing a new pet or baby home will be very stressful for your dog and the initial introductions must be done in a sensitive manner to avoid resentment and jealousy. Not sure how best to go about this? Take a look at our previous posts on introducing dogs and cats and preparing your dog for a new baby.

Desensitising Your Dog: If your dog is suffering from separation anxiety, it’s recommended that you try to desensitise them to your departure as part of the treatment. Get your dog used to the idea of your absence by leaving them alone for short bursts of time, gradually increasing it daily over a period of one to two weeks. This will reassure the dog that you will return.

Calming products: There are a number of calming products that can be used alongside environmental changes. Supplements like Zylkene help to promote the feeling of relaxation. Or, if your dog isn’t keen on tablets, Adaptil diffusers are scientifically proven to help anxious dogs. The pheromones they release help dogs feel safe, calm and secure.

*PDSA Paw Report 2020