As pet owners, we cherish the companionship and unconditional love bestowed upon us by our precious pets. However, like humans, our furry friends can struggle with anxiety too! Anxiety refers to a state of uneasiness or apprehension that manifests uniquely in each pet. It surfaces when our beloved furry companions experience heightened stress, worry, or fear—often triggered by various factors and situations. As a prevalent issue in dogs and cats, anxiety can affect their overall well-being, behavior, and quality of life if left untreated.
As adored members of many families, pets can bring immense joy to people's lives. Just like they help to comfort us, it is our role—as responsible pet owners—to ensure their happiness and health. Hence, gaining insight into pets’ anxiety and being attentive to the signs and symptoms is fundamental in ensuring they feel relaxed, secure, and are provided with the right nurturing and assistance.
If you suspect that your canine or feline companion is experiencing anxiety, or if you’re curious to learn more, keep reading! We’ll delve into the different facets of pet anxiety, including the types, causes, symptoms, and how to provide thoughtful care—empowering you to become a more informed and compassionate pet parent!
Types of Pet Anxiety
Pet separation anxiety—often the result of excessive attachment—is one of the most prevalent forms of anxiety seen in dogs and, to a lesser extent, cats. It can be described as a form of disorder or intense stress response that develops when pets are separated from their owner or a particular companion animal they are most bonded with. In other words, it is essentially the fear of being apart from someone they are attached to. In such situations, your canine or feline companion may experience distress, anxiety, or even plunge into a state of despondency from the moment you start preparing to leave up until you return—where they are brimming with joy, greeting you with playful antics, and clinging to you relentlessly as if they haven’t seen you in thousands of years.
According to experts and animal behaviorists, it is estimated that between 20 to 40 percent of dogs will have experienced some form of separation anxiety during their lifetime. Nevertheless, while it is most frequently reported in dogs, cats can be affected as well—though it is not as commonly recognized. Cats are often characterized as being independent or aloof, therefore some people may believe separation anxiety isn’t something they can experience. However, that is not quite correct! In reality, some cats are capable of developing strong bonds and attachment to their owners, which can result in them feeling anxious when left alone. In a 2020 study, more than 13 percent of cats exhibited at least one symptom of separation anxiety-related behavior.
Separation anxiety in pets goes beyond their endearing attempts to stop their owner from leaving. It can lead to excessive barking or meowing, destructive behavior, escape attempts that may result in self-injury, and other undesired consequences.
As pet owners, you’ve likely seen your furry friend’s reactions when encountered with sudden, loud sounds. Thunderstorms, construction sounds, Fourth of July fireworks—these situations are probably quite familiar to you, aren’t they? I’m sure you’ve probably witnessed your pet going into a frenzy or panic mode when these sounds occur. They start shaking, may experience an accelerated heart rate, and struggle to remain calm and still. No matter how much you shower them with cuddles and soothing words, they still feel frightened. This is referred to as noise anxiety, or noise phobia. It is when your pet becomes anxious or fearful in response to loud and unexpected sounds.
Noise-related anxiety may trigger symptoms in dogs and cats such as trembling, hiding, ears pinned back, panting, restlessness, trying to escape an enclosed area, and more.
Social anxiety in pets occurs when they are not properly socialized and exposed to new people, places, animals, and experiences when they were younger. It can also happen as a result of past difficult situations in their life. As a result, they may exude nervousness or fear in situations that include unfamiliar people, animals, and environments as it can make them feel overwhelmed. Pets can encounter social anxiety in various settings, including visits to the vet, taking them for strolls in the park, crowded gatherings, or even when taking them to a friend or family member’s home.
Social anxiety in pets can lead to avoidance behaviors. Some signs that your dog or cat may be experiencing social anxiety include, shyness, hiding, aggression, trembling, reduced activity, and more.
A lot of pets have anxiety when it comes to car rides or other forms of transportation involving movement. Some dogs and cats are not big fans of traveling and it can cause them a great deal of stress and unease. Getting them into their carrier, nonetheless the car, can be a hassle for pet owners. This anxiety stems from various factors. For one, they may associate the car ride with the anticipation of going somewhere undesirable—such as the vet— or simply not understanding what’s happening around them which can trigger feelings of uncertainty and discomfort. Additionally, the unfamiliar sounds and vibrations of the vehicle, the shifting scenery outside the car windows, and the motion of the vehicle can contribute to their anxiety as well.
Travel anxiety can lead to restlessness, drooling, panting, vomiting, excessive vocalization, and more.
