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Pet Therapy For Anxiety

June 16, 2021
Pet Therapy For Anxiety

Anxiety is a normal emotion that dogs and cats may experience. The effect of anxiety on individual pets varies significantly. Anxiety disorders can develop when high levels of anxiety in a dog or cat are left unchecked. Without proper intervention, anxiety can fuel behavioral and other undesirable problems in pets.

Causes of anxiety in dogs

The top reasons for dog anxiety are the following:

  • Fear

Fear-related anxiety is triggered by the presence of strange people or animals, loud noises, car rides, strange or unfamiliar environments, and more. The reactions of dogs to the same stimulus tend to differ, some briefly while some more persistently.

  • Separation

Separation anxiety affects a good number of dogs. They feel anxious when left alone or separated from their humans. The anxiety fuels the development of undesirable behaviors, such as inappropriate elimination, destructive behavior, excessive barking, trying to escape, etc.

  • Age

Age-related anxiety is quite common in older or senior dogs. Experts often associate it with cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS). Affected dogs suffer from the age-related decline of memory, perception, learning, and awareness, causing affected dogs to become confused and anxious. The symptoms are like the early phases of Alzheimer’s disease in humans.

Causes of Anxiety in Cats

Anxiety in cats is triggered by any of the following:

  • Perceived threats
  • Pain or illness - Joint pain may cause senior cats to avoid the litter box or go into hiding.
  • Traumatic experience
  • Lack of socialization
  • History of abuse or neglect
  • Cognitive dysfunction - memory problems or dementia just like in dogs
  • Changes in the immediate environment - such as new furniture, renovations, new furniture arrangement, a new addition to the household (such as a new baby, spouse, or pet), moving to a new home, etc.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) - affected cats display exaggerated, repetitive behaviors.

Signs of anxiety in dogs

The most dangerous symptom associated with anxiety in dogs is aggression. Aggressive behavior can be targeted directly (towards people or other animals) or indirectly, depending on the situation the dog finds himself in.

Dogs suffering from separation anxiety urinate and defecate in the house even if they are housebroken.

Damage caused by destructive behavior exhibited by dogs with separation anxiety tends to occur around house entries and exits, such as doorways and windows. Unfortunately, dogs with a heightened state of anxiety run the risk of harming themselves. Their attempts to escape can lead to injuries, pain, and expensive veterinary bills.

Other symptoms of dog anxiety include the following:

  • Panting
  • Drooling
  • Depression
  • Excessive barking
  • Restlessness
  • Pacing
  • Display of repetitive or compulsive behaviors

Signs of anxiety in cats

Cats with separation anxiety often appear fine as long as their humans are around, but when they see that they’re about to leave, the cat may start acting anxious.

With OCD, affected cats engage in excessive, repetitive behaviors such as overgrooming, meowing,  constant pacing, and eating, sucking or chewing fabric.

Other signs and symptoms of cat anxiety include the following:

  • Destructive behavior
  • Aggression
  • Trembling
  • Diarrhea
  • Withdrawal and hiding
  • Inappropriate elimination - litter box avoidance
  • Escape attempts
  • Overgrooming - can cause sores and lesions
  • Loss or reduction of appetite
  • Excessive meowing
  • Lethargy
  • Increased scratching
  • Restlessness

Treating Anxiety

How do you calm a stressed dog?  

Identifying the trigger factor of your dog’s anxiety is important in its treatment. In cases of excessive anxiety, there are often a variety of causes that needs to be identified. Working closely with your veterinarian can help determine if the anxiety is caused by a certain situation or it is becoming a serious issue for your pet. Your veterinarian can also help rule out the possibility of your dog’s anxiety being caused by specific health issues.

The treatment protocol for addressing serious cases of anxiety in dogs is multi-pronged-- it is a combination of specific training, preventive strategies, and in some cases, prescribed medications.

Training strategies that may be employed to treat dog anxiety may include counterconditioning and desensitization. Counterconditioning aims to change the dog’s response to the trigger factor. On the other hand, desensitization introduces the dog to the trigger factor in small doses and at decreasing intensity. Repeated exposure coupled with positive reinforcement can go a long way in managing anxiety in dogs.

What to give dogs to calm them down

After a thorough medical examination, your veterinarian may deem it necessary to prescribe certain antidepressant medications such as fluoxetine, and clomipramine or natural therapies.

Calming music for dogs

Studies have shown how music can affect the mood and behavior of dogs. This study found out that soft rock and reggae have the most soothing effects and kept dogs lying down instead of running around. Alternatively, some essential oils have been said to help keep your dog calm.

How to calm a cat?

Identifying the underlying cause of your cat’s anxiety is important to relieve anxious behaviors. Here are some measures that can be undertaken based on potential causes:

  • Anxiety caused by Health and behavior causes

Cats that are ill can react with anxious behavior. A cat that is hurting may hide or become too clingy. Sudden changes in your cat’s health and/or behavior should be an important reason for an appointment with your veterinarian.

  • Anxiety caused by stress

Cats differ in their reaction to stress. A cat’s personality, genes, and socialization all influence how they react to the presence of stressors in their immediate environment. Some common stressors include overcrowding, availability of resources, presence of dominant cats, environmental conditions, and perceived threats.  

  • To reduce or altogether eliminate environmental stressors

Measures can be undertaken to create an enriched indoor environment for your cat. These include providing resources that encourage cats to engage in normal behaviors. Some things that you can add to enrich your cat’s environment include cat trees, kitty condos, scratching posts and/or pads, food puzzles, cat-safe toys, etc.

If your cat’s anxiety causes inappropriate elimination, you can try improving your cat’s litter box experience. To prevent this, you have to make sure that you have the right litter boxes that are kept cleaned and maintained regularly. If you have several cats in the household, there should be enough litter boxes for everyone (i.e. total number of cats +1), and do place them in strategic places around your home for easy access.

  • Toys

Playing with toys can also help to keep your pets distracted and keep them calmer instead of focusing on their anxiety.

What calms a hyper cat?

  • Natural anxiety relief

There are also natural anxiety relief products for cats made from synthetic feline facial pheromone, such as Feliway.

  • Calming music for cats

A study conducted by researchers from Louisiana State University has found that playing cat-specific music, such as ‘Scooter Bere’s Aria’ by David Teie, during a medical examination indicated “lower cat stress scores (CSSs) and handling scale scores (HSs)” compared to cats that were examined with classical music being played and those with no music. Alternatively, some essential oils have been said to help keep your cat calm.

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