While most of us know the impact of high stress levels on our own health, many people never stop and think about whether our animals are also suffering from similar stresses.
With a busy lifestyle you may get stressed out over traffic, work pressures, finances, world events or family problems and although animal’s lives are much more simplified, they can also be filled with everyday stress.
Many people still believe that animals do not have the same feelings and emotions as we do, because they don’t talk or cry, but this doesn’t mean they don’t suffer in silence.
To try and understand how your animal may be feeling is to imagine life through their eyes.
Are they left alone for hours on end or are they tied up or locked in an enclosed space not knowing when or if they will be freed?
Horses and other herd animals will often have significant ongoing stress when kept isolated from loss of companionship with their own species.
Dogs and cats can be affected by a variety of stresses in their everyday lives, some of the most common being:
• Boredom ~ This is the number one cause of destructive behaviour in dogs, such as digging, constant barking and generally getting into mischief.
• Loneliness ~ Due to work commitments many dogs and cats are left at home alone for up to eight hours or more most days. While many cats will sleep the hour’s away; dogs are a pack animal and find this especially difficult. Many learn to cope with this routine, but they never enjoy it.
• Jealousy ~The introduction of a new animal or baby into the household can stir up many emotions for some animals. They may find it extremely difficult to share your attentions with another animal or person.
• Aggression ~ Aggressive behaviour may be due to fear or insecurities. An animal feeling threatened may show aggression to hide this inner fear. Some dominant animals may show aggression towards other animals, but if the aggression is towards people, then this should be taken very seriously. Cats may often show aggression towards loved ones for no apparent reason, but there is always an underlying reason for this behaviour.
• Fear or Nervousness ~The most common fear that cats and dogs have is thunderstorms or fireworks, but some animals may be naturally timid around strangers or other animals.
• Grief ~ The loss of a companion (human or animal) can cause grieving for many animals. They may also suffer from grief when left at boarding kennels or catteries while their carer is on holidays. You know when you are coming back, but they don’t always know when, or if you are returning.
• Anxiety ~ Separation anxiety occurs in many dogs that hate to be left alone. This may be mild to quite severe with some animals suffering extreme panic when left at home by themselves, even for short periods.
• Frustration ~ Imagine your frustration at being left locked up or chained for hours on end. We all know the frustration of trying to tell someone something if they refuse to listen. Imagine not having the freedom to live your life as you would like to. This applies to all species, but more so, to those wild animals unfortunate enough to live in zoos, circuses and intensively farmed animals.
• No real purpose or job ~This especially applies to working dogs and other active breeds. While your cute little Maltese may be quite happy to live as a companion dog, a border collie will feel very lost in this same situation. They need to have a purpose, a job to do to keep them stimulated. Without this, they can become very destructive and badly behaved dogs. Their job may be as simple as being guard dog, to protect the family home while you are out. But this can be a very important issue for some dogs.
• Love and affection ~ I would like to think that everyone that shares their lives with an animal loves them dearly, but sadly this is not the reality. Too often people will get a dog, cat or other animal as a puppy or kitten for the kids. When the cute little puppy or kitten that the kids begged for has grown up, the kids are off doing their own thing and parents may be left with the responsibility of caring for an animal they don’t have time for. Although these are well meaning people, they often don’t spend much time with the animal or even think much about how the animal is feeling. I see this far too often unfortunately.
• Being misunderstood ~ When your cat suddenly attacks you for no apparent reason or the dog chews your new shirt from the clothesline out of the blue. They are not necessarily being naughty or spiteful, they are trying to tell you something, but you are not listening! The hard part may be to discover what it is they are trying to tell you, but I don’t believe any animal is simply nasty or wants to be bad.
Negative emotions have physical effects on the body and animals are no exception to this. We have all experienced at some stage in our lives, that ‘lump in the throat’ before giving a speech or ‘butterflies in the stomach’ when nervous or scared. These emotions are having a very physical effect on body functions. The digestive tract shuts down, making it difficult to swallow. On a more general scale, when these negative emotions occur on a regular or continuous basis, then it can certainly affect the physical health and is often the root cause of chronic disease.
