The Clever Canine | Andrew M. Nelson

There’s been a lot of moving lately. WVU students are moving in to town; I’ve moved into a new house; and Hillcrest has moved into a new clinic.  Moving is often a necessary evil; it’s something you have to do to grow into bigger and better things. But the act of moving is stressful.

It’s important to remember that moving is also stressful for our pets.  Here are a few tips for helping them cope:

1. Create structure (where you can).  The stress your pet experiences during a move is, in part, due to lack of predictability. Not being able to make predictions about one’s environment can be unnerving.  You can circumvent the stress of the unknown by inserting predictable “micro-routines” within your pet’s day.  Schedule four or five, 5 minute time slots at the the same times every day during your move to do something with your pet. For example, with a dog, you could feed, walk, or train/play. Five minutes doesn’t seem like much, but that’s the point. You don’t have time during a move to do much, but just letting your pet know that you will still have regular time with them can provide them some relief.

2. Avoid a calorie deficit.  Mental stress is a physiological process. Physiological processes require energy. And food supplies that energy.  Adding a few extra calories in the form of nutrient dense, species appropriate foods can go a long way with helping your pet’s mind and body resist and recover from the effects of stress.  For my dogs, I’ll add a few ounces of chicken to their daily portion.  (This isn’t an excuse to overfeed your pet; too many of our dogs and cats are already overweight.)

3. Reinforce relaxation.  Some pets become more active when stressed (pacing, vocalizing, etc.) Other pets become passive or even shut down when stressed (hide, tuck their tails, etc.)  And some pets can become either active or passive, depending on the context of the stressor(s).  You can help your pet avoid these states of extreme distress by teaching your pet maintain calm from the very beginning.  You can do this by looking for signs that your pet is relaxing our calming.  This could be a relaxed facial expression, relaxed posture, stillness, etc.  The key is to know what your pet looks like when s/he is relaxed.  When you see these hints of relaxation, reinforce!  Give a small reassuring word, a treat, etc.  Letting your pet know that staying relaxed during this time is a good thing can go a long way.

4. Have a Plan B.  Sometimes you simply can’t provide your pet with the comfort that s/he needs. If you can, have a back up plan set up ahead of time. Have a friend on standby or an appointment with a boarding facility scheduled just in case.  Separating your pet from you certainly has an eliminate of stress associated with it for the animal, but sometimes it is the better option.