How To Calm An Anxious Pet

LAST UPDATED 2 AUGUST 2023

This article is written by Pet Circle veterinarian, Dr Belinda Stancombe

Just like humans, pets can experience stress and anxiety. Studies have shown that 80% of pets will suffers from a behavioural condition in their lifetime.

Anxiety can occur in all breeds and sizes of dogs and cats. It may arise for a range of different reasons and presents differently in individual pets.

So how do you know if your pet has anxiety? Our vets have outlined the common signs and causes, plus some treatment options to help owners calm anxious pets at home

Contents:

What Are The Causes of Anxiety In Pets?

There are a range of different reasons that pets may become anxious. Some common causes include:

  • Change of routine
  • Being left home alone
  • Loud noises- thunderstorms, fireworks, vacuums or construction
  • Visitors to the home
  • A new pet or baby
  • Moving house
  • Travelling- vet visit, groomers, boarding facilities

Most causes of anxiety can be categorised into Fear-Based Anxiety or Separation Anxiety

Fear-Based Anxiety is triggered by the fear of an unknown event or noise, such as visiting a new place, meeting new people, moving house or loud noises. These anxiety events are often short-lived but may develop into more severe long-term episodes if the cause of anxiety is ongoing.

Separation Anxiety is the inability for a pet to be relaxed and calm when left home alone. While more common in dogs, separation anxiety can also occur in cats and presents when the pet is separated from the owner for a period of time. Undesirable behaviours are exhibited just before the owner leaves the home or while they are gone, and may include vocalising, destruction and inappropriate toileting. In severe cases, pets may injure themselves when left home alone.

Signs Of Anxiety in Pets

Anxiety affects different pets in different ways. Some pets may experience a brief episode of anxiety such as a visit to the vet, where as others may suffer anxiety on a daily basis. Common signs that pets can show when anxious include:

    Signs of Anxiety:

  • Inappropriate toileting
  • Excessive vocalising
  • Destructive behaviour
  • Reduced appetite or over eating
  • Excessive grooming
  • Avoiding human contact
  • Lethargy
  • Hiding
  • Aggression

For more information on anxiety in pets, see our article Separation Anxiety in Dogs and How to Reduce Anxiety in Cats.

How To Calm an Anxious Pet

There are many treatments options available to help calm pets and alleviate stress and anxiety. A visit with a veterinarian or veterinary behaviourist is a good starting point to help develop a treatment plan based around the pets individual needs.

There are a range of different products available that owners can try at home to help calm anxious pets such as calming diets, supplements, pheromones and calming treats. The addition of soothing music, training and occupying toys and treats can all help to calm and relax.

See our detailed tips below for 10 ways to help calm an anxious pet.

1. Calming Diets

There are a range of therapeutic diets available, designed to minimise stress and anxiety in dogs and cats.

Royal Canin Calm available for both dogs and cats, contains hydrolysed milk protein and adapted L-tryptophan, to help relieve stress and create a calming effect.

Royal Canin Relax Care available in dry and wet formulations contains fish hydrolysate, a natural supplement derived from fish protein which has demonstrated proven results for managing stress in dogs.

Hills Prescription C/D Stress Urinary Care is formulated to support urinary health in cats and contains hydrolysed casein, a bioactive peptide that has been shown to decrease anxiety related behaviours, as well as L-tryptophan, an essential amino acid precursor for serotonin which may help to decrease signs of anxiety and stress. This diet is a great choice for cats that suffer from stress related urinary issues.

2. Natural Calming Supplements

There are a range of natural supplements that can be added to your pet's daily regime to help minimise feelings of stress and anxiety. Products such as Paw Blackmores Complete Calm, Thunder Wunder Calming Chews, and Vetalogica Tranquil Formula contain L-Tryptophan, a compound that has been demonstrated to help pets that suffer from behavioural issues such as aggression and general anxiety.

Zylkene is a non-medicated supplement for cats and dogs that is derived from casein, a protein found in milk and specially formulated to aid in the management of anxiety and stress. Zylkene is widely recommended by veterinarians, especially for cats as it is highly palatable and comes in an easy to give capsule that can also be opened and sprinkled on food.

3. The Magic of Pheromones

Adaptil and Feliway are odourless, man-made versions of the pheromones that dogs and cats naturally release when they feel content. Use of these products in and around the home as well as during travel can promote feelings of calm and combat undesirable behaviours caused by anxiety.

4. Calming Treats

Every pet loves treats! Calming treats are not only a delicious way to spoil your pet but are specially formulated with a unique blend of natural ingredients such as hemp seed oil, L-Tryptophan, chamomile and valerian root, which may help relax and soothe anxious pets. Recommended treats include Vetalogica, Doggylicious and Anipal Relax and Restore.

