Many of the animals at Mayhew have endured tough times before they come through our doors. Providing access to safe plants in a secure environment can offer them comfort and reduce stress levels as we prepare them for their new forever homes.
At Mayhew, we have developed a sensory garden for our dogs. This is an outdoor run which acts as a safe haven, made up of numerous different smells, textures and sounds. The plants in the garden provide stimulation and enrichment, but each has also been specifically chosen for its healing properties and ability to reduce stress and anxiety.
Chamomile: soothes anxiety, skin issues or stomach upsets.
Lavender: reduces anxiety.
Vervain: helps with nervous system disorders like depression.
Meadowsweet: reduces inflammation and aids digestive problems, arthritis and rheumatic conditions.
Dogs can suffer from hay fever just like people! Some research suggests that dogs are more likely to develop signs of hay fever if they aren’t exposed to a variety of grasses and plants in their early life.
As the weather improves, we take our dogs into the sensory garden as much as we can, letting them potter around and enjoy games with toys – or water when it is very hot! We also use the space to work on some basic training or socialisation skills, and sometimes dogs will meet their potential adopters here, as it is a calming environment and the dogs feel at home. Our Kennels team and volunteers are always on hand, watching over the dogs in case they have any unusual adverse reactions to the plants.
“It is truly amazing to observe the change in behaviour from when a dog enters the garden to how they are when they leave. ”
Some of the dogs that come to Mayhew struggle to cope initially with a kennel environment, but we find that even the most withdrawn and overwhelmed dogs will investigate the plants in our sensory garden.
For example, dogs that are particularly highly strung or have hormonal imbalances often gravitate towards clary sage. While engaged in scenting and exploring, they stop focusing on any anxieties or tensions they may have and are able to begin to relax. We also use essential oil remedies in our kennels too, to soothe and calm our residents.
Nibbling on grass is a natural behaviour for cats. Research has not yet shown why domestic cats are attracted to it, but it could be linked to the fact that wild cats will often eat grass after they have devoured their prey, helping them expel the indigestible parts. Another theory is that cats eat grass for some trace minerals and vitamins A and D. Whatever the reason, cats seem to love it!
Here at Mayhew, we grow cat grass in pots and place them in the enclosures of our adult cats and vaccinated kittens for them to munch on, which they do with gusto! Another firm favourite with many of our feline residents is catnip, which we also grow at Mayhew for them to enjoy. If you’ve ever seen a cat around catnip then you’ll know that they can go totally crazy for it, becoming more playful, loving and confident. The sedative effects of catnip can also really help to calm down a stressed kitty, reducing anxiety and depression.
“When cats first come to us, they can be nervous about their new surroundings, but once we offer them catnip leaves or pouches filled with Valerian (another good stress-relieving plant) even the most withdrawn cat will investigate!”
As pets look forward to exploring the flora and fauna this summer, remember that some plants should be steered well clear of. Foxgloves, daffodils (especially the bulbs), cherry laurel, rhododendrons, wisteria and chrysanthemums can be toxic if eaten. Lilies, although very beautiful, are particularly toxic to cats and can cause severe kidney damage. If you think your dog or cat has ingested a toxic plant, it is essential that you seek veterinary advice immediately.
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