If your pet jumps or hides at the sound of fireworks, barks incessantly when you leave, or has stopped using the litter box, they may be suffering from fear or anxiety. While all pets experience fear as a normal, adaptive response to a potential threat, fears can become irrational, and develop into phobias long after the perceived risk is gone. Anxiety ensues when pets anticipate danger, or fear the unknown. As with people, pets experience fear and anxiety for a myriad of reasons. Fortunately, the more these problems are studied in pets, the better they are understood, and the more effectively your furry friends can be helped.
What types of anxiety are common in pets?
Separation is the most frequent cause of anxiety in dogs, and occurs when owners temporarily leave their pets. Some dogs experience mild anxiety only in kennel or boarding situations, while others endure crippling anxiety each day when their owners simply leave for work. Noise aversion can cause feelings of fear or anxiety in susceptible pets. As we approach July Fourth, Westerville Veterinary Clinic will receive many requests for temporary medications to help pets with firework fears. Other common noise triggers include gunshots, car backfires, thunderstorms, garbage disposals, or shrieking children. Anxieties can develop as a result of any stimulus, experience, or situation that your pet perceives as a threat. While separation and noise aversion are common, countless other reasons can explain anxious pet behaviors like acting tense and nervous, including introducing a new pet to your furry family, the loss of a pet, changing homes, or other traumatic events.
Why do only some pets have anxiety?
Your pet’s genetic makeup and unique experiences will ultimately decide how well they deal with fear and anxiety. All pets likely experience some anxiety, but how well they are able to cope with those feelings varies widely. Naturally, pets with a history of abuse or neglect may be more easily spooked. For pets who have spent time in and out of animal shelters prior to adoption, insecurity may explain their anxious behaviors. Noise aversion can develop in association with a stressful experience, or due simply to a lack of habituation. Other pets become afraid of particular noises, because another pet in the home exhibits the same fear. Certain breeds, such as hunting dogs, may be more willing to accept startling noises, whereas herding breeds may be more fearful. Noise aversion typically worsens over time, with pets becoming increasingly stressed, rather than learning to ignore the non-threatening sound.
How do I know if my pet is anxious?
Individual pets experience anxiety differently, so this is not a one-size-fits-all explanation, but some common signs include:
- Panting or increased heart rate
- Yawning or drooling
- Whining or shedding
- Pacing or hiding
- Digging or escaping
- Inappropriate urination or defecation
- Destructive behaviors
Keep in mind that many of these behaviors could also indicate an underlying medical condition. Therefore, if you notice any of these signs in your pet, notify your Westerville veterinarian immediately.
What can I do to help calm my pet?
Fortunately, many therapies are available to help alleviate anxiety in pets, although most require time and patience. Your first step should be to meet with our Westerville Veterinary Clinic team, who will try to rule out any underlying medical conditions, and discuss the next best steps for your individual pet. Calming supplements, pheromone diffusers, and medications can work wonders for some four-legged friends, but ensure you consult with us prior to beginning any supplementations. Behavior modification and training programs that include desensitization and counterconditioning can be effective in many pets, but usually require a dedicated and patient pet owner. Sometimes, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist is the best option, and we will discuss this with you, if necessary.
Remember, your pet’s quality of life is our top priority. If you believe your pet is suffering from fear, anxiety, or noise aversion, contact us, and we will do our best to help your furry family member combat these unpleasant conditions.