10 Ways for You and Your Pet to De-Stress Together
The world is a stressful place right now. While some have joked that our pets are happier than they’ve ever been now that we’re at home so much, this idea paints an incomplete picture. One recent study confirmed what we’ve always thought to be true: Dog parents experiencing long bouts of stress can transfer that stress to their dogs. “We know our pets respond to how we are feeling, and they also provide important emotional connections that can help ease our own anxiety,” says Dr. Whitney Miller, head of veterinary medicine at Petco.
If you’re feeling anxious, remember that the sooner you can start to relax, the sooner your pet can, too. Plus, knowing you’re making them feel better can be calming all in itself. There are some products and actions—for both you and your pet—that can help lower the stress in your home.
10 ideas for you and your pet to lower stress together:
1. Get weighed down
In this case, feeling weighed down is a good thing. For humans, weighted blankets are often used to help produce a feeling of calm. In one study of 32 adults, 63 percent reported lower anxiety after lying under a 30-pound blanket for five minutes. For your pets, ThunderShirt offers a medication-free, easy-to-use and effective solution for anxieties. Just as a weighted blanket works for humans, a ThunderShirt applies constant pressure to your dog or cat’s body to help release a calming hormone like oxytocin or endorphins. The company’s website claims that the calming effect given by a ThunderShirt is helpful for more than 80% of pets.
2. Treat yourself
Sometimes a little treat can go a long way. While canine- and feline-specific calming chews and treats can help reduce nervousness, tension or stress for your pet, you might want to also scan your pantry for some chocolate for yourself. Studies have shown that people who rated themselves highly stressed to begin with reported lower levels of stress hormones after eating chocolate every day for two weeks. Buon appetito! (Remember to keep the chocolate to yourself, though, as it can cause serious harm to pets.)
3. Use your senses
Lighting a calming candle or using aromatherapy may help bring down your own stress level, while a calming diffuser made specifically for your dog or cat can help your furry friend relax by releasing specific calming pheromones into the air. (Be sure to keep essential oils away from your pet, as they can be harmful to animals.) If a calming candle doesn’t help you, try creating a scent that reminds you of something happy by baking cookies or spraying a perfume that reminds you of your grandmother. Odors can affect people’s moods through a process known as associative learning, where an event or item is linked to another through past experiences.
4. Try aromatherapy
While you have to be careful about what scents you use around your pet, some people find that scents like lavender bring on a feeling of calm. While research may be limited from a scientific perspective, if a bath with lavender Epsom salts sounds relaxing to you, try giving your pup an Aromadog Calming toy to help keep them busy and ease their stress. In an hour you might both emerge recharged.
5. Focus your nerves
Our stress can lead to nervous habits like biting our nails or playing with our hair, and animals can have similar responses. If you’ve noticed your pet exhibiting nervous behavioral habits like excessive licking or destructive chewing, try giving them a calming chew to refocus their energy while you soothe yourself with an activity such as coloring or journaling.
6. Create a calming space
When we’re on edge, having a nice space to visit that’s free from technology can help us relax. For humans, that space might be a bedroom, a bath area or even a shady spot in the backyard. In fact, being in nature, or even just viewing scenes of nature, has been shown to reduce anger, fear and stress while increasing pleasant feelings. Your pet can join you outdoors if you have a safe spot for them to lounge, or you can create a soothing and relaxing reprieve for them in their own crate or cat tree, complete with a comfortable blanket, their favorite toys and some calming treats.
7. Zone out
Sometimes it’s best to completely retreat from what’s going on in the world, at least for a little while. For humans, recentering might mean putting on a funny or feel-good movie, while your pet might like watching a TV show or YouTube video made with them in mind.
8. Listen to some tunes
Studies show that listening to classical music specifically can slow the pulse and heart rate, lower blood pressure and decrease levels of stress hormones in humans. Other studies have shown similar results in dogs, with their stress levels decreasing significantly after hearing classical music in their kennels.
9. Cuddle up
You don’t need an excuse to get in some extra cuddles with your pet, but this is a big one nevertheless: Studies show that holding and petting an animal is an effective way to combat anxiety, as it creates a calming effect and helps people focus on the present. Cuddling also stimulates the release of dopamine and serotonin, which can help relieve depression.
10. Get in a workout
When you’re feeling down or stressed, just thinking about working out can be daunting. But as you probably have heard, exercising can make you happy—and what makes your pup happier than getting some of their energy out with a workout you can do together? Or getting outside for a run together? While it may be hard to get going, you’ll likely feel better when you’re done.
In our current environment, it’s important to find lots of small ways to make ourselves—and our pets—happy. Besides the products listed above, Dr. Miller also recommends keeping your pet’s routine as consistent as possible as well as increasing indoor activities like practicing training cues and offering chews and games with toys. If you have specific concerns about your pet’s behavior, consult with your veterinarian.