It’s so important that we support the mental wellbeing of our companion animals. Good mental health in pets is crucial in ensuring they live a long and happy life free from suffering. Across the UK, many companion animals are suffering in silence through no fault of their own, often because their humans simply don’t understand their complex needs. OneKind supporter Sue discusses how her rescue dog’s mental health impacts his behaviour and how she caters to his specific needs in our guest blog.
“Companion animals. Pets. Call them what you will, to some people their animals are just something else they own, but of course, they’re cuddly and lovely and part of the family. But just a dog? Or a cat? How wrong can you be?
I don’t profess to know everything there is to know about animals, but I’ve had dogs as companions for most of my sixty years. Family pets when I was a child, then stable dogs when I worked with horses as a riding instructor, and then three companion dogs all at once – two whippets and a flat-coated retriever. My dogs were well behaved individuals, knew how to travel and socialise, were reasonably well trained and I had years and years of happy times with them and very little in the way of problems.
After my darlings passed away, one by one, I couldn’t face having another dog in my life. Twelve years without a dog, lots of persuasion by my husband, and then Bungle came along. A cute little teddy bear of a dog, a mixed breed, blonde haired terrier type who needed a home urgently. At fourteen months old, he’d been returned to the breeder for some reason. We soon found out why.
This little boy came to us with a bit of an attitude to say the least, we thought at first. What we discovered as the weeks went by was that he feared men. And motorbikes, and thunder, and fireworks, and people wearing black, and in actual fact this feisty, brave little chap was an absolute bag of nerves. Outside he was bold and brash and barky and bitey, inside he was anxious beyond belief. Clearly, he’d not been handled as a puppy because he wouldn’t let me clean his teeth or clip his nails, in fact he was positively aggressive towards anyone who tried to attend to his needs. Castrate him, everybody cried. We consulted two vets, both said it could make things worse, to wait until he was a bit older.
It seems that some dogs need their hormones to back them up in times of stress. Taking them away from him could have made him even more anxious.
Companion animals can suffer with mental health issues just as we can. A common one is separation anxiety, often mistaken for a dog being ‘naughty’ while the owner is at work, perhaps tearing up a cushion or soiling the kitchen floor. Clearly, the animal is stressed and anxious at being left alone. Luckily, Bungle is quite the opposite. Leave him alone for a few hours and he takes the opportunity to have a quiet little nap. It’s his ‘down’ time, it does him the world of good. We learned this early on, too much entertainment made him want even more, it wound him up and he would sit panting, stressed out, waiting for the next bit of excitement.
What a learning curve having Bungle has been. We have been together for four years now and every day he gets a little bit calmer, a little bit more self assured. It is our job to keep him safe. When we see a dog on a lead, Bungle goes on the lead. If he is on the lead and an unleashed dog bounds up to him, my heart sinks. I try to make sure that the owners know he’s not to be approached, them telling me that their dog is harmless is totally pointless. Bungle is not harmless, if he’s jumped on by a playful dog bigger than him, there’s a skirmish. A loud one, accompanied by gnashing teeth. Numerous times I have been known to bellow ‘CONTROL YOUR DOG PLEASE’, and often it is met with a look of disdain, but if Bungle is stressed and feels threatened, the consequences don’t bear thinking about.
Dogs (or cats or horses, or any animal) obviously have limited means of dealing with poor mental health. They can’t say “I need to stay in bed today for the sake of my mental health”. They can’t take their own medication for stress related symptoms. They can’t have a beer or a glass of wine to chill out at the end of a busy day. It is down to us, THEIR companions, to read them, to keep them safe and be aware of every need, not just provide food, water and exercise.
Be aware of situations around you and your dog. He’s growling for a reason, he’s not acting, not playing the “poor old me” card, he’s telling you he isn’t happy and please can you help him, before he sorts the scary situation out himself. Well, that’s what Bungle does, anyway.
Bungle’s mental wellbeing is as important as his physical wellbeing and it’s up to us to learn what to do to make his life a happy one. I feed him the food he enjoys, the food that is safe for him to eat, I protect him from toxins, from busy roads, from dangerous situations and I must also strive to protect his mental health. Seeing him joyous, blossoming into a more relaxed and trusting little chap makes my heart sing. Every minute we have spent nurturing him has been worth the effort.
Take the time, do the research, make others aware of the importance of their pet’s mental health. Never stop learning, never stop caring. It is so worth it.”
Guest blog written by OneKind supporter Sue Armstrong.