Scardy cats and freaked-out Fido’s – stress management in our inner city vet patients

Scardy cats and freaked-out Fido’s – stress management in our inner city vet patients

As a veterinarian seeing dog and cat patients from Marrickville, Arncliffe and Mascot, I see a lot of stressed animals from these built-up environments. Stress is part and parcel of modern life and may be more common in urban environments. 

We often look at our pets with admiration of their ‘stress-free’ lives having no responsibility; however, stress is very common in our four legged family members and can be eroding to their quality of life.

Causes of stress in cats and dogs

Dogs and cats thrive on routine, and depending on genetics and early life experiences, each pet can handle a certain change in familiarity up to a point and after this, signs of stress become evident. Cats are exquisitely sensitive to changes in routine and even new furniture can cause unacceptable anxiety in our feline friends. Some dogs have overly sensitive hearing which makes them more susceptible to developing storm phobias and intense fear when fireworks are released. In the Marrickville, Arncliffe and Mascot area, we are fairly close to the coast and so storms and thunder are something we expect. Living in this part of the inner west, my vet patients also have to put up with a lot of airplane noise which can invoke stress responses. 

Signs of stress in cats and dogs

The most obvious sign of acute stress is trembling of the body’s muscles. Licking of the lips and yawning also happens more frequently when animals are stressed. Obsessive or ‘stereotypic’ behaviours represent repetitive, functionless behaviours and often come about during times of stress. Compulsive licking of the front paws or chewing of the tail in dogs is a good example of this.

The organ that affects stressed out cats most typically is the bladder – forgetting toilet training, feeling the need to go suddenly and other symptoms which mimic a urinary tract infection are tell tail signs.

Treatment for stress in cats and dogs

Removing the source of stress is the best treatment. If this is difficult decreasing the amount of background stress can help overall so keep everything to a schedule – mealtimes at a fixed time and keeping pet beds in a consistent position. Rewarding your pet for being calm and ignoring her when she is showing signs of acute stress can help in the long term. If stress continuous to interfere with quality of life, seeking a veterinary consultation is recommended.

Learning how to recognise the signs, causes of and treatment of stress in our pets can help us be better leaders for them. However, living in Marrickville, Arncliffe or Mascot, our vet patients may not be able to do much about aeroplane noise that is part of our environment.