Anxiety in Dogs and Cats by Jacqueline Valencia
Imagine being in a new space. There are new sounds, smells, and situations that might excite some while it may cause fear in others. Like humans, animals experience anxiety in very similar ways. People have words to communicate moments of panic, but animals use behaviours or innate vocalizations to express themselves. These behaviours can be hard to understand and may frustrate pet owners. However, there are ways that you can help comfort your pets and alleviate your frustration at the same time.
Before you try any of these methods, make sure to rule out any illnesses or other conditions in your pet by consulting your veterinarian.
Anxiety in Dogs
First of all, it is best to identify if your dog is having panic issues in a situation. There are various symptoms a dog can display, such as continual barking, spraying, panting, pacing, aggression, excessive licking, whining, and bolting. You can usually figure out through trial and error what is causing your dog to be anxious.
A lot of dogs suffer from separation from their owners, and it is their main source of anxiety. Can you blame dogs? They love you and want to be close to the person they love all the time! It can be heartbreaking for you and loud for your neighbours. Thankfully, this can be helped through patient training.
You can start by making your departures a positive thing. This can be done by not making a big deal about you leaving. Give treats or toys (like puzzles or treat toys) to make your dog comfortable with the situation. Also, don’t make it a big thing when you get back at home. Ignore your pet for a little bit, before acknowledging with a smile that you are home and things are still OK. You can do this for small increments of time and increase as your dog gets better at handling time away from you. Leaving some of your clothes with your scent in their crate or around the house for them to snuggle with also helps.
Other options include medication, (if prescribed by your vet) and/or doggie daycare. Keeping your dog occupied during moments without you ensure that they have a full day and aren’t as anxious when you get home.
Your dog may also have problems with loud noises, like fireworks or thunderstorms, or being introduced to new places or new changes in their home. You can desensitize them to noises or new situations by associating these occurrences with the reception of treats, clickers, or toys. It is also necessary for you to assure your dog that they can trust you to handle their fear. As with separation anxiety, play it cool. Be near and confident in their presence when they hide or whine. Swaddling, like one swaddles a child with a blanket, also helps a lot. Maybe create a soundproof area in your home if the noises are constant or unpredictable.
Anxiety in Cats
Cats. Are. Finicky. That is, while most cats can be easy going, they do enjoy life at their own pace and on their own terms. Thus, it’s no surprise when cats express stress. This can be seen when they unexpectedly hiss, hold their ears back, hide their tail, bolt, and become aggressive.
You can ease your cat's anxiety with a few methods. Comforting your cat with pets or soothing sounds (search for “cat or dog with anxiety music” on YouTube), can help. If the stressor is a new person or dog in the home, the cat must be acclimatized or removed from their presence for a while. Slowly introducing new people or another pet to your cat is a good way to give everyone some space and time. It’s not impossible to train stress reactions out of cats, but it does require a lot more time and patience than it does with dogs. Treats and exposing your cat slowly to low doses of the stressor are important. Keep a good eye on your cat to see if they are responding positively to your counterconditioning and training, and increase their exposure accordingly.
As with dogs, medication may help, but it should be assessed and prescribed by your vet.
That all being said, it is imperative that you not punish your dog or cat for reacting to stressful situations. It’s only natural for them to respond to things that scare them. If you punish them, it will only aggravate and escalate their fear and make you into a source of their anxiety as well. Don’t yell or confine your pet. Be positive, reinforce good behaviour, and, most of all, understand that you are a friend and ally that can guide your pet to a calming way of life.
- Photo by Victor Grabarczyk on Unsplash
- Photo by hang niu on Unsplash