Picture of Dr Anuska Viljoen

Dr Anuska Viljoen


Adoption and Related Stress and Anxiety

Adoption is one of the most rewarding things you can ever do for an animal and for your family. These loving creatures would not have a life worth living if it were not for the shelters that take them in and for the huge loving hearts that bring them into their sacred space to love and take care of. It is however a huge responsibility and can also be a great stress or strain on the original members of a family, especially the 4-legged ones.

Accepting a new animal into the home and adapting to the change that has to take place can often be fraught with fear, anger, resentment, anxiety amongst other emotions and difficulty.

I find a combination of Bach Flower Essences invaluable in my clinic. My favourites are: –

  • Walnut – adaptation to change of place, environment and routine, and helps with toilet training, and breaks links with past;
  • Honeysuckle – homesickness and difficulty adjusting to new environment circumstances;
  • Beech – restores tolerance and flexibility and helps with change of routine, change of hierarchy and animal dynamics.

I suggest giving this combination to all the animals in the household, and usually via the drinking water. 5 drops in each drinking water vessel daily.

Added to this trio I may choose any of the following essences depending on the indications below:

  • Mimulus – fear of known things, nervous restless, timidity;
  • Cerato – for lack confidence, self-assurance with constant seeking of approval and helps to restore hierarchical balance;
  • Aspen – fear of unknown, anxiety, terror, fear urination, edgy jumpy, timid. Especially for animals that have been harmed or abused or have had emotional trauma;
  • Larch – for a broken down will, a lack of confidence and low immunity, or easily intimidated and traumatised animals.

Don’t forget good old Rescue Remedy, which most people have around. This may be all that is needed on less sensitive individuals, for a day or 2 while the family is adjusting.

Coupled with this there are a range of different natural anxiolytics, sedatives, and tranquilisers available to take the edge off for the most affected individuals. I do not suggest this for everyone, only for the ones that need it. Often the flower essences are enough.

Herbals include:

  • Scullcap and Valerian is quite a strong but very effective combination, however it is not recommended during pregnancy or lactation, so be aware;
  • Passiflora, is safe in all ages and stages. It is a gentle yet effective anxiolytic. It is not habit forming, non-tranquilising and does not drop blood pressure.

Amino acid based medications usually contain Tryptophan. Again this is safe under all circumstances.

Physical and Energy Therapies – T-Touch, body wraps and massages, acupressure, Reiki and Crystal Healing are all energetic healing methods which are gentle yet exceptionally effective. Many of the simple techniques of each modality can be easily learned and applied by owners at home for effective stress relief, fear dissipation, and confidence building.

Just being with an animal with an open heart, comforting with warmth and presence, can work wonders for a traumatised individual. Always remember to be CALM, and grounded when working with animals. It is good practice to take a few deep breaths, open your heart and make slow deliberate movements with love and good intentions towards an animal. Animals immediately pick up your state of being and your intentions. If you are nervous and afraid, they will pick this up and think there is good reason to be nervous and afraid of you too.

Choosing a suitable pet for your needs and circumstance!

When looking for a pet it is very important to know what the main purpose for the pet should be. Is it going to be a large guard dog, a smaller alert dog to raise an alarm, a companion for aged or handicapped people, or for a single child? Will the dog be in a childless home, with other dogs, or is it a pet for a small toddler, young growing child or teenager? Are the children rough, gentle, quiet or very active in general? Do you want a boy or girl dog? Are there any major tasks or expectancies that the pet must fulfil? You will need to consider body type, size, breed characteristics, temperament of an individual animal. The answers to the questions above will determine the type of dog that would best suit your situation or family dynamic.

For example you should not choose tiny frail animals such as teacup sizes for very young kids, or people with physical disabilities that may drop or hurt them by accident. You won’t choose an aggressive large breed dog as a gentle, fearful toddler’s companion! You won’t choose a Yorkie as a guard dog, however they make excellent alert or alarm dogs which will mobilise a guard dog into action! Avoid having more than one entire male in the same household dynamic, especially if there is a female in the mix. This could lead to excessive fighting and someone is likely to get hurt. If you have a pristine home with wall to wall carpets and an anal spouse who won’t tolerate dirt, please think twice about a puppy that needs house training unless you are all prepared to cope with the consequences and not dump your anger on the puppy, or rehome it, as this causes major psychological issues for young dogs. Also don’t consider breeds that shed lots of hair such as Dalmatians or GSD’s in these instances. The adopted pet may take the bulk of the emotional outbursts when it inadvertently upsets your spouse, ultimately damaging their psyche and can lead to long term problems such as inappropriate elimination, anger, jealousy and aggression.

In the same vein it is important to allow a puppy or new dog’s fears or anxieties to be adequately addressed and appropriately handled, and not to be encouraged or exacerbated. A typical scenario would be, a small nervous breed such as a Miniature Pincher or Chihuahua who is allowed to snap at anyone approaching them, or growling and guarding the owner when they are held. Often people think this is cute, and they laugh and encourage it, but in the end the dog becomes very difficult to handle as it is older, and some innocent child or person can get hurt. It also makes them very suspicious and they are often very difficult to treat at the Veterinary Surgery. Please do not laugh or encourage this behaviour, rather put them down from your arms, and ignore them or walk away showing your displeasure at their inappropriate behaviour. Dogs hate being ignored and will soon learn this is not to be tolerated.

Thunder or noise phobia is very common and can often be avoided if appropriately handled in the beginning. Do not act fearful or anxious yourself, or overly sympathetic; rather calmly comfort the animal by being close to it, stroking and gently talking to them with a calming and soothing voice. Remember to be grounded yourself and have an open heart filled with love. They can feel vibrations and sensations clearly and your anxious concern for their behaviour only fuels theirs by validating them that there is something to be concerned about.

All in all, if you handle a new addition to the family appropriately, and have made smart choices with picking your pet, you should have years of unconditional love coming your way. The rewards far outweigh any hassles you may have at the beginning of your adoption journey. May your world be filled with the love and joy that only animals know how to bring!

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