Steps to Identify and Ease Anxiety in Pets

Dog With Anxiety
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Your pet's anxiety may manifest itself in many ways, including destruction. But, do not scold or punish him because that can frighten him and even increase his anxiety.

It’s an all too common scene: You return home from running errands, expecting a warm greeting from your pet. Instead, you find that your dog has destroyed the sofa or your cat has eliminated on the rug. Welcome home! It can be natural to think your pet is angry with you when he exhibits behaviors like these, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.

So, what’s really going on inside your pet’s head? Possibly feelings of anxiety and fear.

Anxiety and fear are common contributing factors to behavior problems in dogs and cats. Pets express these feelings in different ways, including destruction, vocalization, house soiling and aggression. Dogs and cats may experience anxiety or fear for a variety of reasons: thunderstorms or other loud noises, traveling in the car, strange people or animals and, of course, separation from you.

Don't Take it Personally

It can be confusing when your pet acts fearful or anxious about things that, from your point of view, don’t seem scary. Be aware that anxiety isn’t always rational. It’s not for people to say, “There’s no reason for my pet to be afraid of thunder or being left alone.” If a pet perceives something as frightening, then the pet’s perception is the reality that he will act on.

Many cats that inappropriately eliminate outside the litterbox may be experiencing anxiety. The anxiety can be a result of outdoor or household cats that make the cat feel threatened. Dramatic changes, such as a new baby, new dog or new spouse, can also cause anxiety. Try to see the problem through your cat’s eyes: If there's a cause for his anxiety, fear or stress, chances are, he is not acting out of spite or anger toward you.

Similarly, dogs that experience anxiety because of loud noises, new dogs, strangers or discomfort about being alone may be feeling profound distress. Don’t take it personally. Try to sympathize with your pet.

How to Help

Before you reach your wit’s end, remember that there are steps you can take to help your pet feel less anxious.

Visit the veterinarian. First, your veterinarian will want to determine if any underlying medical problems could be contributing to the behavior. For example, inappropriate urination, especially in cats, can be a result of bladder inflammation or stones, urinary tract infections or other diseases, such as diabetes. Your veterinarian can perform an examination and any necessary diagnostic tests to help rule out medical factors. Because inappropriate urination in cats can also be caused by litterbox factors, your veterinarian will also discuss ways to make it more enticing, from proper cleaning to adding more litterboxes, or simply changing to a different type of litter.

Once all the other potential causes are ruled out, your veterinarian can work with you to help identify the source of stress and create a plan to help relieve your pet's anxiety and resolve the inappropriate behaviors.

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