Pets do so much for us. From service dogs to therapy dogs to emotional support animals, they do an incredible job at helping us stay grounded and present.
But, what about your pet’s own mental health? It’s important that pet parents support their pet’s mental wellness, which can help prevent behavioral issues later on.
During these times of uncertainty and change, it’s common for pets to experience signs of anxiety and stress. So, in light of May being Mental Health Awareness Month, we’ve teamed up with Dr. Katy Nelson, DVM, of the Belle Haven Animal Medical Centre in Alexandria, Virginia, to answer all of your questions on how to bring inner peace to your furry companion.
Q: My rescue pup is very anxious around new people… what do you recommend to help him?
A: It’s understandable that your rescue pup may be nervous around new people. The best thing to do though is to try to socialize them as much as you can—but try to keep them on a leash nearby when possible.
Get tips for socializing your puppy here.
Q: Our newly adopted cat is scared of everything! How can we make her feel safe and secure?
A: For now, try some environmental enrichment. Give them a good place to hide—maybe something off the ground like a kitty condo. You can also try a product called Feliway. It’s a synthetic copy of pheromones that helps cats feel safe and secure.
Find out how to calm a cat using pheromones.
Q: What does it mean for your dog’s mental health if they are a Velcro dog?
A: Our Velcro dogs can have some significant anxiety when we leave them behind. So for now, try to stick to as much of a normal as you can. That way, when the world does get back on its axis it’s not as much of a shock to their system.
Learn what the signs of stress look like in pets and what you can do about it.
Q: Our dog hates thunderstorms and fireworks. HELP!
A: Noise anxiety is very common and if it’s severe, I recommend that you talk with your veterinarian—they might offer you some anti-anxiety medications that you can use during those times. And also check out something like a Thundershirt; it sort of makes them feel like they’re getting a hug and can help with some of that anxiety as well.
Here’s how to get your nervous dog ready for the Fourth of July.
Q: My dog is leash aggressive because he was attacked before. Is there a way I can help?
A: Leash aggression can certainly be difficult to deal with, so I would recommend checking out CCPDT.org to help you find a professional dog trainer in your area that specializes in aggression and help you work through that.
Q: What are some tips to help stimulate my older dog’s brain?
A: Great question, and why not start with teaching an old dog new tricks? Maybe “Touch” or “Speak” or “Shake.” Also, check out some fun puzzle toys to make them have to figure out how to get those treats out of there. And keep up with exercise to release those endorphins and keep them feeling good.
Get more senior dog care tips here.
Q: What are some good ways to help my bunnies feel calm and safe around me?
A: Bunnies are prey animals, so we need to provide them with a warm and protected hutch to help them feel safe and secure. And always try to be as calm and quiet as possible so they don’t get startled.
Q: How to help your dog be more confident? My rescue is shy and scared of strangers and men.
A: Confidence comes with time, patience and proper socialization. Give them some time and take them to different places, get them around some different people. And, over time, they will learn they can handle any situation they’re in as long as they are there with you.
Here are 6 tips for boosting your dog’s confidence.
Q: I’m SO nervous to return to work (in August, teacher). How can I make it less stressful for the pup?
A: My advice would be to start now and try to create as much of a routine as possible so that when you do go back to work it won’t be so much of a shock.
If you find this Q&A helpful, follow us on Instagram and stay tuned for upcoming lunch break vet chats with Dr. Katy Nelson in the coming weeks.
This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.