• Erin Bannink, DVM, DACVIM

5 Things You Can Do to Decrease Your Pet's Stress

Updated: Apr 30, 2019


Our pets are intimately attuned to our emotions. Haven't we all experienced our kitty climbing onto our lap and nuzzling us when we are sad, or our doggie offering a paw and a concerned gaze when we are crying. Our "fur-kids" commonly reflect or take on the feelings of their family members. I have often seen pets express increasingly more anxious behaviors as their human parents become more stressed, anxious or worried. Then, when their human parents are able to develop skills to diminish their own experience of anxiety and stress, their pets relax. It is, therefore, important to think about how human stress, emotional and relationship dynamics within the household, and our modern lifestyle affects our pets. How is our stress becoming a chronic stress stimulus in our pets? How is this affecting their well-being? And what can we do about it?


The Relationship between Stress and Cancer

Many studies have now been published which report the detrimental effects of stress hormones on immune function in human cancer patients. Our high stress lifestyles contribute to cancer development and progression. These tumor-causing effects of long term stress have been duplicated in laboratory settings. Even more comprehensive evidence exists which shows chronic stress and stress-related hormones contribute to tissues developing cancerous characteristics including inflammation, resistance to normal cell death signals, escape from the immune system, ability to form their own blood supply (to get food and oxygen), and the ability to metastasize (travel to and grow in other tissues of the body).

Continuous exposure to stress stimuli results in uncontrolled production of stress hormones. This has a damaging effect on health and immune function. Stress hormones such as epinephrine and norepinephrine impact cancer cell survival and tumor progression. These substances released from nerve fibers (norepinephrine) and blood (epinephrine) in response to stress stimuli activate receptors in the environment around the tumor and on the surface of the tumor cells. This activation impacts cancer cell biology as well as immune function. Expression of genes which help the tumor grow increases with stress. Conversely, these same signals decrease expression of anti-cancer genes and decrease immune system function. This is the scientific proof for the long-observed association between cancer and stress.


The Good News

Cognitive-behavioral stress management (mind-body tools focused on anxiety reduction and coping skills) can reverse anxiety-related inflammatory states and stress-related increase in genes that promote cancer progression. Cognitive-behavioral therapies have been shown to lower death rates and increased cancer-free survival in a number of human cancer patient studies. It, therefore, makes sense to consider how environmental and behavioral management of stressors in our pet's lives may provide similar improvement in disease control.

There are many causes for chronic stress in pets which can be logically identified by observing the typical stressors in a companion animal’s life. These would primarily include home environment (both emotional and physical stressors) and diet.

There are many things you can do to minimize stress for your pet and support an environment of emotional well-being where they can flourish.

Five things you can do to minimize stress for your pet and support healing

ONE

Go on forest walks with your pet outside among the trees.

At least 20-30 minutes of nature exposure is most effective at reducing stress hormones.

There is a type of therapy called "Forest Bathing" that is just what it sounds like. Walking among the trees breathing in the air.

Trees emit substances called phytoncides which have been shown to improve the immune system and reduce stress hormones.

Here is a cool video if you want to learn more.

clinical studies:

Urban Nature Experiences Reduce Stress in the Context of Daily Life Based on Salivary Biomarkers (April 2019)

Forest bathing decreases oxidative stress, inflammatory markers

and cortisol (June 2012)

Visiting a Forest, not a city, increases natural killer cell activity

and anti-cancer proteins (Jan 2008)

Forest bathing increases natural killer cell activity

and anticancer proteins (April 2007)

TWO

Share time each day with your pet doing something that makes you genuinely experience happy feelings

This might be anything you both genuinely find joy in doing, from running outside to playing silly games that make you laugh with pure enjoyment at their silly antics. Or perhaps cuddling in front of a cozy fire with your attention only on each other, soaking up the love you experience with them, and your thoughts on all the things you are grateful for in life. Maybe playing some uplifting music in the background.

The important part of this is that you are feeling joy, happiness, or at least contentment. There is a powerful phenomenon called

"resonance" or "entrainment".

scientific explanation: Positivity Resonance Theory

esoteric/spiritual explanation: The Healing Power of Entrainment

THREE

Make a special effort to feed your pet clean,

healthy, toxin-free foods that minimize metabolic stress

This is a big topic. I'll be sharing more about this in future blogs. But as a starting point, fresh whole organic foods like dark leafy greens (kale, swiss chard, dandelion greens), broccoli sprouts, and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, cabbage) are low in sugar and loaded with vitamins and nutrients that are good for your pet.

