Anxiety in Pets – What Pet Parents Should Know
All pets, even the most laid-back Labs and relaxed Ragdoll cats, experience anxiety from time to time.
But what if your pet always seems anxious? What if normal activities, like taking a walk around the block or a routine vet visit, have become difficult, frustrating, and distressing for both you and your pet?
Anxiety in pets is incredibly common, and it can manifest in many ways. One manifestation is separation anxiety when your pet can’t cope with being left alone. Others include being on edge around other pets or feeling terrified every time you have a house guest.
How Anxiety Affects Pets
Having a pet with anxiety can be stressful for you too. Your pet’s anxiety can prevent you from having a friendly, outgoing relationship with each other. It can also become an inconvenience if, for example, leaving the house becomes a ten-step process.
But it’s more than just an inconvenience. Every time your pet gets anxious, their heart rate and respiration accelerate.
Your pet’s endocrine system produces hormones like adrenaline and cortisol which help them respond to a perceived emergency. However, when they experience this response over and over, it can have long-term effects on their health. Some of the effects include weight gain, a weakened immune system, and poor digestion.
Common Misconceptions About Anxiety in Pets
One of the biggest misconceptions about anxiety in pets is that there’s any quick fix. Natural, holistic treatments, conventional medications, and behavioral therapy are all potential solutions. However, you must use them consistently and you may need to use them in conjunction with one another.
Beware of trainers who advertise “quick fixes”. They may involve intimidating or scary punishments like e-collars, noisemakers (like a loud can of pennies), and even mouse traps.
While punishments may mask symptoms of anxiety, it can manifest in other ways. For example, if you punish your dog for barking at children, they may stop, but it won’t help them feel safer around them. If your pet doesn’t feel safe, she may resort to snapping or biting if they still feel anxious.
Also, it’s perfectly fine, actually essential, to comfort and soothe your pet when they’re anxious. It is impossible to reinforce anxiety as you would an unwanted behavior. Comforting your pet will help them when they’re scared. You’ll teach them to trust you to help them feel calm. So, give your pet some love when they’re feeling anxious. Talk to them softly and let them know they’re safe.
Managing Anxiety in Pets
While anxiety in pets is treatable, it will take time to help your pet feel better about their triggers, regardless of what treatment or treatments you choose. In the meantime, you will need to limit your pet’s exposure to triggers. This ensures they won’t continue to have scary experiences that build upon their negative associations with the trigger.
If you have not already, you will need to determine just what is making your pet experience anxiety. It’s not enough to note that your pet has separation anxiety, or that they become reactive on walks. What exactly bothers your pet about being alone while you’re at work? Are they constantly over-aroused by strangers who walk by the windows of your home? Do they have trouble settling down and napping while you’re away? Do they instead exhibit outbursts of nervous energy that drive them to destroy your belongings? You may find it helpful to set up a camera to record their behaviors while you’re out. That way you can catch a glimpse of what really goes on when you’re not home.
Creating a home environment in which your pet feels safe will help an awful lot. This can mean providing a quiet place for them to retreat when they’re feeling anxious. You may cover up windows with curtains or window clings so they don’t see strangers passing by all day long. You can even play music to help drown out sounds that bother them.
My Pet Has Anxiety… What Are My Options?
There are many options you can use to relieve your pet’s anxiety so they can live an enjoyable life. With treatment, they can one day happily participate in activities that they currently find stressful. However, it’s important that you are patient and your expectations are reasonable.
Many of these options can be used together. However, it’s best to introduce them one at a time so you can clearly see what is the most effective and rule out what might not work so well for your pet’s unique needs.
Calming Supplements For Pets
Calming supplements can help your pet overcome anxiety, whether you toss your pup their favorite calming treat before you leave for work every morning, or you give your cat a few CBD chews when you have guests over.
Many pet parents turn to CBD supplements to help their pets relax, but hemp isn’t the only holistic ingredient that can help pets with anxiety.
“Hush, Puppy” CBD+ calming treats from Okoa Pet are formulated by holistic veterinarian Dr Rob Silver, an expert in animals and cannabinoids. They combine the power of broad-spectrum hemp extract and other proven, calming ingredients, including chamomile, tryptophan, and choline. These ingredients work together to help comfort your pooch and ease feelings of stress.
See how “Hush, Puppy” CBD calming treats can help your anxious dog or fretful feline find inner peace – shop our holistic, vet-approved calming supplements!
Essential oils are extracts from plants that can have health benefits when consumed, inhaled, or applied to the skin. Many of these oils have been used for hundreds, even thousands of years, for medicinal purposes. They have only recently shown potential benefits in human and animal research studies.
Though these oils are naturally derived, they vary widely in their effects on people and animals. Some oils, like peppermint, can make animals more active and awake, while chamomile and passionflower have a calming effect.
Take care when using essential oils with pets, especially if you are using products designed for humans. Some oils are toxic to animals, while others need to be used in very small concentrations to avoid side effects.
If you’re considering essential oils for your pets, it’s best to use a product developed by a licensed veterinarian for pets.
Just like humans, pets can experience changes in mood when they listen to music. There have even been songs composed specially for cats and dogs to help them relax. Calming pet music uses soothing, high-pitched notes that appeal to our pets’ heightened ranges of hearing. Studies suggest that some made-for-humans music genres are more soothing than others. Soft rock and reggae demonstrate exceptional soothing qualities in dogs.
Tellington Touch (TTouch)
The Tellington Touch Method, or TTouch, developed by animal expert Linda Tellington Jones, is a methodology using touch at strategic pressure points. The method may help pets recover from injuries and experience reduced stress and anxiety while nurturing the human-animal bond.
You can use training, games, and fun rewards to actually change the way your dog feels about a trigger. It’s helpful to work with a veterinary behaviorist who works with pets with anxiety. While some dog trainers specialize in force-free behavior modification, the industry is unregulated, so it’s not uncommon for trainers to use techniques that can worsen anxiety. Veterinary behaviorists, on the other hand, are veterinarians who are certified by the American College of Veterinary Behavior. These professionals can suggest routines, training techniques, and medications that can foster lasting changes in your pet’s anxiety.
Exercise improves mental health in humans. This has been well-documented. For pets, getting enough exercise is essential to their mental health and can help manage their anxiety. Most of our pets were originally bred to fulfill high-energy roles like hunting, tracking, and herding. Those jobs provided not only physical exercise but mental stimulation as well. Though you may not be able to take your best buddy out to herd some sheep, you can still stimulate their body and mind through walks, jogs, and enriching tasks like nose work and food puzzles. Enrichment is a good choice for pet and pet parent anxiety alike!
Medication for Pet Anxiety
Medications like alprazolam (Xanax), Fluoxetine (Reconcile or Prozac), and Paroxetine (Paxil) can be prescribed by your veterinarian for situational anxiety and long-term use. They are often used in conjunction with natural treatments. Let your veterinarian know if you will be using any over-the-counter or holistic treatments alongside conventional medications for your pet’s anxiety. This is important so they can assess the potential for any drug interactions.
In summary, as a pet parent you have a lot of options to help your pet cope with anxiety. At Okoa Pet we advocate using holistic, natural solutions. If your pet doesn’t respond to natural modalities, we suggest consulting with your veterinarian.