Just like humans dogs and cats can be nervous and worried about all sorts of different things. And just like us they can show us they are anxious in lots of ways. Some signs they display are obvious, while others can be very subtle.
Some of the things you may notice your pet doing when they are anxious include:
Changing how they interact with the people around them – they may seek more or less attention than normal.
They may choose an alternative resting place to their normal favourite spot (for example cats may start to stay and sleep under the bed when they normally lounge about on the sofa.)
They may be more vocal than normal.
They may pace.
Decreased playing and increased hiding are common signs.
Destructive behaviour – for example digging up the carpet or scratching at doors and walls.
They may have an altered stance – laying or walking with their head down and with their legs slightly bent so they are lower to the ground.
We have complied a list of our top 5 tips to help reduce anxiety in your pets!
1. DO NOT PUNISH
When your pet is anxious they are not in any fit mental state to understand punishment. They will become more confused and likely, more anxious.
We also find that many of the behaviours that are exhibited when pets are anxious occur when their owners are not present, so if you come back to a house that has been destroyed by your pet, or if they have accidentally gone to the toilet because they were worried about something while you were away, they will not associate any form of punishment with the behaviour you are trying to stop. They are more likely to associate the punishment with you and this could be detrimental to the relationship between you and your pet.
2. GET HELP FROM A PROFESSIONAL
Pets can be anxious for a number of complex reasons. The best thing you can do for your pet is to seek professional help. Often veterinary surgeons and veterinary behaviouralists use a combination of anxiolytic medication and training techniques to help calm your pets. It is also important to make sure there is no underlying medical problem that could be causing the behaviour they are displaying. For example a dog that has very bad arthritis may change where they like to sleep, may play less and may walk in a lowered stance but this is due to pain and not anxiety. It is also important to get the right help by speaking to a qualified behaviouralist.
3. CREATE A SAFE RESTING PLACE
We often advise owners to create a den like space, where their pets can have free access to at all times. This area should be large enough for your pet to comfortably move around (stand up, lay down, turn around.) It should contain some of their favourite items (for example your dogs favourite toys or treats) and should smell like home (putting in your old clothes as bedding helps them feel secure and close to you when you are not able to be there). When creating a den for your cat its important to remember that they often like to be up high so you may have to have a little bit more of a think when choosing the location!
4. AVOID THE CAUSE
Whenever possible it is better to avoid the situation that makes your pet anxious until you have been able to put into place some actions to help them cope. For example if your dog is very nervous of traffic it is better to avoid walking them on a busy road until you have spoken to a behaviouralist and come up with a plan to help teach them that cars are not scary!
5. PLAN AHEAD
When trying to treat many causes of anxiety in pets it is important to plan ahead. It is harder to help a pet that has a fear of fireworks in November as there are so many going off every night! This means that a noise phobic dog will be too nervous to respond well to many training techniques. Whereas there are lots of things we can do to try and get them used to firework noises slowly and gently (for example over the summer months.)