For humans, anxiety is common and we have many options for treatment such as counseling, support groups, and medications. Like humans, pets can also suffer from anxiety. While it is seen more often in pets that suffer from abuse or trauma, pets from any background can develop anxiety issues. There are different triggers that may cause pets to become anxious and stressed out like periods of separation, loud noises, flashing lights, unfamiliar environments or strange people, and even other pets. Let’s take a look at what we know about anxiety in pets and how you can help your pet overcome it.
Pets show real, physical signs of distress when they are becoming anxious. Here is what you should look for:
- Urinating or defecating where they shouldn’t
- Excessive barking or howling
- Chewing or destroying things
- Trying to escape
- Lack of appetite
- Attempting to prevent you from leaving
While some of these symptoms are a sign your dog simply needs training, they can also be signs of distress. In cats, the most common signs of anxiety are panting, hiding, social withdrawal, twitching tails, dilated pupils, and aggression.
Lack of appetite and urinating in the house can be signs your pet has a medical issue. It is possible they are suffering from a gastrointestinal issue, urinary tract infection, incontinence, or another condition. Some medications are also known to cause potty accidents. Before you try to help them with behavior training, you should take them to a veterinarian to have a check-up. Express your concerns so you and your vet can get to the bottom of what ails your pet.
Training your pet to become desensitized to their anxiety triggers does take time and effort, but can be a very effective method for treating them. The general principle is to expose your pet to small amounts of stimuli and offer a reward as positive reinforcement. So for example, if your dog barks at other people and pets, start by taking them to a park where these triggers are. At first, keep your pet far away from others and reward them for staying calm with treats or toys. Gradually continue to reduce the distance from the triggers and reward good behavior. Repetition will help make this training exercise successful.
Many pets suffer from separation anxiety when you leave them for periods of time. Crate training can be very beneficial to pets with separation anxiety and provides them with a safe space to be comfortable in, as well as protects your belongings from destructive behaviors. However, some dogs will become more stressed and anxious when left in their crate. Be sure to follow proper crate training techniques and monitor your pet to decide whether crate training is the right option for their anxiety.
Medication is a common option for humans and pets who have anxiety. CBD oil pet products are an all-natural choice with no adverse side effects that are safe to use for the short and long term. CBD contains no THC found in marijuana and gives your pet feelings of calm and relaxation. It can be administered to pets as a tincture or flavored treats. You can discuss CBD and other medication options to treat your pet’s anxiety with your veterinarian. Some prescription medications for anxiety may have side effects, so be sure to talk about them with your vet.
Give Your Pet Exercise
Many of the popular breeds of dogs today were originally bred to do a job. They may have been a partner to their master in hunting, eradicating pests, herding farm animals, or any number of activities that required extra energy to get the job done. As family pets, they still have this long-ingrained energy running through them and need extra stimulation and exercise to burn it off. If they don’t get proper exercise, they may develop anxiety or other behavioral problems. Keep your pet stimulated physically and mentally by taking them to new places for walks, socializing them at dog parks, playing fun games, and training them with positive reinforcement.
If training, medication, and exercise are of little help to your pet’s condition, you don’t have to put your life on hold. Do your best to avoid the triggers that cause your dog to become anxious. For example, if your dog becomes uneasy at the sound of fireworks, let them stay with a friend who lives in an area where fireworks aren’t common on the Fourth of July. Or, if they become extremely worked up around lots of other dogs, don’t take them to dog parks. You may also want to consider doggie daycare and boarding for some unavoidable occasions.
In short, anxiety is very real for dogs, cats, and other pet breeds. No one is sure why pets develop anxiety, but there are contributing factors such as age, breed, and past events. As owners, we can try our best to utilize treatments that help keep them calm and relaxed.