Health Topics

Anxiety and Stress in Pets

(This article was originally published in the May / June 2012 Issue of Pets Magazine and is reproduced here with the permission of the publisher.)

By: Dr. Darren Low, DVM - Sydney, Nova Scotia

The Oxford Concise English dictionary defines anxiety as "a nervous disorder characterized by a state of uneasiness." It defines stress as a "distress caused by the demand on mental energy." Do our pets actually suffer from anxiety and stress? Don't we provide a perfect home for them, love them, feed them good food and take the best care of them we can? What can they possibly have to be stressed or anxious about?

Actually, there are quite a number of things in the day-to-day domestic lives of dogs and cats that can cause anxiety and stress.

In general terms, things that cause stress and anxiety in our pets lives are changes to the routine. Many phenomena can lead to anxiety or stress: the sudden dramatic change in weather like a thunderstorm, the temporary change in living quarters such as going to a kennel, or basically any new situation such as meeting new people or pets on a summer trip in the car. There can be a variety of ways to help our pets get through many different and unique moments of stress and anxiety, but they all focus on helping them learn that life will return to normal, and that they are safe.

Let's first take thunderstorms. It is natural for animals to become agitated with the loud claps of thunder and the flashes of lightning. We can help our pets by staying calm ourselves, and reasurring our pets in a composed way that all will be well. It's also okay and natural for them to seek temporary refuge under a bed or table, so they'll feel protected. When, however, their reaction is excessive and they panic, they may require sedatives or natural supplements to help calm them during the stress and ride through their emotional storm.

Cats, and especially dogs, love their families, and being without them can drum up feelings of anxiety. Since dogs are pack animals, separation anxiety is a serious issue that can lead to very destructive behavior and emotional turmoil. If left alone at home another canine friend may help, or perhaps a doggy daycare should be considered. For severe cases, veterinary involvement is crucial to help modify the damaging behavior, often with the aid of a prescription anti-anxiety medication. For less-severe cases your vet may recommend calming agents to get them through the alone hours at home.

Many situations, thankfully, are temporary and the stress is quickly resolved. After all, dealing with daily stress is natural; it's what lets us know we are alive. If a short trip to the groomer or vet makes your pet anxious it is often helped with just some composed reassurance on our part, and positively reinforcing our pets' good and calm behavior with a food treat and praise. Thankfully, there are also a number of safe and helpful products on the market that can be given to pets for those short-term stressful situations.

As always, your veterinarian is the best source to help you and your pet through serious issues of stress and anxiety. Many severe cases require drugs to help, and a lot of patience on our part. There are also very safe and naturally derived supplements on the market to help our pets through many of the less severe cases. It's impossible to eliminate all stress and anxiety in our pets' lives. But with the professional advice of your veterinarian, they can help both you and your pet through any of life's stressful moments.