Understanding Fear And Anxiety In Pets And How You Can Manage It
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There are quite a few causes of pet anxiety and fear such as separation anxiety, noise phobia, etc. Try to not resort to methods of discipline and avoid showering your pets with too much attention either. The best thing you can do is distract them with a fun game or engage them with tricks. Seek your vet's help immediately, especially if your pet suffers from anxiety fits on a daily basis. In such cases, your vet will recommend behavior modification programs, and if necessary, there may even be medication involved.
Many pet owners are fairly familiar with coming home to your sofa in tatters, or a pile of turd on your favorite rug. While it is very natural for you to think that your pet has done this deliberately out of anger or spite, nothing could be farther from the truth. More often than not, such kind of behavior could very well be the outcome of intense feelings of fear and anxiety.
The First Step: Don’t Take It Personally
Dealing with pet fear and anxiety can be very confusing for us humans. From our point of view, a thunderstorm or being left alone at home for twenty minutes is no reason for your pet to be so frightened and we find this kind of behavior all the more astonishing. Be aware, however, that fear and anxiety are not always rational. It’s not for us to say that there is no reason for our dog or our cat to behave a certain way. Your pet’s perception is what matters, and that is the reality that your pet is going to act on. Therefore, don’t take it personally and try to sympathize with your pet.
Causes Of Pet Anxiety
A few common causes of fear and anxiety in your pets could be:
- Separation from the owner (also called separation anxiety)
- Noise phobias (fireworks, guns, balloons bursting, cars, machinery)
- Storm phobias
- Unfamiliar people (this includes children)
- Unfamiliar places
- The presence of other pets or animals
- Veterinary clinic visits
- Boarding kennels
- Car rides
How You Can Manage Your Pet’s Fear And Anxiety Problem
Here are a few ways you can help your anxious pet manage emotions better.
1. Visit The Veterinarian
First, you want to be sure that there is no underlying medical problem that could be responsible for your pet’s behavior. For instance, urination in inappropriate places, particularly in cats, could be the result of kidney stones, a bladder inflammation, or a urinary tract infection. Have your vet examine your pet and he will carry out necessary diagnostic tests to help you rule out any medical factors. Once medical causes are out of the way, your vet can help you identify the source of stress and advise you on creating a plan to help resolve your pet’s anxiety behaviors.
2. Refrain From Discipline
One of the most critical elements of dealing with any kind of anxiety-related behavior is to avoid any and all forms of punishment. Do not yell or scold or perform gestures that may seem even the slightest bit aggressive like raising your hand suddenly or shaking your finger. Stay away from physical punishments, like leash corrections or hitting. Fear and anxiety are intense emotions over which your pet has no control. Hitting or yelling will further frighten your pet, increase his anxiety, and eventually damage your relationship.
3. Refrain From Consoling
Conversely, try to stop yourself from soothing or showering your anxious pet with attention. Comforting your pet may worsen the situation for you because the pet will think of it as a reward for behaving that way. Instead, distract your pet with a favorite toy, or by engaging in playful tricks. Use an upbeat, happy tone at all times when you’re speaking to your cat or your dog, so you don’t further distress your pet.
4. Avoid The Fearful Stimulus
It is an incorrect belief that repeatedly exposing your pet to the fearful stimulus will help solve the anxiety issue, in fact, it will only get worse. Each time a cat or a dog feels frightened or anxious, during a particular experience or at a certain place, its emotional state of fear or anxiety becomes all the more strongly associated with that experience or place. The longer this cycle of fear and anxiety continues, the more resistant your pet can become to change.
5. Learn Your Pets’ Anxiety Cues
Understanding nonverbal communication in our furry friends will come in handy. There are some classic, (although subtle) signs that pets display when they are anxious, but you’ll still need to take some extra time off to watch and learn more about your dog or your cat’s signs of fear or anxiety. There are subtle signs like licking lips, repeated yawning, avoiding eye contact, while the more obvious signs include lowering of the head, salivating, tucking the tail in between the legs, pacing, extreme aggression or trying to withdraw. Learning to recognize the signs of anxiety in your pet can be challenging, but not impossible if you devote some of your time to closely observing facial expressions and body language.
Get Professional Help
Once you’ve identified the cause of your pet’s anxiety or fear, avoid it till your vet starts working with you to help treat your pet’s anxiety problems.
If your pet is anxious with strangers entering your home, confine your pet to a place it is comfortable in, where it can’t see the strangers. You can even leave your pet with a favorite toy or a long lasting treat.
If your pet’s fear is limited to certain predictable events like thunderstorms or car rides, your vet can certainly help counsel you on how to slowly desensitize your pet to the troublesome stimulus. He may even prescribe some medication to help stop your pet’s anxiety during these anticipated events.
If your pet experiences anxiety fits every day, seek your vet’s help immediately. Pets suffering from fear or anxiety on a regular basis can react severely enough to cause serious injury to themselves and to the people around them (including you) or destruction of their immediate environment. In such cases, your vet will recommend behavior modification programs, and if necessary, there may even be medication involved. No single medication works on all pets, and different medications and different dosages might need to be tried and tested to find which one works the best for your pet.
Anxiety and fear are very complex problems for cats and dogs and one should never ignore such behavior problems in the hope that they will get better with time. When left untreated, your pet will only start reacting worse with time. The sooner you seek your vet’s help, the faster you’ll be
Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.