Anxiety in pets

Thanks for being patient today! Waking up to the rain this morning sparked an idea for a topic to cover. Initially, I thought that I’d talk about Thunderstorm Phobia in dogs. However, because anxiety in dogs and cats can come about for MANY reasons, I’m going to talk about anxiety in general and give options for helping pets with anxiety.

Anxiety in dogs is shown in a variety of ways. Trembling, panting, drooling, pacing, vocalizing, destructive behavior, urinating or defecating inside, and other attention-seeking behaviors can all be signs that a dog is stressed.

Dogs can have these stresses because of changes in their routine, being separated from the owner, illness, or even a negative experience. When “bad things” happen to a dog — like sudden loud noises from thunderstorms/fireworks that scare the dog — they may then display anxiety when that stimulus is encountered again.

Cats are a whole different thing. They may hide, not eat well, urinate or defecate outside the letterbox, be aggressive, vomit or have diarrhea, or even chew their hair off large parts of their body. Stress can cause a dormant viral infection in cats to reactivate, and some cats with bladder problems will have a flareup if they’re stressed.

The kind of things that freak a cat out are often more subtle than in dogs. Cats can be afraid of loud noises, too, just as with dogs. “Stress” in a more basic sense is often due to changes in the cat’s environment. Changed schedules, different foods, different litter, adding a new pet, animals observed outside of the cat’s own home, visitors, and so on. It’s a long, long list. For many cats, different equals bad.

Thankfully, there are a lot of ways to help our pets with anxiety and fear behaviors. Each pet needs an individual evaluation to decide which method(s) are appropriate. Here are a few of the options:

Medications. I bring this up first mainly to get it out of the way. Yes, there are meds that can lower anxiety or tranquilize a pet. I’m not opposed to the use of medications, but it is NOT appropriate for this to be the ONLY thing used. In very specific circumstances, a particular medication may be the best way to treat anxiety. One quick mention of an all-natural product that we carry: Composure Chews. These little treats contain plant-derived and amino acid ingredients that can be used on a daily basis to lower anxiety in pets. We’ve had some success with these, too.

Behavior Modification. Any animal with a phobia or stress deserves to have some training (best accomplished by consulting with a professional trainer or animal behaviorist). General strategies can include redirecting the pet’s attention, working on desensitizing them to the anxiety stimulus, and NOT rewarding a pet by trying to comfort it during anxiety. It’s our human nature to comfort pets. Unfortunately, that may just reinforce the anxiety behavior and encourage the pet to repeat it. I highly recommend that if your pet is showing anxiety over a particular thing, you should contact a training professional. We have plenty of contact resources available at the hospital.

Pheromones. Pheromones are special scent molecules that create a behavioral response in the animal that smells them. Cats deposit pheromones on objects when they rub a cheek on it. Mother dogs release a pheromone when puppies are nursing that helps to calm the puppies. Synthetic versions of these pheromones are available that help calm pets down. There are little diffusers (think Glade Plug-In), collars, and a spray bottle. The pheromones work wonders for some pets, but not all.

Thunder Shirts. These canine-specific squeeze jackets use gentle pressure to calm dogs down. It’s pretty shocking how well this works for some pets. We carry these at the hospital and the clients who have purchased them give favorable reviews.

Music. Someone figured out that certain tempos and sounds can calm dogs down. There are five or six different CDs that can be purchased. We tried the first one out at the hospital after a generous loan by one of my patients (Thanks, Ellie! 🙂 ). I admit that I didn’t have much hope for this method. I was dead wrong. It works. Again, its not a magic wand, but it really did help lower the anxiety level of the pets during appointments and boarding.

We usually need a combination of the options above to ‘fix’ an anxiety or stress problem in a pet. Thankfully, if we put in the time and thought to train, aided by medication or other methods, we can usually get anxiety to a manageable level. I think it’s worth being optimistic about stress/anxiety problems as long as the owners are willing to work with us to sort them out.

Links to the products I mentioned above:


Through a Dog’s Ear

Thunder Shirt

Pheromones (Cats) (Dogs)

Clomicalm (medicine for separation anxiety, sometimes used for other things)

Reconcile (medicine for separation anxiety)

Composure Chews

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1 Comment

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One response to “Anxiety in pets

  1. Chris

    Ellie says you’re welcome! It’s so nice to come home to find her snoozing on the couch, rather than hiding behind it with a guilty look on her face!

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