Dogs hiding under the covers

Most people can relate to events that cause pets stress. Moving, a new roommate, loud noises, and other disruptions are fairly universal regardless of species. As creatures of habit, anything that stands in the way of a pet’s routine can, and likely will, cause stress. Anxiety can often accompany stress or affect a pet concurrently, but may not necessarily be immediately recognized or understood. It is possible to reduce or remove triggers of pet stress and anxiety, and the results include a happier, more relaxed pet. 

The Roots of Pet Anxiety

Depending on a pet’s life experiences, there are many possible roots of pet anxiety. Many cases are directly related to or caused by intense fear of a specific stimulus. Thunder, fireworks, traffic, crowds, and other animals can affect pets in various ways. They could also be frightened of visual items, like items worn by someone they feared (hats, glasses, beards, etc.) or tactile stimuli, including grass, concrete or types of flooring. 

Separation anxiety is growing more common and is related to an intense reaction to solitude. Being separated from their people, pets can become distressed, resorting to destructive behaviors. 

Many pets display anxiety in their senior years because they lose mobility, vision, hearing, balance, and memory. Cognitive dysfunction syndrome can cause profound confusion and stress.

Understanding Pet Behavior

Stressed and anxious pets may behave uncharacteristically. 

  • A sweet, relaxed pet may suddenly lash out at an individual or object when triggered with uncontrollable vocalizations, chewing, and scratching. 
  • A normally playful pet may become withdrawn. 
  • Extremely fearful pets may have bladder control issues, or groom themselves to the point of hair loss, skin irritation, and infection. 

Soothing, Supportive Strategies

If a pet is mildly or moderately stressed or anxious, the following tactics may be effective at reducing or reversing pet stress or anxiety triggers:

  • Pheromones, either natural or synthetic, can help calm a worried pet. Spray or wipe pheromone products on their bedding, collar, leash, and toys. You can also provide a piece of your own clothing so your pet can be soothed by your scent. Calming vests can also calm nerves.
  • Set up a designated area that a stressed or anxious pet can retreat to. It should be quiet, peaceful and chock-full of items they prefer, like comfy bedding, toys, and plenty of fresh water.
  • Stick to a routine down to the minute. Pets enjoy anticipating certain events like meals, bathroom breaks, and play time. If they aren’t worried about their routine they’ll be less inclined to feel stressed out or unsettled. Exercise can neutralize edgy, anxious emotions.
  • Once you know your pet’s triggers, and after you remove them, slowly start to expose your pet to them. The process of desensitization can take time and patience but is well worth it to reverse a pet’s feelings of vulnerability and fear. 
  • If your pet needs extra help, we’re happy to discuss the possibility of prescription medication or the benefits of a veterinary behavioral specialist.

If you have questions about your pet’s behavior, please call Western Veterinary Center at (805) 957-PETS (7387).