PDSA is the UK’s largest vet charity, on a mission to improve pet wellbeing through prevention, education and treatment. Support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery helps us reach even more pet owners with vital advice and information.www.pdsa.org.uk
April was Stress Awareness Month when many of us took time to evaluate our mental health and well-being ... but what about the mental health of our pets?
PDSA Vet nurse Nina Downing said: “We know how important it is to monitor our own wellbeing, but our pets can also be affected by stress and anxiety. Though our furry friends can’t talk to us about how they’re feeling, there are many other ways we can spot signs of stress, and lots of things we can do to ensure our pets live a happy, heathy life."
Look for signs of pet stress
Spotting the signs of stress in pets – The most common signs of stress are changes in behaviour, low energy or a lack of appetite. If your dog is stressed, you may see them hiding, panting or licking their lips even though they’re not warm, exercising or eating. Their body may appear tense or they may yawn when not tired.
In some cases, they may start displaying unwelcome, destructive behaviour or toilet in strange places. Cats can also behave differently, hiding away, seeming tense, and toileting in places other than their litter tray. Cats can even become physically unwell as a result of stress, with some developing stress induced cystitis and other conditions.
Rabbits and other small pets aren’t immune to this either, so whatever pet you have, make sure you’re meeting their five welfare needs to help reduce chances of becoming stressed.
Spend quality time with pets
Quality time – “Companionship is one of a pet’s five welfare needs and an essential part of our pets’ overall wellbeing, so we must take some time each day to give them our love and attention in a way which our pet enjoys.
"It can be difficult to prioritise quality time in between busy schedules but walks and playtime are so important – this helps your pet to burn built up energy and keeps them mentally stimulated, in turn leaving them relaxed and happy.
Keep things happy and stress free
Create a safe space – “Just like we may have a favourite place to relax, our pets need their own space where they feel safe and secure, especially when we’re out of the house.
"This could be a den, crate (if crate trained), box or bed, just ensure it’s in a quiet place with access to food and water and plenty of room to move around. Cats will often prefer a safe spot somewhere high up.
Help pets to chill out
“Leaving on background noise such as a radio can also help some pets to feel more relaxed if you have to leave them alone for longer periods, but remember that dogs shouldn’t be left alone for any longer than four hours at a time.
Consistency is key – “Sticking to routine is great way to reduce pets’ stress, so stick to regular feeding and exercise routines if possible. It’s best to gradually implement any big changes, such as a new job schedule, to allow your pet to adjust to the shift in their daily lives.
Ask our expert
PDSA Vet Nurse Nina Downing answers all your pet questions
Dear PDSA vet, I'm thinking of buying a budgie for my children – where is the best place to buy one from? Saskia
Dear Saskia, budgies are very social birds who need the company of their own kind, so you’ll have to include this in your budget.
Pre-purchase research is vital so you can be sure that you can meet their welfare needs and fund their lifestyle and veterinary needs comfortably.
Your budgies will need plenty of space to fly and stretch their wings – an aviary or ‘indoor flight’ (a large cage with lots of flying space) is ideal.
Contact rehoming centres as they may have budgies needing a nice home.
Breeders and reputable pet shops should be your next step after this.
Make sure that anywhere you consider is clean and hygienic, that the birds look healthy, well cared for and the staff are knowledgeable. Visit www.pdsa.org.uk/budgiewelfare for more.
Dear PDSA Vet, How do I know when my hamster’s nails need trimming? Richie
Dear Richie, hamsters are busy animals who spend most of their waking hours scurrying around, which is usually enough to wear down their nails.
However, if your hamster’s nails seem to be growing at an odd angle, or are very long and curling round, they may need to be trimmed by your vet. Older hamsters sometimes need regular nail clipping, but you must take care not to cut into the quick (the blood vessel that runs through the middle of their nail).
Your vet or vet nurse can show you how to do this properly and recommend a suitable pair of nail clippers if you feel confident to do this yourself.
Dear PDSA Vet, I’ve noticed my rabbit is starting to get a bit chubby recently. She has a run but doesn’t like to go out much, and I’m concerned she’s getting overweight. How can I manage her weight? Harriette
Dear Harriette, rabbits need companionship from other rabbits for many reasons, including stimulation to move!
A lonely rabbit often stays still to not attract attention, so slowly introduce and bond neutered companion and you’ll find them enjoying life and exploring their run.
Rabbits’ daily diet should consist of at least their own body size in fresh hay, a handful of fresh, rabbit safe vegetables morning and evening, and a tablespoon of rabbit nuggets to supplement their hay.
Feeding the right diet and urging activity and weight loss with friends and toys aids weight loss and a vet can give you a safe weight loss programme.