Help your shelter animal adjust & cope with stress or anxiety

If you've just given a deserving shelter animal a new home, you're an absolute legend! But now comes the important part - helping your new whānau member settle into their forever home.

While the transition from shelter to home is undoubtedly exciting, it can also cause stress and anxiety for pets.

This guide aims to offer insights and practical tips on helping your newly adopted shelter pet navigate their new environment, reduce stress, and cope with anxiety. We've got some top tips from SPCA to make the transition as smooth as a flat white.

Gradual introductions and routine establishment

For your new dog, you'll want to start by turning your home into a doggie-proof paradise.

SPCA breaks this down into four key components:

  1. Prepare the home: That means moving anything breakable or chewable out of reach (yes, that includes your jandals), securing your rubbish bins, and making sure any harmful substances are out of paw's reach.
  2. Create a space: Next, create a cosy spot for your dog (away from other pets) with a bed, food, water, and toys. This should be a quiet, safe space where they can retreat if they're feeling a bit overwhelmed - kind of like their personal man cave or she-shed. Remember to respect their space, especially when they're eating or sleeping.
  3. Keep it mellow: Speaking of respect, remember to keep things calm and give your new mate time to adjust. We know you're keen to show off your new buddy to your mates, but try to hold off on the introductions until they've settled in.
  4. Practise patience: It's natural for your new pet to feel anxious and scared in their new environment, so it's important to be patient and understanding. All dogs are individuals and have their own unique needs. Be consistent with your routine and remember that small steps forward are still progress.

Now, let's talk about cats. Like dogs, cats need a safe and comfortable space to call their own. SPCA has lots of great tips to create a safe space for your new shelter cat.

  1. Separate space: Start by confining your new feline friend to a room for the first few days with all the essentials - a bed, litter box, scratching post, and food and water.
  2. Hidey-holes: Don't forget about the hidey-holes! Whether it's a cardboard box lined with a fleecy blanket or a deluxe cat tree, having a place to hide can help your cat feel safe and secure.
  3. Home scents: Scent plays a huge role in a cat's life. SPCA cats and kittens are accompanied to their new homes by knitted mice that smell just like their last home. Familiar blankets can offer the same comfort. Speaking of feeling at home,  SPCA supports keeping cats safe and happy at home. If you choose to allow your cat to roam, keep them home for a few weeks to ensure they learn their new home.
  4. Don't rush: Each cat has their unique personality and may take different amounts of time to adjust. Allow your cat to explore at their own pace, and don't force them into situations where they feel uncomfortable such as picking them up. Instead, use play to develop a bond until they feel more comfortable.

Identifying stress and anxiety in your pet

Just like us, pets can get stressed out too. But don't worry, there are usually signs to look out for when it comes to your pet.

While some stress is normal for animals, especially in a transition period, long-term stress can have lasting effects on behaviour such as toileting troubles, destructive tendencies, or aggression.

  • whining
  • pacing
  • hiding
  • cowering
  • loss of appetite

You may even see more subtle signs in your dog which may look normal in other contexts e.g., shaking off when dry, yawning when they are well-rested, excessive barking, or unnecessary panting.

Stress in cats looks a bit different being most often subtle and harder to spot. SPCA urges us to look out for signs such as:

  • Inappropriate toileting around the home (including urine marking)
  • Aggression
  • Hiding
  • Overgrooming – you may not witness this behaviour but signs include broken hairs and hair loss (often on the belly)

Increased resting (feigned sleep)If you notice any of these signs in your pet, it is important to address them and try to alleviate their stress. The signs of stress can differ from pet to pet. Additionally, sudden behavioural changes might indicate an underlying health concern, making it advisable to schedule a health check with your veterinarian.

Stress-busting strategies: Techniques to reduce stress for your shelter animal

If you have recently welcomed a rescue pet into your home, here are some tips and tricks from SPCA to help reduce their stress and make their transition smoother.

The first step to reducing stress is to identify and remove any potential stressors and create a calming environment. This could mean changing their environment or taking them away from a stressful situation.

Pheromone diffusers or sprays can also be helpful. These products mimic comforting pheromones and can help your pet feel calm and safe.

Providing enrichment items and activities is a great way to keep your pet busy and relieve stress. Activities that engage their sense of smell or involve licking and chewing are particularly effective.

Exercise is a natural stress reliever for both humans and animals. Whether it is a game of fetch with your dog or a jigging wand for your cat, regular playtime is beneficial for your pet's physical and mental health.

Signs it is time to contact a vet

If your pet's showing signs of stress and your tried-and-true techniques aren't helping, it might be time to ring the vet.

If your cat has been exposed to cat flu in the past, moving to a new home might trigger a relapse. And while this usually resolves on its own, severe symptoms or little improvement after a week means it's time for a vet visit. Simple things like creating a safe space and leaving the TV and radio on are good ways to avoid symptoms of anxiety.

For dogs, persistent signs of stress, such as excessive barking, drooling, or destructive behaviours, may warrant a trip to the vet.

It’s all for the love of your pet!

In the end, remember you're doing a great thing by giving a shelter animal a new home. With a bit of patience, love, and understanding, you'll have a loyal mate for life – and so will they!

Ensure you're prepared for any health issues or injuries they might face in future by considering  SPCA Pet Insurance. Comprehensive cover lets you focus on building a bond with your new companion, free from worry.