Some of the body organs that can be affected by emotional states are –
Anger – Liver or Gall bladder
Grief & guilt – Lungs or Large intestine
Boredom – Liver
Fears & Anxiety – Kidneys or Bladder
Lack of Love & Compassion – Heart
Rejection & Loneliness – Stomach, Spleen or Pancreas
Animals often take on their owner’s health problems or emotions. It is not unusual to see a highly stressed person bring in a dog that is totally stressed out as well. “Which comes first, the chicken or the egg”. In most cases, I feel the carer’s personality rubs off on the animals, when they take on their issues.
This surrogating applies to health problems also. One client recently brought her dog to the clinic; she was suffering from diabetes and heart problems. During the consultation, she mentioned that maybe she should be taking the same medicines, as she too suffered from diabetes and heart problems! This is not an isolated case by far. Often the carer needs the same remedies and visa-versa!
Animals may also suddenly start to display behavioural problems when people are going through a divorce (for example) as they pick up on these emotional issues, just as children often do.
Emotional & behavioural conditions may be
due to underlying reasons such as:
• Past Traumas – Physical or emotional abuse can have a devastating effect on wellbeing at any age. Negative experiences in early life can contribute to behavioural problems in later life.
• Inadequate nutrition – Nutritional imbalances and deficiencies can predispose animals to stresses more easily than those fed on a well-balanced natural food diet.
• Poor breeding practices – Some breeders continue to breed from animals that have very nervous or aggressive personalities.
• Allergies and food intolerances – Just as some children are affected by ADD and hyper-activity, some animals may also react to certain foods, which is often the case with animals fed on highly processed diets. The most common offenders are preservatives, yeast, sugar, wheat, dairy & eggs.
• Lack of attention – Physical contact is as important for companion animals as it is for humans. Puppies should be well socialised with other dogs to avoid problems as they get older.
• Too much attention – Although you cannot love an animal too much, it is possible to smother them with excessive fussing, which may lead to insecurities later in life.
• Early weaning – Separating animals from their
mother too early can restrict their social skills and behaviour, which they
would normally learn from their mother. We can provide food, water and love,
but this does not compensate for the love and teachings of a mother.
When is the right time to separate? This is difficult to answer, but kittens and puppies should ideally be left with their mum for at least 6 – 8 weeks. We suggest giving the following flower essences to mum and young during this time to help with the transition – honey suckle, sweet chestnut and rescue remedy.
• Insufficient exercise – Too much energy to burn can cause tension and boredom creating dogs that misbehave.
• Being treated like a human being rather than as a dog or cat – Dogs and cats are not human babies and deserve to be treated as dogs and cats with all the respect this brings.
So, what can you do when your dog or cat shows any of these negative behavioural patterns?
The first step is to try to find out what the problem is, or where the issue is coming from. For most behavioural problems, gentle-training methods should be used in conjunction with natural therapies.
• Exercise is important, because if your dog is not getting enough, he or she may become destructive and start digging up the back yard or barking excessively. A walk on a lead daily is not enough for many breeds of dog, they need to be able to run off-lead at least once or twice daily for health reasons, and their own sanity. Some dogs require more than others of course, with working and sporting breeds being the most active.
• Nutrition is extremely important for the health of all animals, especially for those with behavioural or emotional problems. Fresh, natural raw food is essential for a healthy mind and body. Vitamin B and magnesium may be given to highly stressed animals to help calm the nerves and herbs may also be beneficial for excessively nervous animals.
“Buddy is a silky terrier who would cower down when approached by almost anyone, he was so timid and submissive it was difficult to take him anywhere, as he would often shake and tremble with fear. Using muscle testing, I established that his anxiety, panic and paranoia were related to a fear of confrontation. He needed to learn to trust, have faith and gain the confidence to be approached by people again.
After clearing these issues, he is much improved and now enjoys meeting people”.
• Bach Flower essences – I find these to be especially beneficial for most emotional or behavioural conditions such as – aggressive behaviour, fears of any kind, timidness, jealousy, erratic behavioural patterns, sad or depressed animals. For animals that find it hard to adjust to a new house or two animals that find it difficult to get along. These are best used in a combination blend of up to six essences made up to suit the individuals overall personality. They may also be combined with herbs for use in some cases, depending on the benefits needed.
