If you’re a dog and cat lover like we are, you know how distressing it can be to have an anxious pet who runs to hide for cover under the sofa or yelps at anyone who comes in sight. It can be harder knowing that your dog or cat can’t communicate what’s wrong.
Taming your pet’s anxiety can seem like an insurmountable goal, but it doesn’t have to be. A few simple tips and tricks can turn a listless dog or cat into one that’s up and running around the house and getting into trouble again.
What Is Pet Anxiety?
First up, what is pet anxiety? You’ve experienced those normal anxious and apprehensive feelings yourself before a job interview or when going on a first date. Our furry friends can also feel nervousness, worry, fear, and apprehension.
For humans, anxiety can be relieved with breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, exercise, and medical treatment for more serious cases. Anxiety can affect each dog or cat differently. Learning the causes and treatment options can lead to an improved quality of life for you both.
Causes of Pet Anxiety
Cats and dogs aren’t able to communicate their feelings of distress. Anxiety can develop in a wide range of animals and can stem from abuse and neglect or from fear and aging. More commonly, separation anxiety is triggered when their owner leaves for work or heads out of the house, even for a minute. The result? Chaos.
Separation anxiety makes cats and dogs reach high levels of stress when left alone. They can take revenge on your furniture and home furnishings, albeit, not with malicious intent. Those five minutes you were gone can feel like an eternity to your social butterfly of a friend.
The boredom and loneliness associated with being left alone can make your furry buddy freak out at the sight of you grabbing your car keys.
Pets who have come from shelters or rescues can often come with emotional baggage due to the traumatic experiences they’ve gone through. Dogs who have dealt with chaotic and unpredictable environments can have attachment issues.
When your dog feels sick or has underlying health conditions, this could force him to act out of sorts. Hypothyroidism, for example, can trigger anxiety and fear due to hormone fluctuations. Thyrotoxicosis is a rare autoimmune disorder that affects the thyroid gland. Pre-diabetes, hearing and vision loss, and encephalitis can also cause dog anxiety.
Fear-based anxiety can stem from loud and disruptive noises such as gunshots or vacuums, strange animals or people, unfamiliar environments, certain clothing, grass and wood floors, and certain locations such as the vet’s office.
Similar to humans, dogs can suffer from cognitive decline with age. In dogs, cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) affects pets’ memory, awareness, learning, and perception. As a result, your dog may feel more confused, vulnerable, and afraid.
Dog breeds that are most prone to dog anxiety include:
- German Shepherd
- Australian Shepherd
- Cocker Spaniel
- Bichon Frise
- Labrador Retriever
- Border Collie
- King Charles Spaniel
- Shorthair Pointer
- Toy breeds
How Do You Know If Your Dog Has Anxiety?
Dogs or cats with separation anxiety can go to extreme measures to suppress those feelings and be with you, which can cause self-injury and a wrecked house.
Pets with severe separation anxiety are more prone to do the following when you attempt to leave or are out of the house:
- Pee or poo indoors
- Whine and whimper
- Try to escape
Treating a Dog With Anxiety
Traditional talk therapy is obviously out of the question when dealing with dog anxiety. It’s up to you as a pet guardian to help your pets find help.
Begin by taking your pets to the vet to ensure they don’t have any underlying medical conditions that are causing them discomfort or pain. Medical problems can give rise to house soiling or urinary incontinence in dogs.
Some medications may also be the reason for some actions associated with separation anxiety in dogs. For example, some medications can cause excess urination and soiling. Make sure you let your veterinarian know of any medications or supplements your pets are taking and signs of dog separation anxiety.
Your dog or cat’s disruptive behavior could also stem from certain behavioral problems. Don’t rule out youthful indiscretions, incontinence due to excitement, or just barking to beat the boredom.
One sure-fire way to worsen your dog or cat’s anxiety levels, however, is to yell at or punish your anxious dog for their disruptive behavior. Negative feedback can cause them even more worry and fear, which can worsen everyone’s day.
Instead of turning toward frustration and resentment, work on calming your dog or cat with physical contact. Your caring touch can help soothe your anxious dog in the moment. Cuddle up on the couch next to your dog and put on their favorite show.
A simple and calming massage can also help calm down your anxious pup. Massage your pet by running one hand down the neck using long downward strokes down the back while the other hand remains on the dog. Work on relieving muscle tension based on touch.
Whenever you feel anxious, chances are you turn to some calming music. The same goes for our cats and dogs with separation anxiety. Music has the healing powers necessary to reduce noise sensitivity by blocking out outside noise when in the car or in the home.
Research shows that dogs love classical music. A little Beethoven anyone? Harp music can also be a natural sedative for your furry-legged friends.
If you’re looking for recommendations, try the piano stylings of Lisa Spector’s Through A Dog’s Ear or Susan Raimond’s Noah’s Harp: Surrender. Avoid heavy metal or grunge, unless you have pets that love to headbang along.
