Assisting Anxious Pets
Pet anxiety can be a huge problem for pets and their families. Being home alone for several hours a day while their humans are at school or work can cause separation anxiety. Thunderstorms and fireworks can also really panic pets. Some pets are so anxious that any new situation (car trips, moving, unexpected visitors) will cause them distress. Pet anxiety can lead to misbehavior, accidents, aggression, destruction of items in the home, and even running away and getting lost or injured. If you have an anxious pet, there are several strategies you can use to help calm your pet during difficult situations.
A crate can provide a cozy den where pets feel secure and calm when unpleasant situations arise. When crate training, make sure your pet develops positive associations with the crate. Do not use crates as punishment. Provide a soft blanket, toys, and favorite treats. Crating is not the best solution for certain animals, however, especially if your pet shows signs of distress from being in the crate itself.
Physical and Mental Exercise
Keeping a pet mentally and physically exercised can expend some of the extra energy that might be wasted on anxiety. Relax pets with their favorite physical exercise each day, especially before any anticipated stressful events. Challenge toys like a Kong stuffed with a pet’s favorite snack (frozen so it takes longer to tease out) can pleasantly distract and relax a pet.
Sometimes you can teach a pet to form positive associations with something they consider unpleasant. For example, during a thunderstorm, do not cater to your pet’s fear with any “poor baby” talk. Instead, consistently bring out a special treat they love, turn on music or the TV to distract them from alarming noises, play with them and act normally.
There are new pet shirts on the market that can mimic the calming effect of swaddling on a baby, but for pets. If you try one of these, be sure to get one that fits your pet snugly, but not too restrictively.
All pets are individuals and what works to calm your neighbor’s pet may not work to calm yours. Discuss options with your veterinarian, particularly if you think your pet may need medication. Sedative medications can relax a pet’s nerves, particularly in severe cases of anxiety that do not respond well to behavioral training or distraction. It is very important to talk with your veterinarian, however, before using any medicines or herbs because each pet responds differently to these substances, and they can cause unwanted side effects.
ASPCA, “Separation Anxiety”
Johnson, Morieka, “Does the Thundershirt Really Work”