Fact: Just about everyone is stressed these days, as the coronavirus pandemic has no definite end in sight. If you find yourself worrying over the news, you might be stressing your pet out. Yep, it turns out all that anxiety you’re experiencing could be affecting your furry friend, as studies show pets can mimic the stress levels of their human owners.
What causes an animal to be stressed?
The quarantine itself can also take a toll on a pet’s mental well-being. “Most animals, whether we’re talking about dogs or cats do better with a routine,” says Dr. Lisa Weeth, veterinary nutritionist at Metropolitan Animal Specialty Hospital in Los Angeles.
Cats specifically are used to being independent and having a quiet household, but now they have people around more frequently, which disrupts their schedule.
“Having more people in the house can be stressful for some cats who are used to having a quiet environment,” explains Weeth. Dogs, meanwhile, are used to a routine where people leave the house with or without them, and now that’s thrown off as well, which can lead to pet stress, says Weeth.
How can you tell if your pet is actually stressed?
“Pay attention to their normal routine,” says Weeth. “Are they off their normal routine? Are we seeing any red flags?” These red flags include vomiting, diarrhea, and not being able to use the litter box normally. Other signs of stress in pets include pacing around or scratching their head.
Holistic pet stress relief remedies
There are a whole lot of holistic stress-relieving treatments for pets on the market these days (just as there are for people). It makes sense, given that we’re all pretty attuned now to what we put in and on our bodies, and we only want what’s best for our fur-children.
One pet stress treatment in particular is having a moment right now, and that’s crystals for pets. So do crystals actually work? It depends on who you ask. According to licensed medical professionals, the answer is no. That’s because there’s no scientific evidence crystals alleviate anxiety in animals, notes Weeth.
Anecdotally, though, there are quite a few people who say crystals do calm their pets. Weeth explains that this has to do with the placebo effect, meaning the treatment works because you believe it works, not because there’s anything beneficial about the treatment inherently.
Energy healers and holistic experts, on the other hand, will tell you that animals are highly attuned to energy and drawn to crystals. “I have so many clients tell me the same thing: ‘My pet cannot leave this thing alone.’ ‘They stole my crystal.’ ‘She or he always naps by this stone,’ says Courtney Abbiati, co-founder of the The Urban + The Mystic.
Abbiati says her clients range from people who are huge crystal lovers and travel everywhere with them to those that are novices. “Put simply, if we are benefiting from the calming, healing energy of crystals, why would animals be any different, especially if they are even more tapped into energy in the first place,” says Abbiati.
If you’re interested in giving crystals a try, Abbiati recommends selenite, which she says offers peace and protection, as well as amethyst, which is a natural tranquilizer.
“My favorite way to use crystals to help animals is to put the stone near or under their favorite spot, be it a dog bed, nook on the couch, the foot of your bed, or wherever you know you can find them,” says Abbiati. “If you’re placing them under or inside a pet bed, it’s super-easy to find smaller stones that won’t poke into them as they sleep. In fact, they probably won’t even know it’s there from a physical standpoint.”
Of course, even if you’re using a holistic stress-relieving method like crystals, there are some scientifically proven methods of keeping your pet calm that you’ll want to follow.
The most important: Establishing a routine and sticking to it, says Weeth. That means taking your dog for regular walks (and taking the proper protective precautions like wearing a face mask and not letting your dog run up to strangers while you do it), says Weeth.
“You should also look for appropriate toys or other ways to engage their brains,” Weeth adds.
A healthy balanced diet is important too. “There’s a documented, scientific link between the gut and brain,” says Weeth. She adds that there is some good research coming out from larger pet nutrition companies about the mental health benefits of probiotics on dogs.
One study, for example, looked at the use of probiotic supplements on stress-related digestive problems in healthy dogs who were moved from their homes to a kennel. (Any dog-owner knows how stressful this can be!) The researchers found that the dogs who got the highest doses of the probiotic had higher levels of good bacteria in their guts, and that overall, the dogs experienced less gastrointestinal upset, like diarrhea. The researchers conclude that this suggests probiotics may help prevent stress-related tummy issues.
L-theanine is something else Weeth says can soothe pet stress. “It’s a non-essential amino acid that can have an anti-anxiety effect in people,” she says. “There are some good studies in cats and dogs, and it’s not harmful.”