May 2nd to 8th is Dog Anxiety Awareness Week, an event dedicated to bringing attention to the emotional wellbeing of your four-legged companion. Both dogs and cats can experience generalized or situation-specific anxiety, but since they can’t talk, it can take some time to figure out what is causing them stress. The good news is that there are several things you can do to help ease an anxious pet so we’ve put together a list of tips and tactics for you to draw on.
What are the signs of
anxiety in dogs and cats?
Anxiety in dogs can present itself in a number of different
ways, but the most common signs include:
- Barking or howling when left alone
- Panting or pacing when they’re not hot
- Running away or trying to make themselves
appear as small as possible
- Destructive behaviour
- Compulsive behavior, such as excessive licking
- Refusal to eat
While the list above covers the most obvious signs that your dog is struggling with anxiety, some more subtle behavior changes can appear as well, including lip licking, showing the white of their eyes, lifting a paw, and looking away.
When it comes to cats, the most common signs of anxiety include:
- Compulsive behaviour, such as excessive grooming
- Not using the litter box
- Changes in their mood
- Excessive meowing
- Changes in weight and appetite
- Following people around the house more than normal
Unfortunately, many of the symptoms of anxiety in both cats and
dogs are easy to write off as “bad behavior” so it takes a keen eye to connect
What can I do to help
my anxious dog or cat?
If your pet struggles with anxiety, the first thing you should
do is speak to your vet to rule out any underlying health issues – many of the
symptoms of anxiety can often mask other illnesses, especially with cats. If
they get the medical all-clear, there are some changes you can make that can
help your pet manage their anxiety.
1. Stick to a routine
Cats and dogs alike do well with a consistent routine. Whenever
possible, mealtime, walk time, playtime, and any other activity should come at
a consistent time each day. By doing this, your pet will be able to anticipate
what will happen next, which can help them feel more confident – especially if
they struggle with separation anxiety.
2. Exercise and play
Anxiety can cause a pet to have excess energy, which if not given an outlet can result in destructive behaviors – such as ripping apart your sofa or scratching up your door. When pets are mentally and physically stimulated they’ll produce stress-relieving endorphins that can help them feel happy and calm, so it’s important that they get exercise throughout the day. This could be in the form of a long walk, one-on-one playtime, or even independent play with engaging toys. Playtime is also the perfect chance to spend some quality time with your pet, giving them lots of comforting physical contact and verbal praise.
If you know the cause of your pet’s anxiety, there are a few
training methods that can be used to tackle it. The first is desensitization,
where you slowly introduce them to the source of their anxiety until it no
longer causes a reaction. The second is counterconditioning, where you work to
change your pet’s response to a specific stimulus. For example, instead of
acting aggressively when anxious you can train them to focus on you or a toy.
When it comes to training and anxiety, it’s best to work with a professional
who can help guide you through the process and make sure that it’s being done
safely and correctly.
4. Pheromone products
Pheromones are scent chemicals that animals use to communicate with each other and their environment. For example, mother dogs use pheromones to share “comforting messages” with their puppies and cats deposit pheromones when they rub their head on objects around the house to signal that they’re “safe”. In both situations, these pheromones are used to communicate positive and comforting messages. There are plugs, sprays, and collars available that release synthetic pheromones and can be used to help your pet feel calm, confident, and reassured in challenging situations. ADAPTIL (dogs) and FELIWAY (cats) are two popular brands that are clinically proven and veterinary recommended.
If the changes you make to your pet’s day-to-day life do not help them better manage their stress, speak to your vet about the possibility of medication. They will be able to prescribe medication or make recommendations of natural therapies that will help control your pet’s anxiety.
Helping your pet overcome their anxiety can take time, but it
can be done!