Your Pet’s Behavioural (Mental) Health!

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When you have a pet, you take it to the veterinarian for annual physical examinations, vaccinations, and to treat any physical illness or injury the pet may suffer. But what about your pet’s behavior? We might compare your pet’s mental health to the growing awareness of mental health issues in people. Most veterinarians are prepared to treat your pet’s mental or behavioral health or refer you to specialists in this area if you describe the problem.

Behavior issues is the number one reason pets are relinquished to shelters and anxiety can shorten a pet’s life span. Early socialization is critical to pets in dogs from 3 to 14 weeks of age and in cats from 2 to 9 weeks of age. Provide environmental enrichment beyond food, water and shelter to decrease fear, anxiety and stress. For dogs early training classes, hiding treats around the house, long walks to expel excess energy, and time playing with other dogs. Give your dog “alone time” early on so they know how to be alone. Cats benefit from training (yes, it is possible), hiding treats, food and puzzle toys, climbing towers, and bird feeders outside windows or a fish tank to watch.

Interaction between pets and young children should always be supervised. Children should never interrupt a pet that is eating or be allowed to take away bones or toys. Pulling ears, jumping on sleeping pets, putting their faces right up to the pet’s face, and shouting near pets should be discouraged. Many dogs become very resilient to the actions of young children but puppies, adolescent dogs, and older dogs with muscle and joint pain could react badly leading to a tragic outcome. Always assume a strange dog or cat does not like children until the owners indicate otherwise.

Signs of anxiety, fear, and stress include trembling, panting, pacing, hiding, inappropriate urination or defecation, vocalizing, destructive behavior, anorexia, and aggression. Treatment for behavior issues include pheromone products to alleviate stress, supplements such as milk caseins, and medications to diminish anxiety to allow the pets behavior to be modified until they can handle the situations better. Medications can be situational or long term. Training is critical and should never include punishment which only escalates anxiety and stress. Always ask for any behaviorist or animal trainers’ credentials and get references. Unfortunately, there is little control over who can advertise services as an expert in animal behavior. Start with your veterinarian and ask if they can help with problems that evolve or who they recommend helping you raise the perfect happy content furry family member.