Making Your Dog’s Mental Health a Top Priority

| Nell Ostermeier DVM, CVA, FAAVA

Canine mental health is as important as their physical well-being. Here are 3 great, vet-recommended ways to prioritize your dog's mental health.

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Just like people, dogs can experience boredom, frustration, anxiety, or a combination of these undesirable feelings. Because they are emotionally uncomfortable, many dogs will act out with bad behavior or by causing themselves physical trauma.

Common canine reactions to anxiety, boredom, and frustration include:

  • Excess vocalizing

  • Digging

  • Pacing

  • Biting

  • Chewing foreign objects

  • Chewing on themselves

  • Excessive licking

The last two behaviors often result in dermatological (skin) lesions and conditions, such as lick granuloma, that can become chronic if allowed to go on long term.

Prioritizing your dog’s mental health not only makes life better for them, it improves your overall well-being, because caring for them will be easier and more enjoyable if you can avoid these consequences.

In this article, we’ll explore a few ways to put more focus on your dog’s mental health and to positively impact the human-animal bond that you share. 

Enrichment Tools

One of the best ways to combat boredom and nervous energy is to provide enrichment for your dog. Fortunately, today’s marketplace is filled with options such as interactive toys, puzzles, and thought-provoking treat dispensers. These tools will help to keep your furry friend’s mind stimulated, especially during times when you are busy at work or exercise is limited.

Exercise and Movement

We all know that exercise is important for maintaining our dog’s physical health, but have you thought about how important it is to their mental well-being? Exercise invigorates the body and the mind at the same time and triggers the release of the body’s natural “feel good” chemicals.

The result is improved mood and circulation of blood to the brain. Some dogs, especially those that are of a breed that is historically meant to work, need a job in order to maintain mental stability. For these dogs, exercise should be high on your priority list as part of their daily care plan.

A bonus of exercise for most dogs is that they consider it to be fun, and there is plenty of research out now to prove that dogs seek enjoyment just like us! Walking, running, hiking, kayaking, swimming, playing ball, or participating in athletic events are just some of the ways to incorporate exercise and the one-on-one attention that your dog loves into their daily routine. 

Focused One-on-One Time

Exercise is just one way that you can spend focused time with your dog. There are many other options for creating a routine around one-on-one time, including cuddling, petting, massaging your dog, or sitting together while watching TV or reading (as long as you are both content).

The important thing is that your dog feels that they are receiving attention from you. It is even more beneficial if you make it a true routine by scheduling this special activity at the same time each day. It is extremely helpful for dogs, especially those more prone to anxiety, to have one-one-one time that they can count on regularly. This can be the key to your dog’s mental and emotional stability if you live a lifestyle that is busy or includes frequent change.

Talk with Your Veterinarian

If you think your dog is experiencing boredom, frustration, or anxiety, you can try any or all of these strategies to improve their mental health. These strategies are even good for preventing issues as well!

However, if there is evidence that your dog is acting out or harming themselves, it is time to talk with your primary care veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist, so that you can get on a path to a better and more comfortable life for your dog.

In some cases, dogs may need natural or pharmaceutical assistance to reach a balanced state of mind or to relieve anxiety. You will need to talk with your veterinarian about what options are available and most appropriate for your canine friend.

Did you know that AKC Pet Insurance (underwritten by Independence American Insurance Company) offers policies that cover medication if it is prescribed by a veterinarian to treat a specific eligible condition? Click here to create a custom policy and get a quote today.

Nell Ostermeier DVM, CVA, FAAVA

Nell Ostermeier is an Integrative Veterinarian, Motivator, Lecturer, and Consultant.

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