Some pets may experience generalized anxiety, which essentially means that they exhibit constant signs of fear and anxiety regardless of the situation or environment. They are in a chronic state of unease and worry—often without any specific, apparent trigger—and never seem to be truly relaxed, even in relatively calm environments. This makes your dog or cat more prone to stress and fear in various situations.
Generalized anxiety in pets can lead to physical and behavioral symptoms such as whining, excessive grooming, pacing, hiding, increased vigilance, and more.
Causes of Anxiety in Cats and Dogs
Anxiety in pets can result from various underlying triggers and factors, and in order to guarantee effective management, it is crucial to identify the root causes.
Let’s explore some of the most common causes of pet anxiety below!
Any significant—or even seemingly minor— alteration in a pet’s daily routine or environment can trigger their anxiety. For instance, it could manifest when moving to a new home or when modifications are made to their existing living space, such as introducing new furniture, home renovations, furniture rearrangements, or the presence of unfamiliar items. Traveling to unfamiliar places can also trigger a dog or cat’s anxiety as being surrounded by new sights, smells, and people can be stressful for them.
Subtle changes in their daily schedule can also make them anxious. This might include changes in their feeding times, walking schedules, or the addition of new family members or pets into the household.
Pets are able to thrive on routine and familiarity, therefore disruption can be challenging for them as they might struggle to adapt to the new changes. As a result, they may respond with aggression, restlessness, house soiling, or even withdrawal. Pet parents should always be sure to make changes to their routine gradually, maintaining as consistent as possible to ensure that their pet is able to navigate these disruptions in a comfortable manner.
Past Trauma or Abuse
Pets who have been past victims of cruelty, abuse, neglect, or other traumatic events (especially during their early stages of development) typically develop fear, anxiety and stress disorders—impacting their overall mental health and well-being. Traumatic experiences such as being housed in a shelter, car accidents, being attacked by another animal, or natural disasters can leave lasting emotional scars, therefore, they are more susceptible to anxiety-related issues.
As we know, any pet can experience anxiety. However, some pet breeds and individual personalities are more prone to experience anxiety disorders than others due to a genetic predisposition. For example, certain dog breeds such as German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Border Collies, and Jack Russel Terriers are all more likely to struggle with separation anxiety and stress when they are left alone or separated from their owners for long periods of time. Additionally, a pet's temperament, family history, and inherited traits can play a significant role in their susceptibility to anxiety.
Recognizing the Signs & Symptoms of Pet Anxiety
To effectively address anxiety in pets, it is crucial for pet parents to educate themselves on the signs and symptoms. However, bear in mind that every pet is unique—and just as no two pets are exactly alike, their anxiety triggers and coping mechanisms can vary widely depending on the type of anxiety they have and its severity.
Anxiety in pets may manifest in various forms, through several types of behavioral and physical signs and symptoms. While some might resort to destructive behaviors, others may choose to withdraw and seek solitude. Therefore, without keen observation and understanding, it can be challenging for owners to distinguish between normal pet behavior and the signs of underlying anxiety.
Here are several common indicators of anxiety that can be observed in both cats and dogs!
Recognizing and observing these signs and symptoms is of paramount importance in order for pet parents to provide their fur babies with the right care and support. By staying attentive, not only can it help us to address our pet’s anxiety in a prompt manner—improving the chances of early intervention—but it also enables us to provide them with a safe and nurturing environment where they can thrive, free from the burdens of anxiety.
Treatment and Management
Addressing anxiety in your furry best friend requires patience, understanding, and a whole lot of empathy. It’s all about making sure your pet feels safe, secure, and loved! It involves a multifaceted approach that includes a combination of behavioral interventions, environmental modifications, and preventative strategies. In most cases, you might find that the use of medication may sometimes be necessary as well.
Nonetheless, the approach to managing it should be tailored to your dog or cat’s specific individual needs. Anxiety in pets can be highly individualized, so it is essential to recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all approach.
Below are some strategies that can be used to help treat and manage pet anxiety!
Consult a Veterinarian
Professional guidance is considerably the most effective course of action. Should you observe that your dog or cat's anxiety has escalated to a severe, persistent state or is causing significant distress or sudden behavioral changes, it's crucial to seek professional help to prevent their anxiety-related behavior from getting any worse. Your first choice should be to schedule an appointment with your pet’s vet! Not only will your pet’s veterinarian be able to rule out possible underlying medical or health issues that might be contributing to the cause of your pet’s anxiety, but they will also be able to provide you with resources and guidance on how you can effectively manage and alleviate it as well.
