Stress and Anxiety in Pets
While we daren’t use the phrase ‘pandemic’, it’s no secret that stress and anxiety is on the rise in our pets, and seeing them upset or frightened is every owner’s nightmare. It can be debilitating and make us feel helpless. The good news is, there is a way of dealing with it!
Recognising The Signs
So how do you recognise the signs of stress or anxiety in your pet? These indicators might be obvious or, commonly in the case of cats, more subtle. If your pet is displaying any of these behaviours but seems ‘relaxed’ at other times, that does not mean your pet is not anxious! Animals can be very stoic and learn to hide these behaviours, especially if they have been previously punished for them (consider dogs or cats who have been rescued or rehomed.)
Quite often we will not know our pets are anxious until we notice these undesirable behaviours;
● Soiling indoors
● Excessive vocalisation – whining, barking
● Self- injurious behaviour- paw licking, over grooming, nibbling
● Fidgeting or pacing
● Destruction in the home- common in separation anxiety
● Displacement behaviours- yawning, lip licking, excessive sniffing
● Avoiding eye contact
● “Odd” new habits- sleeping in a different place, reluctance to do something they normally do
It’s important to note that if any of these behaviours have come on quite suddenly, then your pet’s anxiety could be caused by pain. If you suspect your pet is in pain, take them to your vet immediately to rule out any physical health issues.
What is the difference between stress and anxiety?
While some of these behaviours might be considered normal, in excess they should be reason for concern, especially if they become extreme or more frequent. Now you can spot the signs, we can narrow down what you are dealing with.
Stress is a response to an external source of grievance. For us, this might be a tight deadline at work or an argument with our partner, for dogs it could be a resident in the house moving out, or a tiff with another dog on a walk. For cats it could easily be a new cat in the neighbourhood.
In some ways stress is easier to manage; the cause is more obvious and can mostly be controlled or avoided.
Anxiety is more of a blanket term but it is essentially anticipation of the unknown, and its origins are internal. Anxiety is characterised by a persistent feeling of apprehension or dread (for more on this see the blog on Anxiety from Schooling 4 Dogs.) Anxiety conditions can be further classified; panic disorder, phobias, PTSD, separation anxiety, general anxiety.
Fear vs. Phobia vs. Anxiety
Anxiety is a complex issue, not only for us but for our dogs and cats as well, and it’s not something that develops overnight.
Fear is a short term response to perceived danger, and you will likely see either fight, flight, or freeze behaviours. It stems from specific triggers, things that your pet is aware of as being a potential threat. This may be a certain person or type of person such as men, small children, or people with walking sticks. It may be a specific environment or situation, such as getting in the car or going to the vets. It can even be fear of an object like a muzzle, nail clippers, a cat carrier, or even something like a new (very suspicious looking) lamp!
Phobias are persistent or excessive fears tied to the trigger. Recognising and addressing these triggers is so important, it will make managing and treating them much less of an arduous task. Constant development of these phobias can lead to anxiety.
Take fireworks for example. Many pets experience fear surrounding loud noises, known as noise aversion. This fear of fireworks may develop into a phobia, and in turn your pet becomes anxious or panics around other loud noises, children, construction noise, and motorbikes. If your dog or cat is frequently exposed to these triggers/phobias, it may develop into anxiety.
Be aware phobias can develop from what we see as mundane events. If your dog isn’t keen on getting in the car, things like jingling your keys, putting your shoes on, or even saying a certain phrase like “come on we’re going in the car”, can become triggers. It’s worth mentioning that anxiety can also be brought on by something like a change or routine or environment, such as everyone in the household going back to work or school after lockdown!
How to manage anxiety
Again, as with us, there is no quick fix to anxiety. We recommend taking a holistic approach that both supports your pet and helps them cope with their symptoms
You will find the most success with gentler methods; positive reinforcement, desensitisation, and counter conditioning. These are things you can attempt yourself if you want to, but you should never be afraid to ask for help. We are very lucky to have some many great trainers and behaviourists locally:
2. Herbal Remedies
We are proud to say we only stock and recommend products we have used on our own pets. These calming remedies work by sending calming signals to the brain, which boost happy hormones and increase focus in pets. These can either be plug in diffusers, crushable tablets, or liquid which you can pop on your pet’s food.
3. Mental Wellbeing
Mental health is a phrase that isn’t commonly mentioned, but it is just as important with our pets as it is with us. Make sure your dog or cat is healthy, with a good diet and plenty of exercise. Make sure they are not bored- give dogs varied walks with lots of sniffs or try interactive games to increase your bond together. Try setting up a scavenger hunt for your cat by hiding treats around the house, tapping into their natural instincts. We also shouldn’t downplay the importance of your pet’s environment. Make sure they have a safe and quiet place where they can relax undisturbed. This goes for eating too, pets should never be bothered or interrupted when they are trying to eat.
4. Look after yourself!
Our dogs and cats feed off of us- they are experts in body language, as it is their primary form of communication. They know when we are happy, sad, or worried. If we can provide them a calm, safe, and happy home environment, it encourages and reflects that behaviour on to them. We can only do this by looking after ourselves (that means plenty of walks, treats, and relaxing for us too!)
If you want extra support for your anxious dog or cat, you can come and see us, give us a call, or we welcome you to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org for a free consultation.