Google defines anxiety as:
Intense, excessive, and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. Fast heart rate, rapid breathing, sweating, and feeling tired may occur.
PetMD lists the symptoms of anxiety as:
- Mild fears: signs may include trembling, tail tucked, withdrawal, hiding, reduced activity, and passive escape behaviors
- Panic: signs may include active escape behavior, and increased out-of-context, potentially injurious motor activity
- Classic signs of sympathetic autonomic nervous system activity, including diarrhea
- Anxieties: lesions secondary to anxious behavior (such as licking and biting at the self)
As somebody that suffers from General Anxiety Disorder, I can tell you it is not the same as being anxious about a test or a first date. This is all-encompassing fear of something that probably won’t even happen. Telling your dog, “Don’t worry so much,” is just as effective as telling me to “Calm Down,” so I don’t recommend it.
If your pet is anxious about certain situations like fireworks, thunderstorms or construction you already know how inconsolable they can be. In fact, sometimes we inadvertently ramp them up trying to calm them down. Here are some ideas for you to try. Everybody’s different, so keep working on it.
This is a kind of anxiety that can be worked through. Your pet s still obviously stressed out but can still participate in life. This is anxiety that is usually overlooked as shy and not addressed until it blows up out of control. As pet parents, it is our job to be on alert for our pets’ mental well being. Watch for the signs of stress and help your pet overcome it so they can live a happy life with you.
Thunder shirts are effectively giving your pet a big hug all the time and for something so simple, it really can work miracles. Just the other day I had a client say that the 3rd of July was hard for his dog. Not crazy anxiety, just definitely off and unsettled so they went out and got them a thunder shirt. He was so very pleased to report that the 4th of July was much easier on his dog, who was much calmer and relaxed, even though it was much louder than the pre-celebrations of the 3rd.
You can go with the classic Thunder Shirt:
The drawbacks are cost only. I’ve heard nothing but good things about these. Just make sure to get the right size and give your pet a bit to break it in so it becomes the nice security blanket they need before the fireworks start.
Don’t let the cost hang you up though. There is always a cheaper version. The point is to help your pet feel safe and secure.
Something coming up that you think will be scary for your pet? Fast them the morning before and then give them food and treats during the scary part.
BOOM goes the firework.
Yay! Try to make it fun. Sometimes reassuring your pet too much validates the anxiety and makes it grow, so swallow your own anxiety and worry for your fur kid. Keep calm and strong and make it playtime! Yay! It’s time to battle your fear and come out happier and stronger on the other side my friend!
Oh, and make it a rare treat. Something they really love that they only get during times of stress so they start to look forward to it.
This can also be for veterinary visits. Call ahead to make sure your veterinary office approves and isn’t crazy busy at the time. We love it when your pet comes in just to say hi and get treats. Walk them in on leash (Always leash. Always), weigh them so they are used to the scale and provide lots of treats for good behavior. Let them sniff around the office and get used to the staff and then go do something your pet enjoys. Play at the park, take a long walk, hike, anything to help leave a pleasant memory for your pet and hopefully work off some of those excess treats.
We keep Solliquin on the shelves of the hospital for a nice over the counter supplement to help combat mild anxiety, but these calming treats are everywhere so look around. Go for the natural supplements by a trusted brand. NutraMAX has always treated us well. Just read the directions. Supplements can sometimes take a month to build up in the system to achieve the desired effect. Make sure you give the treats more than the allotted time and then evaluate their effectiveness.
This is hands down my most loyal ally. What better way to tell a pet they are safe then to come in the room smelling like a happy, relaxed friend without a care in the world. Pheromone sprays are fantastic for these special intense situations, like fireworks, vet visits, grooming appointments, crate training etc. Let them know on a subconscious level that all is well.
This is definitely my go-to favorite. We have gallons of it in the hospital to ease the fear of going to the vet, but it isn’t just for cats! Dogs can get Adaptil for the same purpose.
This is more of the mild, but a constant, unrelenting unease with life in general. Those shivering pups that just seem scared most of the time and the ‘bad’ cats that run at constant unrest. Pheromones can definitely help with this too, but you will want a more constant supply of it.
Home diffusers put constant sent of ease through your house always.
And collars to go where ever you and your pet travel.
Pheromones are natural so the side effects are minimal if used as directed and can really be used with any anxiety level for a little boost of extra calm.
Just like with medications, there are food products that can produce lasting calm. Royal Canin is our go-to in hospital, but if you are not a fan of the price, look around. Many food lines offer calming ingredients to go with your pet’s normal diet to help with mental and physical well-being. Hopefully getting your fur friend to enjoy life and not be so scared all the time.
There is a lot of evidence surfacing about probiotics improving natural inner peace and calm. The initial finding are that having a healthy gut improves your overall happiness and resistance to anxiety. Fortiflora even has a Calming Care product out now to help your pet make it through those especially scary times and can be another reminder to feed your pet right always to keep his guts in nice working order.
I recommend you go to a trusted behaviorist for severe anxiety that leads to panic bad enough that they harm themselves or others. Fear aggression is the saddest thing. Their eyes show panic but their teeth mean business. Veterinary care and medication is a great secondary to this, but the behaviorist specializes in this and will get a thorough history of the triggers and have the training and medical knowledge to help your pet overcome it. They will know the right medication for your specific issue, plus help you work with counter conditioning to train your terrified friend on how to overcome fear and become more confident in the world.
Feel free to contact your favorite veterinarian for recommendations. Some already have trusted behaviorists they work with, sending clients back and forth to make sure they get the exact mental and physical treatments they need. Some veterinarians will do a behavioral consult to help you know what anxiety level your pet is at and recommend actions-medications accordingly.
When in doubt, set up an appointment with your veterinarian. They all have experience with anxiety. They can direct and help you chose what methods to try to help your pet be their most confident selves.