Could your pet suffer from anxiety?

Anxiety is stress caused from being separated from its owner, loud noises, or changes in environment.

OVERVIEW

Anxiety is stressful behaviour that occurs in anticipation of future danger. The level of anxiety that your pet may experience is dependent on its genetics, history of socialisation and environment. Prolonged anxiety can result in medical and emotional problems such as immunosuppression and gastric ulcers.

Excessive anxiety can be dangerous as these pets are more likely to bite in stressful situations.

SIGNS

Common signs of anxiety:

  • Panting
  • Whimpering
  • Chewing excessively
  • Lip smacking
  • Yawning
  • Barking
  • Salivating
  • Urinating
  • Defaecating
  • Destructive behaviour
  • Pacing

CAUSES

Common causes of anxiety:

  • Separation
  • Change in environments such as a new house, pet or baby
  • Loud noises such as thunder or fireworks
  • Illness

MANAGEMENT

If your dog is otherwise healthy, treatment will be based on behavioural modification techniques:

  1. Avoidance
  • Removal of the anxiety trigger
  • Desensitisation
    • Exposure to low-level stimuli such as a quiet recording of storm noises or fireworks
  • Counter-conditioning
    • Associating positive experiences with the anxiety trigger such as offering roast chicken treats during a storm or playing games to distract them

    In severe cases, medical therapy or alternative pheromones (Adaptil) may be prescribed. Wraps such as Thundershirts may also help in reducing storms phobias and separation anxiety.

    TIPS

    Tips that may help manage anxiety at home:

    • Play music or keep the TV on when the pet is at home alone
    • Provide chew toys for when pet is at home alone
    • Avoid making a big fuss when you leave or return
    • Leave pet-approved pet toys such as the KONG
    • Freeze food overnight in KONG toys
    • Hire a professional pet walker
    • Doggy daycare
    • Take your pet to spend a day with a friend's pet (supervised)
    • Create a pet play area in the backyard
    • Hide small amounts of treats in the yard
    • Exercise the pet first thing in the morning or straight after work

    If the anxiety becomes excessive, seek veterinary attention. Your vet will be able to put a management program together, which includes modifying the environment and behaviour-modifying techniques with or without the use of medication.

    Handling your pet in a positive manner such as petting and massage from a young age may help reduce levels of anxiety as well as lots of socialisation with other animals and people.