Anxiety, stress and depression, mental health conditions associated with humans, could also be affecting our pets, a survey has found.

Telford-based pet products manufacturer, Rosewood Pet Products, spoke to over a thousand UK pet owners and revealed that a third of pets suffer from a mental health issue. Dogs and cats were said to be the most affected with 65% of dogs described as the most anxious, compared to 41% of cats. Cats were said to be the most stressed with 27% showing obvious signs, compared to 21% of dogs.

Some dog owners suspected that their pet’s stress and anxiety issues were a side effect of other conditions.

One owner commented, “My dog Max has epilepsy, which has an effect on his mental health – he suffers from anxiety and sometimes fear-based aggression”, whilst another said, “Our dog seems to have developed Agoraphobia!”

Perhaps not too surprising, many owners suspected their pet’s anxiety worsened when they were away. One owner said, “My dog suffers from separation anxiety (we think this is because he’s deaf).”

Small furries too

It wasn’t just cats and dogs, with 15% of small animal owners revealing their pet had shown signs of stress and/or aggression. One own commented, “My pet duprasi sometimes displays cage aggression, making her protective over the items in her cage!”

Another added, “My guinea pigs get very stressed when I take them out of their cage. I would love for them to be more relaxed, they usually seem to stress nibble when this happens.”

Expert advice

Rosie Barclay, Certificated Clinical Animal Behaviourist, commented, “Pets get stressed just like we do, often for similar reasons, and may need help with their mental health. They may feel frightened of things they don’t understand, frustrated that they can’t get the things they need or expect or maybe feel as though something valued is being taken away. It could even be that they’re feeling ill, in pain or just simply having a bad day.”

Stress and anxiety can affect a pet’s behaviour, including hiding away and looking subdued; acting aggressively; crying and whining; loss of appetite; toileting in inappropriate areas; and destroying furniture.

Rosie explains, “Body language will also give you clues to how your pets are feeling. Dogs, for example, may have their tails and ears down with a low body carriage and move more carefully. They may also pant, pace, lick their lips, yawn (when they are not tired) and seem generally agitated, just as you would when you’re feeling anxious. Cats, on the other hand, tend to hide away and become more subdued – they may even become aggressive when you try to stroke them. Small furries also often show aggressive tendencies.

“There are many different reasons why pets might become anxious, so it’s important that you receive the best advice from qualified, knowledgeable and experienced pet experts. If you notice that your pet is behaving differently, and are not their usual self, contact your vet who will check them over for any medical issues and refer you to a Clinical Animal Behaviourist if they feel it is appropriate to do so. A qualified behaviourist will be able to help you understand why your pet may be feeling anxious and offer guidance and techniques that will help your pet cope better with their mental health issues.”

Bev Panter, Marketing Director at Rosewood, added, “These survey stats demonstrate a real need for pet parents to be aware of any symptoms or changes in their pet’s behaviour that may indicate that there’s a serious underlying problem. The reality is mental health affects our pets too, but perhaps this fact does not benefit from a high level of awareness, particularly as our pets don’t have a voice to express themselves as we do.

“Boredom and loneliness are key catalysts in the deterioration of our pets’ well-being, so it’s important that pets aren’t left alone for long periods of time and that the environment and care that you’re able to provide is suitable for the pets that you adopt. For example, a pet who is used to being around other animals will become depressed if they are adopted into a household that works full time and has no other pets. It’s about finding the right fit for both pet and parent.”

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