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5. Calming Clothing

Pressure therapy involves the application of controlled, gentle pressure on the body which releases calming endorphins.

This therapy is often employed in individuals with disabilities or anxiety, through the use of weighted blankets, clothing and toys.

Products such as Thundershirt, AFP Anti Anxiety Vest and Zendog Shirt work on this same principle and may help to calm anxious pets.

6. Training

Training is a vital part of addressing anxiety issues. If your pet has anxious behaviours, early intervention is best! There are strategies you can put in place to help minimise your pets anxiety.

  • Crate training or teaching your dog to go to their bed can be a very helpful training tool.
  • Keep arrivals and departures low key: We have all been guilty of a prolonged goodbye or an excitable greeting upon arriving home, but this can actually build anxiety in pets. Keeping arrival and departure rituals low fuss can help your pet understand that your departure is nothing to be concerned about.
  • Rewarding calm behaviour will help positively reinforce this in the future. When your pet is relaxing in their crate or bed, give them a high value tasty treat!
  • Learning distance: Although it may be tempting to have our pet by our side all the time while we are at home, it may be beneficial for them to spend some time away from you during the day. It can be a small amount to start with. Just be sure that fresh water, shelter and bedding is available, and consider a long-lasting toy or treat to keep them occupied.
  • Keep to a routine: Keeping a consistent and predictable routine will help your pet know what will happen next and reduce their stress levels.
  • Activity is important: Exercise is such an important part of physical health for not only humans but pets too! Ensuring your pet has a good amount of exercise before you leave the house can help them relax while you are away.
  • Counter Conditioning or Desensitising: For pets that are fearful of certain noises or locations, counter conditioning or desensitising training by rewarding your pet during short periods of exposure, can help to minimise your pets stress levels. This training must be attempted slowly over a long period of time and is particularly helpful for pets that suffer from storm phobias or other loud noises.

7. Provide A Safe Haven

Providing your pet with a 'safe haven' can help them feel more relaxed at home. A cosy bed to snuggle in such as a bolster or hideaway bed can help them feel safe and secure. Creating a 'den-like' space for larger dogs by using a crate covered partially with a blanket is often very effective.

For cats, it is important to provide different levels and hiding places. Some cats feel safest up high where they can survey their surroundings, so providing them with a cat tree or window bed can help achieve this.

It is important that your pet is able to access this area when they are feeling stressed or anxious. This 'safe haven' should be off-limits to other pets or family members such as small children, and used as an area that your pet can retreat to at any time of day. Try using a pheromone diffuser near this area to help encourage feelings of calm.

8. Keep them Occupied with Clever Toys

Interactive toys are a great way to keep pets busy and distracted when home alone or during times of stress. There are plenty of interactive toys which dispense treats or encourage your pet to work for their food.

Durable rubber chew toys satisfy a dog's natural urge to chew while keeping them occupied. The addition of KONG easy treat paste or Mimi and Munch pooch peanut butter and dogs can spend hours trying to clean up every last morsel!

Lick mats are designed to keep pets stimulated and entertained, reduce boredom and anxiety, as well as slow those that eat too quickly. The flexible mat design and raised grooves allow food to be spread or sprinkled on the surface and encourage licking to retrieve the tasty treats, all while releasing relaxing endorphins. Lick mats can be loaded with pastes such as creamy treats, KONG easy treat paste or even some natural yoghurt. Try freezing during warm weather for an increased challenge.

9. Play Soothing Music

Studies have shown that playing music helps to calm and reduce anxiety in pets, with a decrease in barking, respiratory rates and the stress hormone cortisol. Music genres such as soft rock and classical have been shown to have the most soothing effect. Playing music can also help to calm pets that suffer from storms and noise phobias.

Leaving the radio or TV on, or play some relaxing music, can help calm anxious pets when left home alone.

10. Keep Them Occupied With Long Lasting Treats

Long lasting treats such as Bully Sticks and Ear Chews are a great way to keep your dog occupied and distracted during times of stress and anxiety. Dental treats such as Greenies, Whimzees and Oravet are also long lasting while helping keep your pet's teeth clean.

When To See The Vet

The best solution to managing stress and anxiety comes down to the individual pet and the severity of the symptoms that they are experiencing. In dogs, severe cases may not be able to be left alone without injuring themselves and in cats, stress can lead to life threatening medical issues.

If your pet is suffering from severe anxiety or stress, consultation with a behavioural veterinarian may be required. A treatment plan will be tailored to your pet's individual needs and may include the use of prescription medication.

If you are unsure what is the best option for your pet, reach out to the Pet Circle Vet Squad for more information.

Further Reading

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