Watching your pet dissolve into a pile of drooling, quivering fur with wide, panicked eyes is heart-wrenching. Many pets suffer from fear and anxiety, whether they show it with mild signs, such as avoidance or lip licking, or with a full-blown panic attack, demonstrated by elimination, shaking, and vocalizing. Cats can also fall victim to stressors in their environment, but gauging their anxiety levels is more difficult, since they tend to be more reclusive and hide when they’re stressed.
How to relieve anxiety at home
While some pets suffer from anxiety and fear only when they leave their homes, others are nervous wrecks, despite the comfort of a familiar space. Separation anxiety, conflict between housemates, boredom, overarousal, and certain medical conditions can lead to an anxious and stressed pet. Treating osteoarthritis pain and cognitive dysfunction can alleviate anxiety-related signs, as painful pets worry about being touched, and pets with decreased cognitive abilities are fearful of changes. For other environmental and behavioral causes of anxiety, the following tips can help ease your pet’s stress, regardless of the underlying reason:
- Ensure plenty of resources are easily accessible — Cats in particular are not keen on sharing, especially food and litter boxes. Dogs may also scuffle over toys and their owner’s attention, causing a family to be always on edge. Reduce anxiety-related conflict by ensuring all your pets have ample resources.
- For cats, separate resources into multiple areas and have adequate food dishes and litter boxes for all your feline housemates. Cats prefer to eat alone and have their personal litter box. They may not use a litter box that feels closed in, especially if they’re being bullied by a housemate and trapped in a corner.
- Dogs who are uneasy around each other and who snarl and snap when they’re simultaneously receiving attention may need to be separated with baby gates. Interact separately with each dog and ensure each has her own toys, treats, and food and water dishes. You may also need to walk each dog separately, and spend individual one-on-one time to avoid them fighting over their most important resource—you.
- Invest in a variety of environmental enrichment options — Boredom easily leads to stress, which can cause urinary issues in cats and overarousal and anxiety in dogs. Stimulate your pet’s mind with a rotating stock of varied environmental enrichment options to prevent boredom. Cats and dogs enjoy interactive, robotic toys, food puzzles, and novel toys. Instead of leaving out all the toys all the time, put out only a few and rotate them every couple of days to keep interest high.
- For cats, add scratching posts, climbing towers, and lofty perches for napping and surveying their household. Cats thrive with vertical space and prefer to be up high.
- For dogs, change your walking route. Head to an off-leash park where they can run at full speed, or a hiking trail where they can slow down and be free to sniff. Sniff walks are an excellent way to relieve stress and anxiety in dogs.
- Enlist the help of “feel-good” pheromones — Since a pet’s strongest sense is her sense of smell, use that to your advantage. Commercially produced cat and dog pheromones help calm and relax pets and can be used in households with both species. The diffusing products Feliway and Adaptil, which send out “comforting messages” called pheromones, can be used to promote good vibes and a sense of security in new environments and between pets.
Anxiety-filled households are difficult to manage, especially when your pets don’t love each other as much as you love them. If your pets are stressed, anxious, or outright fearful of each other, ask us for help.
How to relieve anxiety at the veterinary hospital
While we love seeing every pet who steps foot in our hospital, those pets don’t always say the same. Unfortunately, many pets become stressed and experience significant anxiety and fear while at veterinary hospitals and grooming facilities. To help ease some of your pet’s stress caused by new environments and people, try these tactics:
- Carrier train your cat — For many cats, their anxiety skyrockets as soon as the carrier comes out of the closet. They see the carrier as a harbinger of doom, the device they’re crammed into for a jostled trip with odd movements and sounds that ends up in a strange place with strange people. Teach your cat her carrier is a happy place that signifies good things, such as a jackpot of her favorite treats, a cozy bed, or a catnip mouse. Leave the carrier out at all times with the door open, line it with comfortable bedding, and occasionally toss in special treats and toys.
- Stop by for “happy visits” — Most veterinary visits end in needle pokes or bad-tasting medications, so take the time to also schedule happy visits. These trips to our hospital involve nothing more than special attention, pats, and treats, leaving your pet with a good feeling in her mind and a good taste in her mouth.
- Ask about pre-visit sedation — Many pets experience some level of unease at a veterinary clinic or grooming facility, because they know uncomfortable procedures are about to happen. Nail clipping, ear-hair plucking, bathing, blow drying, medicating, and vaccinating help your pet look and feel her best and remain healthy, but most pets find these tasks unpleasant. We can help ease their stress with medications you give at home prior to a visit. Unlike the full sedation we administer at our hospital, these oral medications given in advance take the edge off your pet’s anxiety, allowing her to form positive connections when paired with low-stress handling techniques, plenty of treats, and positive reinforcement. We will develop a plan tailored to your pet’s stress level that will help keep her calm and relaxed, without pushing her over her fear threshold.
Because fear and anxiety can cause pets long-term physical and emotional problems, we take every step we can to reduce their stress. For help at home and prior to veterinary visits, contact us.