Did you come home to the contents of the garbage ripped, chewed and spewed from the kitchen to the living room? Does the cat keep urinating outside of their litter box? They aren’t trying to be bad. They are trying to tell you something.
Animals communicate through their postures, expressions and behaviors. Whether you have a mutt or a mare, here are some signals your pet might be stressed:
1. Check the ears
When those fireworks start, or the hectic hustle and bustle of the holidays amp up your pets’ stress. It is important to take notice of the ears. Some dogs’ ears will be erect and alert, but most pets will have their ears laid back in times of stress. A tail between the legs is a common stress indicator for dogs, but other telltale signs are tails that are straight down or wagging at the tip.
For horses, look for fast-paced swiveling ears. When they flick back and forth they are more alert and in a heightened state of anxiety. Perhaps they are trying to locate the source of the frightening sound, but chances are they are overwhelmed overall.
2. Are more teeth or gums showing than usual?
While growling, whining and whimpering are stress signs; excessive panting (as well as excessive drooling) is also a common indicator of an anxious pup.
For a horse, a tight, pursed or pinched mouth is a subtle sign that speaks volumes. Tension, especially around a horse’s mouth, means they are worried or scared. They will also show the whites of their eyes and flared nostrils.
3. Check the body, skin and coat
Cats and dogs alike, abnormal shedding, tense muscles and itching and scratching are signs that your pet is stressed.
Horses will have a high neck carriage and a raised tail. A horse’s natural survival instinct is “Flight or Fight.” When they are trying to avoid a predator their first instinct is to run. This is shown by an anxious horse that might pace, begin sweating excessively, high pitch whinny, or even tremble all over. If a horse cannot run away from what they’re afraid of or is confined/contained, they will turn to fight if necessary. That is when you see them pin their ears back, tense their mouth – ready to bite, swishing tail, and shaking their head.
4. Aggression toward people or other animals
Submissive behavior, coupled with a fearful body posture and an angry face, is a sign of stress. There is treatment for severe dog aggression, like dog training and dog boot camp, which focuses on behavior management to help an anxious animal. While muzzles are a Band-Aid fix, stress in your pet is something to take seriously.
Domestic horses have learned to deal with stress by exhibiting undesirable vices, such as stall walking/pacing, weaving (swaying side to side), cribbing (Sucking air), pawing, etc. They exhibit aggression to people, and other animals, by pinning their ears back flat against their head, biting, turning their hindquarters towards a human as a warning and kicking.
5. Digestive issues
You should first check if this issue is brought on from food intolerance– especially if it has lasted for more than 24 hours—however anxiety can be the cause of diarrhea and constipation.
∇ Routine disruption can cause stress for your pet, as they thrive on routine. Have there been changes in walking or eating time?
∇ Confinement. Horses and dogs alike, a lack of social stimulation can make them stir-crazy and stressed.
∇ A combination of boredom and uncertainty is another cause. Are they unsure of your expectations? Do they frequently have a toy, task, or another form of mental stimulation to keep their stress levels low? A pooch who understands how to please you is a happy dog. Untrained dogs suffer trying to figure you out.
What to Do
Before anything, visit your veterinarian to rule out any form of sickness that you might think is causing the stress in your pet.
Stress in your pet shows up in the body, face and the behaviors they display. If it is mental stress, here are some tips to prevent and treat animal agitation:
- Play/exercise with them regularly. The word “with” is used, because leaving your dog outside to play on his own doesn’t count. Speaking of…
- Be there. Spend time with your four-legged friend. While being in a physical space together increases bonding and alleviates stress (for both of you), it is important to engage with your pet. Repeating back behaviors like licking lips and blinking supports their efforts to calm down.
- Set up a cozy cubby or an area that is their safe space. Party poppers, fireworks, thunderstorms, loud parties, etc. would call for the dog to escape to this area so they can feel safe.
- Diet, diet, diet. You control what your pet ingests. Their diet could be affecting their stress. Try Springtime’s Stress-Free Calmplex. The ginseng and vitamin C help support focus and the ability to deal with stress without sedating.
For horses, our Daily Calm formula helps regulate cortisol levels and improves mood. Performance Paste is also recommended for a calm and focused demeanor, especially on traveling days. Read more about traveling with your horse.