by Teresa Garden, DVM



     These are very stressful times we are living in. Many of us are worried about losing our jobs, our homes, our 401Ks, and our health. The stress we are under spills over into our homes and becomes absorbed by the little sponges we live with-namely our children and our pets. The definition of stress as it applies to people is “emotional imbalance manifested as anger, frustration, or anxiety”. Pets feel emotional stress just like we do. The causes of their stress are different from ours but the effects may be the same. Stress will lead to increased cortisol levels in the body and a decreased efficiency of the immune system. In ourselves and our pets, this results in an increased susceptibility to infections, injuries, and destructive behavior.  Stress is the direct cause of 85% of human disease and this may well be true for our pets too.


     You may be surprised to learn what makes our pets stressed out. Sometimes it can be us. If we are afraid or angry our pets know this. They can become afraid just because we are but they do not know the source of the fear. This can be especially true for pets who have previously been abused.  Reassurance and love are needed to remedy the situation. Pets need to feel safe and secure.  Showing understanding, caring, and love constantly and consistently will help to diminish their fears.  Changes in your household such as a new spouse or partner, new baby, new home, or kids leaving for college can be a source of stress for your pets. Remodeling or rehabbing can cause fears due to the noise or unfamiliar workers in the home. Being left alone too much leads to boredom and then destructive behavior.  Lack of exercise leads to a frustrated or hyperactive or anxious pet.  Changes in our daily routine which cause a change in our pets’ mealtime or playtime can be especially stressful to cats.  In multiple cat households fighting among cats is a very common source of stress that can lead to multitude of medical and behavioral disorders.


     Dogs and cats will often try to help us to diffuse our stress. Dogs will distract us by asking us to play with them. Cats will curl up in your lap to make you feel better by absorbing your distress. Once stress builds up in our pets it will be manifested in various ways.  Cats will spray urine, over-groom to the point of baldness, or maybe develop bladder infections. Grief in our cats can lead to hyperthyroidism.  Some cats suffering from stress will stop eating and that can lead to a life-threatening condition known as “fatty liver syndrome”.  Dogs will often excessively lick their paws, chase their tail, or become destructive in the home due to stress and anxiety. Sometimes they will whine, whimper, bark excessively, or soil in the house.


     Bach Flower Essences are one of the best ways to soothe nervous, anxious, or stressed pets. Bach Flower remedies are made from the essential oils of wild plants, trees, and bushes and then greatly diluted. They can stabilize and balance out emotional energy fields.  Rescue Remedy is a blend of five flowers and is helpful for general stress and anxiety. Aspen and Mimulus should be used for fear; Walnut for changes in the household; Vervain for high strung, nervous, high energy pets; Honeysuckle for grieving the loss of an owner or previous home; Crabapple for licking, chewing, over-grooming; Vine for aggressiveness, Rock Rose for terror.

Increasing exercise and play time stimulates the mind, decreases frustration, and promotes emotional and physical well-being for pets and their human companions. Massage or T-Touch is a wonderful method of reducing stress and tension in the body. It promotes a feeling of calmness to both the human providing the massage as well as the pet on the receiving end. Touching and stroking a pet can lower our blood pressure, increase self-esteem, and establishes a feeling of well-being.

Recently pheromone-containing products in the form of diffusers, sprays or collars have become commercially available. At Animal Health & Healing we have found these products to be helpful in treating dogs and cats for a variety of stress-related disorders. D.A.P.  (Dog Appeasing Pheromone) is the product for dogs and Feliway is for cats. They can create a calming effect in the household and can reduce symptoms of stress by 60-80%.

Homeopathic remedies can be employed to help treat emotional problems arising from stress in our pets. The remedy Ignatia is for grieving, sensitive, or nervous pets; Aconite if  frightened or hiding; Arsenicum if restless or pacing, Nux vomica if  irritable and having diarrhea or vomiting.

Aromatherapy has become an increasingly popular and effective modality for managing stress. Scents act like medicines by affecting the body on a biochemical level. Fragrance is absorbed through mucous membranes in the nose. The chemicals of the aroma then travel directly to the brain to elicit their response.  The essential oils used in aromatherapy are much too strong to use straight from the bottle. They should be diluted by ½ with almond or jojoba oil. Lavender is an excellent essential oil to relieve emotional stress in dogs. It can be applied topically to the inside of the ear or back of the neck. The dog will be able to smell it but not ingest it. Essential oils can be toxic to pets if ingested. This is one reason why I do not employ their use in treating cats. As an alternative to topical treatment, lavender can be used in a diffuser to help relax and calm our pets.

Signs and symptoms of stress will vary among individual pets. When treating stress we must focus on freeing up blocked energy.  Energy expresses itself physically, emotionally, and mentally.  This is why energy-based medicines such as Homeopathy and Bach Flower Essences can keep vital systems functioning properly. Reducing stress in your pet can eliminate causes of illness and will boost their immune systems thereby improving their state of wellness.



Dr. Teresa Garden is chief veterinarian/owner of Animal Health & Healing, a full-service holistic and conventional veterinary practice in the Maplewood/Richmond Heights area.  AnimalHealthandHealing.com; phone: 314-781-1738.