We will talk more about this later, but as an example, regular feeding of green leafy vegetables and yellow-orange vegetables (which are high in vitamin A) decreased the risk of developing bladder cancer in Scottish Terriers, a breed at high risk for this disease.

Evaluation of the effect of dietary vegetable consumption on reducing risk of transitional cell carcinoma of the urinary bladder in Scottish Terriers.

FOUR

Do at least one thing every day

to take care of your own emotional health

One of the most important things you can do for your pet is to, DAILY, care for your own emotional health.

*Meditation*

practices like Metta (loving kindness) meditation and mindfulness practices are very effective tools to help you

manage stress and intense emotional experiences.

*Exercise*

find something you like to do. Yoga, Tai Chi, jogging, or walking in the woods (see forest bathing!) are all good options.

*Eat a healthy diet*

healthy diet is associated with

decreased incidence of psychological distress.

Resources for learning meditation

FIVE

Get an Aromatherapy Massage

and/or give a massage to your dog

Aromatherapy massage was shown to reduce markers associated with stress, anxiety, and depression and lowered cortisol levels in people.

Lavender and bergamot essential oils decrease anxiety and stress in dogs. Place a few drops in an ultrasonic diffuser and give your pet a loving massage while you both enjoy the relaxing effects of the aromatherapy.

*Note: It is very important to use high quality, pure, essential oils in pets. We use this blend at the clinic and people love it. (full disclosure, I make it and sell it. You can make your own if you know what you are doing. Do not use in pets with asthma or respiratory issues. Consult your veterinarian with any concerns or questions about use for your pet.)

Aromatherapy for travel-induced excitement in dogs. A Systematic Review of the Anxiolytic-Like Effects of Essential Oils in Animal Models.

REFERENCES:

1. Eng JW, Kokolus KM, Reed CB, et al. A nervous tumor microenvironment: the impact of adrenergic stress on cancer cells, immunosuppression, and immunotherapeutic response. Cancer Immunol Immunother. 2014 Nov;63(11):1115-28.

2. Flint MS, Baum A, Episcopo B, et al. Chronic exposure to stress hormones promotes transformation and tumorigenicity of 3T3 mouse fibroblasts. Stress. 2013 Jan;16(1):114-21.

3. Flint MS, Baum A, Chambers WH, et al. Induction of DNA damage, alteration of DNA repair and transcriptional activation by stress hormones. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2007;Jun;32(5):470-9.

4. Lutgendorf SK, Andersen BL. Biobehavioral approaches to cancer progression and survival: Mechanisms and interventions. Am Psychol. 2015 Feb-Mar;70(2):186-97.

5. Kim-Fuchs C, Le CP, Pimentel MA, et al. Chronic stress accelerates pancreatic cancer growth and invasion: a critical role for beta-adrenergic signaling in the pancreatic microenvironment. Brain Behav Immun. 2014 Aug;40:40-7.

6. Lamkin DM, Sloan EK, Patel AJ, et al. Chronic stress enhances progression of acute lymphoblastic leukemia via β-adrenergic signaling. Brain Behav Immun. 2012 May;26(4):635-41.

7. Cole SW, Sood AK. Molecular pathways: beta-adrenergic signaling in cancer. Clin Cancer Res. 2012 Mar 1;18(5):1201-6.

8. Tang J, Li Z, Lu L, et al. β-Adrenergic system, a backstage manipulator regulating tumour progression and drug target in cancer therapy. Semin Cancer Biol. 2013 Dec;23(6 Pt B):533-42.

9. Obeid EI, Conzen SD. The role of adrenergic signaling in breast cancer biology. Cancer Biomark. 2013;13(3):161-9.

10. Krizanova O, Babula P, Pacak K. Stress, catecholaminergic system and cancer. Stress. 2016 Jul;19(4):419-28.

11. Antoni MH, Lutgendorf SK, Blomberg B, et al. Cognitive-behavioral stress management reverses anxiety-related leukocyte transcriptional dynamics. Biol Psychiatry. 2012 Feb 15;71(4):366-72.

12. Stagl JM, Lechner SC, Carver CS, et al. A randomized controlled trial of cognitive-behavioral stress management in breast cancer: survival and recurrence at 11-year follow-up. Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2015 Nov;154(2):319-28.

13. Antoni MH. Psychosocial intervention effects on adaptation, disease course and biobehavioral processes in cancer. Brain Behav Immun. 2013 Mar;30 Suppl:S88-98.

#meditation #forestbathing #stressreduction #stressandcancer #selfcare

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