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Understanding Your Pets' Mental Health

Understanding Your Pets' Mental Health

Ahead of World Mental Health Day, Petplan explores the truth behind whether pets suffer from mental health problems and the possible causes of these behavioural issues so you can give them the best chance at a quality, happy life.

The benefits of pet ownership have been widely accepted and have shown to have a positive effect on all kinds of illnesses, both emotional and physical.

When it comes to pets' mental health, Petplan's 2018 Pet Census, the largest pet ownership census to date, found that around 9% of pet owners in the UK believe their pets have suffered from depression and that 4% claim their pets have been through PTSD, however this isn't strictly correct.

Many people believe their pets have suffered mental health problems. Veterinary Expert Brian Faulkner says this isn't the case, as we can't humanise animal behavioural difficulties as mental health issues. 'Negative changes in your companions' behaviour could be down to anxieties or a trigger.

What's incredibly important is that you - as a responsible pet owner - recognise any noticeable changes in their behaviour, and act quickly to ensure the situation doesn't worsen

Knowing the signs

Given the different psychologies between humans and small animals, it can be distressing to see a pet suffering because of anxiety and/or other stressors. Getting to grips with the signs of stress in your pets helps promote their positive wellbeing in a big way.

The most common symptoms of anxiety in dogs include:

  • Slumped or lowered posture
  • Excessive (or reduced) physical activity
  • Increased vocalisation and/or yawning
  • Uncontrolled urination and/or defecation
  • Persistent snout-licking, paw-lifting, and/or trembling
  • Heightened aggression
  • Prolonged episodes of tail-attacking, circling, pacing, etc.
  • Ripping up bedding/furniture

By the same token, cats also show they're stressed by:

  • Spraying
  • Hiding
  • Panting
  • Head-bobbing
  • Losing interest in their food
  • Lack of/over-grooming

If any or all of the above sounds familiar to you, it could mean that your pets have a problem that needs addressing by a vet or qualified behaviourist.

When are pets more likely to get stressed out?

Certain scenarios can make pets more stressed than usual. Identifying these and knowing how to respond is of great help when it comes to looking after your pet.

The most common is when you're away for long periods of time. If you haven't trained your pets to be alone from a young age, they can get separation anxiety (more on this later). Fortunately, it's an easy condition to combat with the right training. Start by leaving for short periods of time and gradually your pet should become comfortable being alone.

A similar situation involves going on holiday without your pet. 28% of UK pet owners have reported to avoid going on holiday because of their animal companions, but for many of us that time is much-needed. You should always make sure your pets are safe and happy in your absence, or consider a staycation with them to get around the issue altogether.

Your pets' wellbeing should also be a major consideration while you have company. Remember to take their stress levels into account when hosting guests, particularly those who are staying over. Creating a special safe space or room for your pet is another great idea if you expect lots of visitors, regardless of the occasion.

Separation anxiety

Separation anxiety is one of the most common pet anxiety problems; they may be feeling more down when you're not around than you realise.

According to the Petplan Pet Census, on average 40% of pet owners believe their animal companions have suffered with separation anxiety at some point. This is probably because dogs are 'pack' animals and, as such, more social by nature. Symptoms of separation anxiety in dogs may include: energetic greetings (bordering on frantic) when you return home, destructive behaviour while you're gone, and howling and whining when you leave and while you're away. If you notice any or all of these, seek advice from your vet or a qualified behaviourist.

Whatever your pet, from the cutest cat to the most devoted dog, make sure you know how to deal with separation anxiety, so they stay stress-free.

How can you take care of your pets' wellbeing?

Almost everything you need to improve your pets' behaviour and general emotional state involves making appropriate lifestyle adjustments ' to theirs and your routines. Keeping them engaged and spending quality time together are both excellent starting points.

You should also make sure they're enjoying a balanced diet and that they get plenty of exercise. But remember, there's no harm in visiting the vet if these simpler remedies don't appear to be working.

Ultimately, though, no one is going to be able to keep a better eye out for your pets' wellbeing than you. Learn the signs of emotional distress and remember to always act quickly so that your pets get the help they need.

Got any other proven tips for looking after your pets' mental health? Let us know in the comments below'

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