Anxiety in your pet making YOU anxious?
Here are some helpful tools…
Every time Brian and I leave the house, we have an anxiety-reducing routine that we used for our late dog, Chewy, and now use for our puppy, Bentley.
It goes a little something like this:
-classical music station on Pandora - check
-a drop of lavender oil in the diffuser - check
-Thundershirt on - check
-Adaptil collar and diffuser on - check
And then we place some treats (Zuke's) in a treat ball and sneak out the door.
This may sound ridiculous to some, but this is what we have developed over years of trial and error. Chewy suffered from mild/moderate separation anxiety as well as storm phobias/firework phobias. He was much better as an older gentleman and with the use of these tactics, but at one time, he was an anxiety ticking time bomb…
This anxiety led to many destructive behaviors that included (but weren’t limited to): incessant paw licking, getting into the garbage, destroying our house/personal property, barking incessantly, and much more…
With Bentley, we have taken things very slowly with respect to leaving him alone at home. For several months, he went with us everywhere and would only be alone for small amounts of time. Brian works from home, so we know that we are very lucky to have the flexibility to be with him during the day.
He IS still very sensitive to sound, so we have him in an Adaptil collar constantly. We also crate trained Bentley from an early age, so when we leave, we know he is safe and secure in his "apartment". We put the "soothing sounds" channel on Pandora, leave some Zuke's in a Kong or two and plug in the Adaptil diffuser by his crate. This routine has really seemed to help him!
The psychiatrist's definition of anxiety is as follows: a nervous disorder characterized by a state of excessive uneasiness and apprehension, typically with compulsive behavior or panic attacks.
These compulsive behaviors and/or panic attacks in dogs and cats might not look the same as they are in humans, but they can be just as debilitating. A few common signs of anxiety in dogs are: excessive panting, destructive behavior, self-mutilation, barking/vocalizing, hiding, and inappropriate voiding.
In cats, we might see: hiding, voiding (using the bathroom) outside the litter box, aggression with other cats in the house, and over-grooming.
These are some things that can cause anxiety in cats and dogs: separation anxiety, a new addition to the family, moving, thunderstorms, fireworks, loud noises, dominance issues, going to the vet, riding in the car, and on and on….
Part of our responsibility as caretakers for these wonderful animals is to provide a safe and secure environment for them to flourish in and enjoy their lives to the fullest! This means that we need to ensure we are doing as much as we can for our dogs and cats to alleviate the angst that they feel when they’re in these situations.
Here are just a few ideas to help with anxiety in your pets! This is by no means a comprehensive list and you should definitely consult with your veterinarian about a plan that is safe for your pet and may include medications/behavior modification therapy.
One of the first products that I like is a Thundershirt. The name pigeon-holes it in a way so that it seems to only be useful for thunderstorms when in reality, I think it’s great for any type of anxiety. The mechanism is similar to that of swaddling a baby-it creates comfort and security through gentle compression.
In order to maximize the benefits of the Thundershirt, I recommend putting it on at least 1 hr before the anxiety-inducing event is going to occur. So, if you leave for work at 7 am, put the Thundershirt on when you first wake up, so your pet doesn’t associate the shirt with something upsetting like you leaving them for work. If thunderstorms truly are the reason for their anxiety, this can be a little more difficult because they aren’t always easy to predict.
In these cases, it’s better to be safe than sorry - especially if you won’t be home to put the shirt on when you first see that a storm is coming. And remember, your pet is much more sensitive to changes in pressure and smell, so they could be aware of an impending storm well before you! They even have Thundershirts for cats!
The second set of products that I really like are called Adaptil (dogs) and Feliway (cats). These products use synthetic pheromones that are modeling after the pheromones that mothers emit shortly after birth/while nursing to provide your pet with a sense of security and calmness. These products come in many different applications.
They have a diffuser that can be plugged into the wall, they have a collar for an extended release (30days), and they have a spray/wipes that you can use anywhere you will be that might cause anxiety (car, carrier, vet's office, etc). The Feliway diffuser is great for cats and should be tried in cases of voiding outside the litter box, stress-induced over-grooming, etc. These products can be used all at once or singularly depending on the level of anxiety in your pet.
The third product(s) that should be considered are oral supplements. There are several on the market, but there is a new one on that is particularly robust in its components - Solliquin. This product combines four of the most recognized anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing) ingredients into one tasty chewable treat. The ingredients are: L-theanine, Magnolia officinalis, Phellodendron amurense, and whey protein concentrate. All of these components have been found to have calming effects on your pet and combined they create a powerhouse supplement that uses the best of all to help manage anxiety. Solliquin is available for both cats and dogs too!
Music therapy can also dramatically change the tone of the environment. Several studies have been conducted that show dogs and cats are sensitive to sound and can be affected greatly by soothing sounds and classical music.
Aromatherapy, particularly lavender or a stress-relief blend, can also be used to add to the anxiety-relieving protocol. Use caution with this in dogs regarding the amount used - their noses are absolutely incredible, so they don't require a lot. Some dogs may not like the use of essential oils, so testing their level of comfort with the oils in a controlled manner is important before using them as part of your routine.
Aromatherapy in cats should generally be avoided as they are more sensitive to the toxic properties of these oils.
The last piece of the puzzle that we are going to address on here is EXERCISE!!! And mental stimulation!
As Chewy aged, the exercise part was not as easy to achieve, but we made up for that with treat games and mentally challenging toys to keep his mind active. Now with Bentley, we make sure that we run him for 20-30 minutes before leaving him by himself so we feel better about his energy level and not allowing that to translate to anxiety. A tired puppy is a happy puppy!
I hope that this article has helped with any anxiety that you might feel about your pet’s anxiety!!!! Sending calming thoughts your way….