Training Methods That Can Help Pet Anxiety
It can be tough to improve your pet’s mental health on your own. We advise you to turn to a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist, board-certified veterinary behaviorist, or a certified dog trainer for help, but many dog owners have had major success on their own, too.
Desensitization is a training method that involves gradually exposing your pets to a triggering factor such as bringing them near other dogs. Figure out a safe distance where your dog won’t bark at other dogs and then continue to expose your dog to other dogs at that same distance, while gradually getting closer and exposing your dog to dogs it doesn’t know.
Counterconditioning works in conjunction with desensitization. Here, you’ll teach your dog a new and healthier response to triggering factors. For instance, counterconditioning involves creating a positive association between your dog and what it fears by giving them a treat when they don’t react aggressively. Continue to treat them whenever they have a calm reaction in the face of their fears.
Getting your dog up-and-running can be an excellent way to help your pets battle through their anxiety. Physical stimulation can release feel-good chemicals in your furry friend’s brain, all while decreasing stress.
Your dog will love the Chuckit! fetch toys you can tug, shake, or toss. See your dog reach heights they’ve never reached with these colorful and ergonomic toys that can reduce their nervous energy and improve your bond.
Mental stimulation is just as important. Play interactive games and take new routes whenever possible to give your dog an element of mystery and excitement. Challenging your dog’s brain such as having your dog work for their food can keep them on their toes.
Medication and supplements can help pets who have had no success with behavioral training alone. Dogs with serious cases of anxiety can benefit from drugs without the need for behavior modification.
Cats with anxiety may benefit from pheromones or non-prescription calming treats before turning to the big guns. SSRIs and antidepressants can help severe anxiety. Other medications include fluoxetine and clomipramine.
For one-off instances where anxiety can flare up, vets can prescribe benzodiazepine along with an antidepressant to ease those extreme cases.
For senior dogs with CDS, the drug selegiline can reduce the symptoms and treat chronic anxiety as well.
Some dog parents have turned to CBD oil to relieve anxiety. Cannabidiol (CBD) is the active and non-intoxicating compound known to have a host of therapeutic benefits featuring many helpful properties that are analgesic, anxiolytic, anti-inflammatory, and more, all without the “high” associated with cannabis.
NaturVet’s Quiet Moments Calming Aid Soft Chews are packed with thiamine and L-Tryptophan to reduce stress and tension. Melatonin in the formula can have your dog feeling easy breezy in no time.
HomeoPet’s Anxiety Fireworks supplements help your dog or cat calm down during those hectic and rousing Fourth of July celebrations. This natural homeopathic remedy can be given with food or drinks and works as fast as 20 minutes.
Consult with your veterinarian before starting your pets on a medication or supplement regimen to avoid complications and drug interactions.
Vet-recommended and dog-approved ThunderShirt is making anxiety in pets a thing of the past. It’s innovative design swaddles your pet like an infant and applies gentle and continuous pressure to reduce your pet’s fear and anxiety. Available in versions for dogs and cats, you and your pets will love them. Just read the glowing customer reviews.
Aromatherapy can be an excellent way to give your dog something else to focus on besides the environmental stimuli. Home diffusers can release dog-friendly scents or odorless ones that contain pheromones. For essential oils, make sure to dilute your solution so as to not overwhelm your dog’s sense of smell, and always put essential oil diffusers out of reach of dogs and cats. Do not apply essential oils topically to pets or allow pets to ingest them.
Create your own blend of essential oils or use one that your pets love. Calming essential oils include:
- Geranium Rose
- Rose Damask
- Ylang Ylang
- Sweet Marjoram
Pets and Fireworks
Here at Wilco, we love the smell of grilled burgers, the hissing sound when opening a frosty lager, and the magical fireworks light show on Independence Day. Unfortunately, not all of our loveable pets are fond of July 4th celebrations.
Loud noises and fiery displays in the sky can create the perfect storm for your pets. Becoming overwhelmed with emotion and fear, they are more likely to run away to a safer location, even if it’s outside your home. In fact, pet runaways spike up during this time and only a fraction are found and returned.
Managing fido’s anxious feelings can be easy with these tips:
- Stay home with your pets to avoid them running off the leash when the fireworks start.
- Stay close to your pets and reassure them that they’re safe. Bring a crate if needed to give them a safe place to hide.
- Reduce the noise levels by closing your window and turning on the TV or music in your house to hide the outside noise.
- Remain calm. If your routine changes during this time period, your dog will know something’s up. Before and during the fireworks, act as if everything is okay and there’s nothing to worry about or fear.
- Be prepared. In the rare event that your pets go missing, use a number of pet-finding services and devices such as GPS or identification tags.
Ultimately, creating a safe and consistent environment around your pets can help them feel more at ease, especially when left alone. Regular social interaction along with mental and physical stimulation can do wonders for you and your pets’ sanity during any new and frightening situation. When all else fails, a veterinary behaviorist can help ease your burden.