2022 – The Year of Mental Health For Dogs

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If you’re like me, you depend on your dog for emotional support – sometimes. At other times, you might realize that you are, in fact, your dog’s emotional support human. Our dogs’ mental and emotional health is as important as their physical health, but maybe we do not think about that as much as we should.

I’m still learning how to support my dogs’ mental health. I find that Cow always has obvious, outwards signs of anxiety in totally normal situations. She barks, cries, and stress-pants wherever we go, and she seems terrified of walking on hardwood, so much that she refuses to enter the kitchen.

But what about Matilda? She’s usually confident and carefree, but she started to go grey at just four years old. At seven, she has more white than I feel she should, and I can’t help but wonder if Cow stresses her out, or if she has unseen anxiety. Or, as I keep telling myself to pacify my anxiety… it’s probably just vitiligo.

Whether your dog is clearly struggling to cope with everyday life, or they seem totally bulletproof, their mental health matters.

I asked pet professionals for their best tips for supporting your dog’s mental health – let’s learn together how we can do more for our dogs this year.

Table of Contents

Feed for Mental Health

Cow is, as I just mentioned, my “anxiety dog,” and she’s always had gut issues, from food intolerances to chronic pancreatitis. These days she is finally having healthy, solid poops. So of course I could relate to this advice from mental health coach (for humans), Jen Mayo.

My advice is to buy or make the highest quality food (not kibble)

to support gut and nutritive health. A healthy, happy mind begins with a

healthy happy gut and most commercial foods are of such poor quality that

creating a healthy guy is impossible. Look for organic, pasture raised

meats and consider exploring raw options. A good, holistic, nutritionally

minded vet can guide you to making your own pet food from scratch. A

healthy gut microbiome will support brain health and, ultimately,

happiness. Likewise, monitor your pooch’s elimination habits. Chronic

diarrhea or constipation are indications of impaired gut function and

rescue pets who may have come from abusive previous homes are especially

prone to having gut disorders due to trauma that has disregulated their

autonomic nervous system, putting them in perpetual states of fight or

flight. Even if their behavior does not reflect that nervous system

dysregulation, the energetic and endocrine manifestations of it can still

wreak havoc on their digestive systems.

Jen Mayo
www.jenmayo.com
trauma informed holistic health coach

Tune out stressors

This is something I haven’t thought of at all, so I’m glad Julie Burgess, CPDT-KA brought it up. We live in an apartment facing a parking lot, so we can hear people coming and going all day long. Matilda and Cow bark when they hear strangers, and get worked up into a frenzy. They’re good about stopping when I ask, but they have no way of knowing when a sound is coming from our next-door neighbor or a scary puppy napper.

Look at getting either a fan, a white noise machine, or both. Our dog was less anxious with a white noise machine because it did an excellent job blocking general household noise out. Everyday noises sent her panicking. Be careful of what you choose as noise-blocking music because thunderstorm tunes aren’t very calming! In warmer climates, you could use a fan to cool the air and help keep your anxious dog in check.

Certified Dog Trainer Julie Burgess, CPDT-KA
Pet expert on SeniorTailWaggers.com

Prepare your dog for time apart

Separation anxiety is always a hot topic for dogs, but in these times, I think it’s even more of an issue than ever. We’ve been depending on our dogs to get us through the loneliness of the pandemic, but when we start to leave home more often, they might have trouble adjusting.

But keep in mind that dogs sleep much more than we do. They may sleep 12-14 hours a day, so they’re capable of snoozing the day away while they wait for our return.

Veterinarian Dr. Corinne Wigfall advises to give your dog small doses of alone time even when you’re home, working up to longer absences. While life changes may not always give you time to prepare in this way, it’s healthy to get your dog accustomed to being on their own, even if you don’t plan to go back to the office anytime soon.

Treatment of separation anxiety is based on creating a predictable and

consistent daily routine for your dog. Gradually increasing time apart

using this routine is important, even if it starts by spending time in a

separate room, or different part of the garden, but gradually increasing

the time apart so your dog is used to time alone and are happy alone.

Getting your dog used to the pre-departure cues such as picking up keys or

putting on shoes, can desensitise your dog to you leaving, keeping goodbyes

and greetings low key are important.

Crate training is a great tool to teach, so your dog gets used to being in

a safe space, it is also moveable so will aid their anxiety and comfort if

visiting friends, relatives or travelling in the car, they have their crate

and know it is their safe space.

Dr Corinne Wigfall,
BVMBVS(Hons) BVMedSci(Hons) Veterinary spokesperson for Spirit Dog Training

Go on an adventure

We all know it’s important to walk our dogs for potties, but going on mental health walks are also a priority. Sniffing actually lowers your dog’s heart rate – they need to be able to explore without being tugged along from spot to spot. Veterinarian TB Thompson has a few tips for freeing your dog’s mind with adventure time:

1.Go for a ride in the car. Even if it’s just around the block, so many dogs love to look out the window at the world.

2. Go to a park they haven’t been to or not in a while. They can socialize with other dogs if that’s their thing, but even sniffing where other dogs have been is very interesting to dogs.

3. Give your pup a sandbox to dig in or go to a sandy beach. Some dogs really love digging.

4. Let your dog do things you might think are gross. It’s normal for them to want to roll in stinky stuff and lay down in puddles. A bath will make them socially acceptable and the happiness they get from this is priceless.

TB Thompson DVM, founder of Natural Pets HQ

Bring out the toys

Veterinarian Dr. Linda Simon notes that most bad behaviors stem from a lack of mental stimulation. Dogs get bored, and they find ways to entertain themselves, and bad habits can also be a source of comfort when they’re stressed.

A good tip is to ditch the food bowl and to start making meal times fun and interesting. This means using Kongs, snaffle mats, lick mats and slow feeder bowls. If your dog is not used to these things, start off slow with one or two easy food puzzles, to avoid frustration at meal times. Rotate your dog’s toys, so they are not getting bored of the same toys that are left out all the time. This can mean having a ‘toy box’ and choosing 2 or 3 different ones each week. Look for durable toys that last a long time. Don’t expect your dog to keep themselves occupied; they will need your interaction when it comes to playing. Ensure you have a variety of options including tug toys, puzzle toys, interactive toys, balls etc.

Dr. Linda Simon, MVB MRCVS, Veterinary Surgeon and veterinary consultant for Five Barks.

Lindsay Pevny
Lindsay Pevny lives to help pet parents make the very best choices for their pets by providing actionable, science-based training and care tips and insightful pet product reviews.

She also uses her pet copywriting business to make sure the best pet products and services get found online through catchy copy and fun, informative blog posts. She also provides product description writing services for ecommerce companies.

As a dog mom to Matilda and Cow, she spends most of her days taking long walks and practicing new tricks, and most nights trying to make the best of a very modest portion of her bed.

You’ll also find her baking bread and making homemade pizza, laughing, painting and shopping.

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