How to help your pet cope with anxiety

Even though it seems like they shouldn't have a care in the world, it's still possible for your pet to have anxiety. Just like us, our cats and dogs have anxieties and fears. Although your pet’s anxieties, may be different than our own, they still cause stress and physical reactions all the same. Some common causes of anxiety in pets are loud noises, separation, travel and unfamiliar people or places. But good news! Once you are able to identify your pets symptoms of anxiety you are on the right track to helping them deal with and overcome their anxiety so they can live a happier more stress free life.

Warning Signs Of An Anxious Pet

While occasionally experiencing stress is normal for a cat, constant or severe anxiety can be a serious problem, and it’s easy to overlook symptoms or attribute them to other issues. Common symptoms of anxiety in cats include aggression, hiding, toileting outside the litter box, excessive grooming or destructive behaviour like scratching walls or furniture. These symptoms may often be missed or misdiagnosed as other issues. Meanwhile In dogs common signs of anxiety include aggression, toileting in the house, drooling, panting, destructive behaviour, excessive barking and repetitive or compulsive behaviours.

Fear Related Anxiety

A common type of anxiety experienced by our pets is fear-related anxiety. This can be caused by loud sounds, strange people or animals, or strange environments, unknown objects, or even specific situations like the vet’s office or car rides. Although these fears may seem silly to us, they can have a very serious effect on your pet through creating a lot of anxiety. Common examples of fear-related anxiety are dogs or cats that get scared of loud noises like fireworks or thunderstorms.

Separation Anxiety

The most common type of anxiety experienced by our pets is separation anxiety! Separation anxiety is a state of distress and fear experienced by a dog when a their family or owner leaves the house or is just about to leave. It is the most common issue that dogs and their owners face, with around 60% of dogs from aged from puppy to three years suffering from some degree of separation anxiety. This type of anxiety often manifests itself in undesirable or destructive behaviours, such as urinating and defecating in the house, scratching or destroying furniture, and nuisance barking.

Counter Conditioning

One of the ways that you can help your  pet with anxiety is through counter conditioning or training. The purpose of counter conditioning is to change your dog’s response to the stimuli that causes them anxiety. This is usually done by replacing the anxious or aggressive behaviour with a more desirable behaviour, doing a simple command like sitting or focusing on the owner.

Desensitisation

Another effective strategy for dealing with anxiety is desensitisation. The owner slowly introduces the dog to the source of anxiety, preferably in small doses and at a decreased intensity. Repeated exposure and rewarding positive behavior can go a long way toward managing anxiety. For example for a pet struggling with separation anxiety start to figure out what actions trigger your dogs anxious behaviour. For example, does your dog start to pant or whine when he sees you pick up your bag? How about when you put on your shoes in the morning? Start to come up with a list of triggers and slowly begin to work on desensitise your pet to these actions throughout the day. If you are still struggling with anxiety you might want to contact a professional dog trainer to help you choose the best approach for your dog, as retraining an anxious dog is not always an easy process.

Pheromones 

Another way to help your pet with anxiety is to use pheromones, calming or appeasing pheromones, can sometimes help relieve anxious or stressed pets. Specialist pet pheromones products are made to mimic natural cat or dog pheromones and come in various forms, including sprays, plug-in diffusers, and collars. Feliway is a synthetic copy of the feline facial pheromone, the natural pheromone that cats leave when they feel safe and secure in their environment. Their plug-in diffuser can be useful in calming cats and helping to cut down the signs of stress. There is also Adaptil for dogs that comes in a diffuser and collar. This product contains a synthetic copy of the pheromone a mother dog emits after birth to calm her puppies, this can be helpful with separation anxiety and dogs who are scared of fireworks and thunderstorms. 

Exercise

Just as exercise is a great stress reliever for humans, so it is for dogs. For a pet struggling with anxiety exercise is important as it stimulates the production of serotonin, the feel-good chemical that we humans also get when we work out. But exercise also helps your pet to get rid of built-up energy and tension that can make their symptoms of anxiety worse. Burning off all that extra energy every day for dogs can be done a long walk or a game of fetch. Meanwhile for a cat incorporating more interactive play sessions throughout the day can go a long way toward reducing problems with issues like separation anxiety.

Seek Veterinary Advice

Although if you feel like you are in over your head helping with your pets anxiety it can be helpful to talk to your veterinarian. They can help you to identify the type of anxiety your pet is suffering from and the possible causes and triggers. They can also rule out any other medical conditions that could be causing your dog’s symptoms.Once they have found out the type and cause of anxiety they can help you to come up with a treatment plan.

Don’t let your pet’s anxiety take control of your life. If you’re still struggling to find a way to calm your pet don’t give up. It’s important to pinpoint the source of your dog’s stress and find ways to manage it. With the help of a trainer or experienced vet you will be able to develop an appropriate treatment strategy, to help your pet overcome his anxiety and prevent dangerous and destructive behaviours.

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