There’s no question that 2020 was hard on everyone. Most people found themselves spending more time at home, and that means you may have been around your pet more than usual. Granted, they probably loved the extra attention. But, if you were stressed over your job, the wellbeing of loved ones, or just the state of the world, your pet may have picked up on that more than you realize.
We often use our pets as a source of comfort. How many snuggle sessions did you have with your furry friends in lockdown? But, studies have shown that your own prolonged stress can actually cause similar feelings in your pet. When it comes to stress, this is due to increased levels of cortisol. When you have a lot of cortisol due to stress or anxiety, you can essentially pass it to your dog.
But, what does that really mean? How can feelings of stress or anxiety really impact your pet, and what can you do about it?
How Your Pet Picks Up on Your Stress
It’s hard to believe that emotions are transferable somehow, but it is believed that there are several different ways in which pets, dogs in particular, can pick up on your stress levels.
First, when any of your hormones are elevated, it’s thought that dogs can smell the change and sense that there is a difference. If you’ve ever noticed your dog wanting to be by your side and provide comfort when you’re sad or stressed, it’s not just a coincidence. Second, some studies have shown that dogs can even recognize human facial expressions as happy or not. As a result, they can use these two sources of information to create a perception of whether you’re happy or sad.
Have you ever considered why dogs are so often used for therapeutic purposes? Yes, they can be trained to let people pet them, cuddle with them, and care for them. But, it’s believed that because dogs can pick up on emotions, their therapy efforts are even stronger. That enables them to work in places like:
- Nursing homes
- Veterans’ centers
- Dental offices
It’s okay to rely on your pet to find comfort and peace if you’re feeling stressed. But, keep in mind that if you’re overly stressed all the time and you’re passing those feelings to your four-legged companion, you could be doing more harm than good.
The Impact of Stress on Pets
Think about how you feel when it seems like your anxiety is taking over. Your pets can feel the same way, and it can cause a variety of different problems. Dogs or cats who are anxious can experience issues like:
- Appetite changes
- Sleep changes
You might also start to notice extreme behavioral changes. Have you ever moved with your pet before, and it seemed to take them a while to act like themselves again? This was likely due to stress from the moving process. But, even if everything in their world is the same and you’re the one feeling stressed, you can pass those feelings onto them and trigger these issues.
Behavioral issues can be anything from your cat hiding under the bed to your dog lashing out in bursts of anger. Unfortunately, that can be scary and even dangerous, especially if your dog were to bite someone and injure them.
What Can You Do?
If your pet is exhibiting strange behaviors, it’s important to pinpoint the cause. Even if it’s your own stress rubbing off on them, there are things you can do to help them calm down and ease their nerves. Obviously, one of the best ways is to reduce your own stress levels.
When you’re calm, your pet can relax, too. That can feel easier said than done, at times. But, getting to the root of your anxiety and finding ways to treat it can lower your stress hormones. As a result, your pet won’t pick up on it as much and can feel more relaxed around you.
But, if your dog or cat seems stressed or anxious for other reasons, there are things you can do to help them. First, you might consider alternative medications like CBD products. They are still relatively new in the pet world, but different types of hemp solutions may help to balance out the stress hormones in your pet’s brain.
You can also try natural solutions to reduce anxiety, such as essential oils and herbs. Even getting outside for some exercise can be a short-term solution to your pet’s anxious feelings.
It’s never easy to see your pets overly stressed or anxious, especially if you know you have something to do with it. Take your own stress into account and try to manage it as much as possible. While your pet can certainly help to calm your nerves, make sure you’re paying attention to their own feelings as well.