“Tess is a kelpie x that was extremely aggressive towards the other dog in the household. She was very loving towards her human family, but very jealous and hyperactive. She was also terrified of thunder, trips to the vet, lawn mowers, and wanted to kill any cats that ventured nearby. I used a flower essence blend containing – Aspen for unknown fears, cherry plum for her uncontrollable behaviour, vervain for the hyper-activity, vine for her territorial dominance, beech & holly for her lack of tolerance. Owner contacted me a month later and said they were working beautifully”.
• Herbal remedies may be used on their own or combined into a specific blend to enhance effects. For nervous or hyperactive animals, herbal nervines may be chosen. Similar calming herbs may be used in a blend for aggressive dogs, to calm and relax. I generally combine no more than 4 to 6 herbs in any blend, again depending on the particular animal. Herbs are best used in combination with flower essences to help correct emotional issues such as aggression and nervous conditions.
“Jack is a 6 year old male Doberman X who was handed in to an animal refuge. Little details were known of his past, but he was very cautious around men and showed aggression towards other dogs. He was fine while at home with his new family, but would growl at other dogs while out walking, trying to lunge at them to attack. I used a combination of calming herbs such as Valerian, Oats, Chamomile & Passionflower with flower essences for his emotional wellbeing. After only a couple of weeks, he had made quite remarkable improvement in his behaviour around strangers and other dogs, which I believe was fear-aggression”.
• Homeopathy is another therapy that can be very beneficial for overcoming many physical and emotional conditions. Remedies are selected based on a ‘complete picture’ of the animal’s personality and behavioural pattern. A thorough case history is taken to select the most appropriate remedy. I often use homeopathic remedies for extreme nervousness, grief, barking dogs, territorial spraying and separation anxiety.
“It had been 6 months since Toby the cat had died, his mate Bella seemed to cope quite well at the time, although she was not her usual friendly and playful self, she had become quite distant towards the rest of the family. After a few doses of homeopathic Ignatia 200c she was back to her old self once more”.
• T-Touch Therapy is a technique developed by Linda Tellington-Jones. This works on a cellular intelligence level and can be used for any negative behaviours or emotions. This works by activating all four brain wave patterns by stimulating the body cells and corresponding brain cells to change old habits and thought patterns. It allows the animal to think through, rather than automatically reacting by instinct, allowing these old habits to be broken. There are some simple techniques that can be easily learnt to use at home.
• Communication with animals is done telepathically. How often have you wished to know what your animal is thinking or feeling? It is possible for you to learn this technique and meditation is helpful to allow your mind to clear of thoughts, so you can hear what they are trying to tell you. There are various books and occasional courses held on this subject with a number of animal communicators now available for consultation with your animal’s. Many behavioural or emotional problems can be quickly solved if you can find out what your animal is trying to tell you!
“Much is to be gained by listening to your dog, it is far more important than trying to make him listen to you” * (Kate Wimble)
• Training is one of the most important methods of overcoming behavioural issues with animals, and there are gentle methods for doing this. There are many trainers now using these gentle methods with excellent results. Start with basic obedience training early in your animal’s life, it is never too late to start, and even older animals can benefit.
So, to help de-stress your animal’s life naturally, feed a natural preservative-free species-specific diet & ensure they get adequate exercise, rest, fresh air & sunshine. No matter how busy or hectic you may be, be sure to spend time with your animals. Set aside regular playtime and outings to keep them happy and feeling great. Basic training is essential for all animals, and this can be fun, as most animals respond well to short positive training sessions. Be consistent with house rules for both dogs and cats. Physical contact is also important, not only do we benefit from cuddling them, they also greatly benefit from touch.
Many stressed-out animals are now being prescribed mood-altering drugs to treat depression, anxiety, eating disorders, phobias and grief. So, if your animal friend starts to show signs of an emotional or behavioural condition, stop and think about why he or she may be behaving this way and seek safe alternatives before resorting to drugs. These drugs are not a solution to the problem and can cause harm to the animal’s health. Although they may appear to improve, if they are taken off the medication, symptoms return and are often worse than previous.
For more information on any of the above treatments, please contact Julie Massoni at Greenpet.
Julie Massoni is a qualified Animal Naturopath in Qld (Sunshine Coast) Australia.