Anxious pets can put a strain on the owner-pet relationship because of their destructive or reactive behavior, hypervigilance, and unpredictability. A little research will show you that an overwhelming number of ways are available to address your pet’s struggle—from medication, to herbal supplements, to classical music. Learn the differences between popular treatments with this guide from Groves Veterinary Clinic

What is anxiety in pets?

Anxiety is an abnormal and overwhelming sense of unease and distress in response to a real or perceived threat. Pet anxiety can be defined by three general types:

  • Separation anxiety — Dogs with separation anxiety react with significant distress soon after being left by their owner. 
  • Generalized anxiety — This is a constant state of hypervigilance and sensitivity in pets, who are perpetually on edge, reactive to numerous triggers, and do not adapt well to new situations.
  • Situational anxiety Pets respond with anxiety centered around a known stimulus, such as noise aversion. Noise-averse pets are hypersensitive to loud noises such as thunderstorms or fireworks, which often induce terror and panic in the pet. 

Addressing pet anxiety

The first step toward helping your pet’s anxiety should be a visit to Groves Veterinary Clinic. A number of medical conditions cause hypersensitivity and anxiousness, and they need to be ruled out first. Owners must understand that anxiety management is no quick fix—both medical and natural therapies take time and patience. Owners who accept this, and help their pet learn new responses to old stimuli, are rewarded with a more comfortable, secure pet. 

Medical therapies for pet anxiety

If medical conditions are ruled out, the veterinarian may recommend medical therapy options for pets with moderate to severe signs. Medical therapy is a combination of anti-anxiety or sedative medication, and behavior modification. 

  • Anti-anxiety medications Your veterinarian will prescribe the best medication for your pet, but you should know how they work. The most common medication categories include:
    • Tricyclic antidepressants and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) Both classes of medication work to increase the amount of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain, improving the emotional state of pets.
    • Benzodiazepines — These work by depressing specific areas of activity in the brain. Benzodiazepines also have a sedative effect, which may be desirable in cases of severe anxiety, or when owners need to leave a pet with severe separation anxiety. 

Medication requires at least four to six weeks before you will appreciate any improvement. Therapy should continue for four to six months for long-term benefits, but medication is not a long-term solution.

  • Behavior modification Under the guidance of your veterinarian, veterinary behaviorist, or a positive reinforcement trainer, you can try behavior modification training, a process that teaches your pet new responses to old triggers. The training relies on short exposures to the triggers, paired with something positive. The intensity and frequency of the trigger can be gradually increased, so long as the pet does not respond negatively. 

Natural therapies for pet anxiety

Natural anxiety therapies for pets may be helpful for mild to moderate cases, and as a complementary therapy for medically managed cases. Always discuss natural treatments with your veterinarian, to ensure safe dosing and administration, and to avoid the risk of interactions. 

As with medical treatment, natural therapies are most effective when paired with behavior modification. Natural options take a holistic view of the pet through modification of their internal and external environment.

  • Exercise Nature’s perfect endorphin release, exercise allows pets to eliminate pent-up energy and stress. Exercise promotes improved rest, which also relieves physical and emotional stress.
  • Mental enrichment Pets need mental stimulation and challenge, and chronic boredom can negatively impact their health. Puzzle toys, hiding treats, teaching new tricks, or simply walking a different route can help a pet’s mind stay engaged and occupied with constructive, rather than destructive, behaviors.
  • Supplements Natural supplements for pet anxiety typically contain L-theanine and SAM-e, which increase feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine in the brain and nervous system.
    • Melatonin  Use melatonin only under the guidance of your veterinarian, since this can interfere with other pet medications, and cause a complication known as serotonin syndrome. 
    • CBD products Evidence for cannabidiol is currently anecdotal and products marketed for pets are unregulated. For safe recommendations and dosage guidance, discuss CBD products with your veterinarian. 
  • Healing touch Some pets respond to tactile stimulation to calm their nerves. A pressure wrap, such as a ThunderShirt, will comfort some pets, while gentle grooming or massage will soothe others.  
  • Essential oils Only use these oils with your veterinarian’s guidance. Use only dog-safe oils, dilute the oils for topical use, and never let your dog eat them. Many essential oils are toxic to cats.
  • Safe places — Provide a calm place for your pet. Consider where your pet naturally goes to hide, and add a crate or soft bed, familiar toys, and some pet-pleasing pheromones, such as Feliway or Adaptil

An anxious pet can create an anxious home—don’t be anxious trying to choose from your pet’s treatment options, too. Schedule an appointment to discuss your pet’s behavior with Groves Veterinary Clinic, and let’s break the cycle of anxiety.