Dogs and cats can experience various forms of anxiety for a number of different reasons. What causes anxiety and what can you do to calm your pet down when he or she is nervous or afraid? Here’s a rundown on pet anxiety and what you can do to help your best friend when his nerves get the best of him.
Why are some dogs and cats more anxious than others?
Pet behavior experts point to a number of causes of pet anxiety. They include previous bad experiences with a certain kind of stimulus, lack of exposure to that stimulus during early development (generally 0-3 months for dogs and 0-2 months for cats), old age, hormonal imbalances (particularly thyroid or adrenal problems), and a reaction to your anxiety as the human in charge.
What are the most common triggers of anxiety in pets?
The most common things to set off anxious behavior in both dogs and cats include separation from you, meeting unfamiliar animals and unfamiliar humans, thunderstorms, riding in the car and going to the vet, and loud sounds like fireworks and vacuuming.
What are the signs of anxiety?
Behavioral and physical signs of pet anxiety include inappropriate elimination, chewing things, hiding under furniture, aggression, immobility, pacing, attention-seeking, drooling, and panting. In some cases, a pet may exhibit what experts call self-trauma. This includes compulsive behaviors like excessive chewing and licking of the body, chasing and attacking the tail, sucking their flank (dogs), and pulling out hair (cats).
What can you do to help your anxious pet?
- Work on desensitizing your pet to the upsetting stimulus. This includes things like playing a recording of a thunderstorm or vacuuming while reassuring your pet. You can also work on separation anxiety by going in and out of the house repeatedly in short training sessions.
- Avoid punishing your anxious pet, even if she does something you don’t like such as peeing on the floor. Punishment increases anxiety.
- Don’t show anxiety yourself. Your pet can pick up on any anxiety you are feeling, whether it’s related to their behavior, or something else entirely. Make sure your voice and body language are calm and relaxed when interacting with your pet while you are stressed.
- Try associating the stimulus with something positive, like treats. Have people who visit with your pet feed her treats. You should also use treats as a reward for good behavior during the upsetting event.
- Talk to your vet or a trainer if your pet needs extra help. Your vet can talk to you about things like anti-anxiety medication, calming pheromones (like Feliway for cats), flower essences (such as Rescue Remedy), and calming apparel (like ThunderShirts). A trainer can show you additional behavior modification tips you can try with your pet.
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