Anxiety in pets
Anxiety is a feeling of worry about a perceived, yet often inexistent, threat. While humans can suffer with feeling anxious, pet anxiety affects millions of cats and dogs.
Your pet may show several symptoms of anxiety and these can be treated over time. Read on to discover more about the types of anxiety, the symptoms to look for and how to treat it.
What are the signs of anxiety in pets?
There are several ways your pet displays signs of anxiety and these are evident through their body language, as they can act in unusual or destructive ways.
It’s important to take note if your pet is shaking as it can mean a variety of things from being cold to kidney disease. But shaking can be attributed to separation anxiety in dogs and cats. Tense muscles is another symptom you may spot in a nervous pet.
Inappropriate urination or defecation
Pets can suffer with bouts of diarrhoea following an anxious episode. If you have trained your dog well, they will know they have to go outside to do their business, but if they start to have accidents indoors, this could be a sign of anxiety. The same goes with anxious cats – instead of using their litterbox as normal, they may start to urinate on the floor, which means they are trying to tell us something.
Hesitant to go outdoors
Some pets may not want to go outdoors because they associate it with something that has happened there, e.g. they stepped on something sharp that caused pain, or were attacked by another animal. This, combined with a rumble of thunder or splash of rain, may be enough to send your pet over the edge.
Whining or barking
If your dog barks or your cat whines a lot, this can often be put down to alarm or fear and the inability of the pet to calm down or relax.
It could be a noise that has startled them. But it often happens when animals are bored and feel lonely. Because they are not sure when their owners will return, they get upset and make more noise.
Excessively salivating or licking
If they are stimulated enough, dogs will drool, but too much stimulation causes an ever-production of saliva. This often happens when animals get panicked or feel like they are in a harmful situation, for example, they are staying at kennels.
Other symptoms include but are not limited to: excessive barking or drooling, yawning, self-harming, scratching, vomiting or licking.
Why is my dog/cat anxious?
The cause of anxiety in dogs and cats isn’t always clear. If animals have bad past experiences with previous owners – perhaps they were beaten or neglected – they could show signs of anxiety.
Another reason why pets may feel stressed, is if their owners have recently moved home and they are unsure about their surroundings.
Some pets are also scared of loud noises, such as fireworks, vacuums or items falling off the shelves near to them, all of which can cause them to feel anxious.
Types of anxiety
This type of anxiety can occur for no reason. If it seems severe, you may need to consult your vet – depending on the symptoms, and your vet can advise on how the condition would be best to manage.
Pets who feel nervous or intimidated around other animals could be suffering from social anxiety. Gradually get them socialising with other pets by introducing them to other animals for short periods.
You may have come home to find your cushions in tatters and that your pet has urinated everywhere. If you have a dog, neighbours may report that it howls a lot while you are out and you may find mounds of earth where they have attempted to dig their way out of the garden.
The symptoms are triggered when their owners – or other people they are attached to – leave them for a period of time. They become upset and often agitated as they don’t know if that person will return. Often this behaviour is encouraged by the owner (without them knowing it), due to the fuss they make of the animal when they leave or return home.
They key to treating the anxious dog or cat is to resolve the underlying anxiety by teaching them to cope with being left alone.
You can help your pet by being calm when you leave, using positive reinforcement often and gradually increasing the amount of time you spend apart.
Now you have read a few of the symptoms of what makes pets anxious. Whatever happens, do not punish your dog. Dog anxiety and cat anxiety are not the result of disobedience. Dogs and cats display distressing behaviours because they are upset due to being left alone. Punishing your pet could worsen the problem.