It is common to hear about the beneficial effects of the human-animal bond on stress, but have you ever considered the effects stress can have on the bond between you and your pets?
According to Lepoudère, your pets may encounter stress in the form of psychological stressors, such as separation anxiety or the introduction a new family member, or physiological stressors, such as pain or other symptoms from an underlying illness. Regardless of the source, stress can cause pets to act in ways that are undesirable, maladaptive, or harmful to them or others around them.
While most owners would be quick to remedy anything that might cause a pet to experience stress, Lepoudère suggests that may be more difficult than it might seem. Among the complications, Lepoudère notes that some animals’ responses to stressors may be misattributed by their owners. An owner who chastises a dog for barking — a behavior commonly associated with fear and anxiety — may inadvertently be reinforcing that behavior, resulting in an undesirable feedback loop for both the dog and the owner.
For pets and owners struggling to cope with stress, Lepoudère suggests the use of anxiolytic medications or dietary changes to help ease pets’ anxieties. For some, however, simple behavioral adjustments through conventional reward-based conditioning and reinforcement. For particularly tricky behavioral issues, consult your veterinarian; they may be able to identify underlying health issues or recommend a behaviorist to help track down the source of your pets’ stress.