In addition to veterinarians, you can also rely on veterinary behaviorists or certified animal behaviorists for assistance. Not only do they possess the expertise to evaluate your furry friend’s condition, but they will also be able to recommend and work with you to come up with suitable treatment options! Some types of treatment may include medication, customized behavior modification plans, or even a combination of both strategies.
Professional means of intervention is an excellent way to prevent your pet’s anxiety-related behavior from getting any worse. It ensures that you can address the root cause of your beloved pet’s anxiety with the help of licensed specialists who can provide them with the best possible care and support for them to live a happier and healthier life!
Behavioral training can be highly effective in helping pets with anxiety! For instance, you can enroll your pet in behavior training classes or work with a professional trainer to address specific anxiety triggers, such as separation or noise.
Gradual desensitization and counterconditioning are two other behavioral training techniques that can help your pet become more comfortable in triggering situations. This works by gradually exposing your pet to their anxiety triggers in a controlled manner to reduce their fear response over time while providing positive reinforcement (e.g., treats, praise, or petting) to associate the trigger with positive experiences. Positive reinforcement is a great way of building your furry friend’s confidence and providing them with the tools they need to cope with stress and anxiety. For example, if your dog or cat is afraid of thunderstorms, you can play a recording of storm sounds on your phone or tablet at a low volume and gradually increase it over time. Then, reward calm and relaxed behavior with treats or praise!
In severe anxiety cases, your veterinarian may prescribe medication to help manage your pet's anxiety. However, it should always be administered under professional guidance! Medications such as anti-anxiety drugs (e.g., Alprazolam, Buspirone, or Clomipramine) or antidepressants can help to manage the symptoms and make behavior modification more effective. Depending on the condition of your dog or cat’s anxiety, there are medications available for both short-term and long-term treatments. However, while medications can be effective, they may also have side effects. Therefore, it is important for you to discuss the potential risks and benefits with your pet’s veterinarian, along with how your dog or cat will be monitored. Ensure that follow-up appointments are scheduled regularly for assessment of your furry friend’s progress and to discuss if any adjustments to the medication or treatment plan are needed.
In addition to medication, many pet parents have also found that CBD oil products have also helped with their pet’s anxiety. According to a survey conducted in the United States, 49 percent of pet owners found that CBD products helped with reducing their pet’s anxiety.
Creating a calm and secure environment for your pet is essential and can alleviate their anxiety. Consider providing them with a designated safe space where they can retreat when feeling anxious—this could be a room, a crate for dogs, or a cozy corner for cats with their bedding. Avoid sudden changes or chaotic situations that can possibly contribute to their anxiety and try to establish a consistent daily routine for feeding, playtime, exercise, and providing them with attention—predictability can help in reducing anxiety.
In noisy environments, think about utilizing Thundershirts or similar pressure wraps. These items can help to provide your dog or cat with a sense of security, especially during stormy weather or fireworks.
Pet-friendly calming products are also an option! Pheromone diffusers (e.g., Feliway for cats or Adaptil for dogs) release calming pheromones that can help to alleviate anxiety. While it may offer some pets relief, effectiveness varies between every cat and dog!
You can also find calming products for pets available in our online shop. To explore our range of items, please click here!
Nutrition and Regular Exercise
A high-quality diet that includes balanced nutrients can support your pet's overall well-being and possibly contribute to reduced anxiety. Avoid giving them excessive treats or making abrupt changes in their feeding regimen. There are also supplements available for dogs and cats that are often used to help manage anxiety and stress. If this piques your interest, look for supplements that contain ingredients like chamomile, L-tryptophan, or melatonin, which are believed to have calming effects on pets. However, before introducing any supplements into your pet’s diet, always consult your veterinarian to ensure safe use.
Make sure that your dog or cat receives ample physical and mental exercise to effectively alleviate anxiety, as this can help to burn off excess energy and reduce any built up stress. Incorporating interactive toys, games, and playtime is also essential as it engages your pet's mind and keeps them occupied.
Anxiety in pets is a complex and often misunderstood disorder in pets. Fortunately, there are ways to combat it and provide comfort to our adorable companions. Through proper education and understanding, pet parents can strengthen their ability to nurture both the physical and emotional well-being of their furry friends, thereby fostering a deeper bond of trust and companionship. Through our care and support, we can ensure that our fur babies lead happy, anxiety-free lives filled with the love they give us so freely!