Whether or not your pet exhibits obvious signs of fear, anxiety, and stress (FAS), she can still suffer from the effects. Chronic stress and anxiety can cause health problems, such as urinary tract infections, a weakened immune system, overgrooming, appetite changes, high blood pressure, chronic diarrhea, stomach ulcers, mood changes, and difficulty learning. Pet owners naturally want to do anything they can to soothe the many unpleasant conditions that FAS can cause their pets.
To start alleviating your pet’s FAS, you first need to recognize your furry friend’s cues.
What does fear, anxiety, and stress look like in pets?
FAS signs vary from pet to pet and correlate directly with the intensity of these unsettling emotions. Although some stress is a normal part of everyday life, stress that accumulates over time can negatively affect your pet’s health. Noticing your pet’s signs, and taking steps to soothe her fears, are necessary to break the escalation of chronic stress.
Scared, fearful, and anxious pets display many subtle cues through their body language and behavior. Since cats do not show their emotions as much as dogs, they’re more likely to withdraw and become quiet than act out their anxieties. Over time, cats who experience chronic stress are likely to show changes in behavior patterns and routines, such as:
- Inhibition when feeding, urinating, defecating, and grooming
- Increased resting, or feigning sleep
- Increased dependency on the owner, or social withdrawal
- Defensive aggression toward people or other household cats
- Extreme vigilance, being constantly on edge, and jumping at the slightest sounds
- Lack of play
- Changes in general behavior patterns
- Inappropriate elimination
- Spraying urine indoors
- Eating non-edible materials, such as wool, rubber, wood, leather, plastic, or paper
- Increased facial rubbing, or scratching on surfaces
- Displacement behaviors
- Redirected aggression
Dogs often demonstrate more obvious FAS signs, including the following behaviors or body language:
- Whining or whimpering
- Avoiding eye contact
- Trying to hide or escape
- Excessive licking
- Dilated pupils
- Avoiding interactions
- Tucking the tail
- Urinating or defecating
- Expressing anal glands
- Destructive behaviors
- Displacement behaviors
Once you notice your pet’s stress signals, you must determine her triggers so you can prevent and soothe her fears in the future.
What causes fear and anxiety in pets?
Fear, anxiety, and stress have a great many triggers for pets, and often are caused by environmental or social interactions. For example, most pets are somewhat uneasy in new situations, whether it’s visiting a new place, such as a veterinary hospital, or meeting a new person or animal. Dogs in particular seem to fear loud noises, such as fireworks and thunderstorms, while cats become stressed in improper housing situations with too few resources or inter-cat aggression.
On a deeper level, pets who lack proper socialization or who experienced stress in utero are more likely to display FAS signs. The prime socialization period for cats and dogs during which they form their opinion of the world is their first few months of life. If your pet has not been exposed to a variety of surfaces, environments, sounds, people, and animals, she is less likely to handle change well, and has the potential to be more anxious and high-strung. Dogs and cats born to nervous, anxious mothers can also develop anxiety.
How can you help your pet with fear, anxiety, or stress?
Soothing a panicked pet may seem difficult, but many helpful resources are available, including:
- Calming pheromones, such as Feliway and Adaptil
- Environmental enrichment to reduce boredom-related stress
- Preventing bullying or conflict between household pets
- Soothing supplements with ingredients proven to combat anxiety
- Behavior modification, such as counterconditioning and desensitization
- Calming music
- Anti-anxiety medications
- Veterinary behaviorist aid
- Compression wraps, like a Thundershirt
- Environmental management, such as walking your reactive dog in an area without other pets or playing soft music during thunderstorms
Completely curing your pet’s fear or anxiety may not be possible; however, you can take steps to keep her stress level below her panic threshold. For help formulating an anxiety-management plan, call our office.