We’ve all had one of those days: Everything seems to goes wrong, work is taxing, the house is a mess, the kids are acting up, and we throw our hands in the air, saying, “I’m so stressed out!” But then we can watch some mindless TV, curl up on the sofa with a pint of ice cream, or figure out some other way to calm our anxiety. As humans, we have that capability; however, our pets do not. When they’re stressed or anxious, they may react in an unpredictable or even dangerous way.
Keep in mind, that situations that seem commonplace and generally not bothersome to most humans can cause extreme reactions in our pets. For example, thunderstorms, fireworks or other loud noises, strange or new animals in their space, and being left alone (separation anxiety) are potential stressors. If your pet experiences anxiety, you can take certain measures to mitigate or even eliminate the behavior. First, though, it’s important to recognize signs of stress. With an animal’s biological “flight or fight” response, some of these behaviors can be unexpected or unusual and not immediately thought of as stress indicators.
Help a Pal Out
So, how can you best help your stressed out pet? First it’s important to get to the bottom of the cause of anxiety.
If your dog’s fear is the result of an infrequent situational stress such as a thunderstorm, try The Thundershirt – This garment looks something like a life vest. It wraps around your dog’s torso and works by exerting constant pressure on the dog’s body. Proponents say that this pressure has a calming effect on the dog’s nervous system.
For general anxiety, you can try using dog-appeasing pheromone (DAP) or feline facial pheromone (FFP). DAP is secreted by a mother dog in the first few days of her puppies’ lives, and FFP is a marking pheromone released by cats when they rub their faces on a person or object. Synthetic version of these substances, which are distributed through a diffuser (a lot like an air freshener plug-in), are available online. While few scientific studies have proved their effectiveness, it’s worth a shot!
If your dog gets anxious when having his nails trimmed, as another example, you can try a desensitization exercise. Make sure he’s in a calm environment and simply hold the trimmer or grinder in your hand and let him smell it. Give him an extra special treat reserved for this training only. Repeat this process several times, and then move on to turning on the grinder or holding the clippers nearer to him. Repeat the special treat. Gradually increase the proximity of the tool until he becomes increasingly more comfortable. Eventually, your dog will likely get over his fear and associate nail trimming time as a positive experience. But don’t forget those treats!
For the most severe anxiety cases, medication may be required. Never administer any type of medication without first consulting your veterinarian. Using over-the-counter treatments such as Benadryl can work well as a calming agent. Fluoxetine (known as Prozac to us humans) is often recommended for dogs with severe separation anxiety. In fact, the pharmaceutical company behind Prozac now makes a chewable, beef-flavored version for dogs called Reconcile. Sedatives such as a benzodiazepam (Valium) can also be considered, but this should be a short-term solution.
When it comes to caring for our pets, we want them to be as safe and comfortable as possible. If your pet is experiencing stress that is affecting daily life, work with your veterinarian or a behavioral specialist to find a successful treatment.
This blog post is intended to be informative and is not medical advice. We do not endorse or receive compensation from any products mentioned.