Is your dog becoming aggressive? Is your cat hiding under the bed? Or did you come home from work only to step in a steaming pile of number 2?
If your pet is experiencing anxiety, these are a few of the symptoms they could be showing. And it means they’re unhappy.
Just like people, your pet can experience anxiety, but they can’t tell you about it. To manage it, you’ll first need to identify the symptoms. Then you’ll need to figure out the root cause of their anxiety and manage it over the long term.
How Do I Know if My Pet is Anxious?
Before we go any further, let’s talk about how you know your pet is anxious in the first place. Not only is it important to be able to identify when they’re in distress, but their specific symptoms can give you valuable insight into the cause of their trouble.
We’ve already written a couple of detailed posts on symptoms of dog anxiety and cat anxiety in particular, but here’s a quick rundown of what we’ve covered.
Symptoms in dogs:
- Destructive behavior
- Crying or barking for no apparent reason
- Going to the bathroom inside the house
- Decreased hunger
- Loss of interest in favorite people, places, and things
- Excessive panting or drooling
Symptoms in cats:
- Loss of energy
- Decreased hunger
- Going to the bathroom outside the litter box
- Excessive grooming
- Destructive behavior
- Meowing frequently for no apparent reason
- Visible trembling
If your animal is experiencing just one or two symptoms, they may be having an issue that isn’t anxiety. However, if they’re seeing three or more, there’s a good chance that anxiety is what’s going on. A vet can help determine for sure.
Now that you know what to look for, here’s what you can do about it.
Take a Trip to the Vet
Depending on your animal’s symptoms, it’s worth taking a trip to the vet.
This is particularly true if your pet is doing its business on the floor. In both dogs and cats, loss of bladder control can indicate a urinary tract infection or kidney stones. In cats, going on the floor can also be caused by litter box problems, which we’ll talk about in a minute.
Another potential concern is depression, which can be treated with medication. Your pet can’t tell you they’re depressed, but you know their normal behavior better than anybody. If they’ve suddenly become less playful or stopped being active, there could be a medical reason that your vet can help with.
Don’t Punish Your Pet
A lot of the symptoms we’ve mentioned are things you don’t want your pet to do. It’s understandable if you get upset when your last roll of toilet paper gets shredded, but showing anger can actually make your animal’s symptoms worse.
Your dog or cat depends on you for all of their needs, so it’s essential that they feel safe and secure when you’re around. Yelling at your animal or withholding affection will only make them feel less secure, which can turn into a negative cycle.
At the same time, it’s important not to coddle your dog or your cat either. Seeing you act as if something is wrong, can also make them more anxious.
Instead, try to engage your pet in play. If you have a dog, go outside and play some fetch. If your furry companion is of the feline persuasion, some shoelaces should do the trick. Not only will this distract your pet from their negative emotions, but it will also reinforce a sense of normalcy.
Litter Box Blues
If your cat isn’t using their litter box and there’s no medical cause, the litter itself could be the problem. Cats don’t like the smell of their own business, and they’ll steer clear of anything that smells like a kitty toilet.
Make sure you’re cleaning your cat’s litter box every two days. This will keep the smell of cat feces and urine to a minimum.
If you have more than one cat, it’s best to keep a separate litter box for each cat. They like the smell of each other’s waste even less than they like their own. The best way to minimize odor crossover is to use an enclosed litter box, like this one.
Of course, it’s not always possible to use separate litter boxes. If you live in a small apartment, or are otherwise cramped for space, consider using a multi-cat litter. These litters are more effective at absorbing odors, so your cats won’t bother each other as much. This isn’t a perfect solution, but it goes a long way towards reducing kitty conflicts.
Working Through Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety
Dogs are social animals. So are cats, but not the same way dogs are. Dogs are social the way people are social, and just like people, most of them aren’t content to be alone for any period.
Imagine if instead of going to work all day, you had to stay home alone, with no TV or internet. You’d probably develop anxiety, too!
Time at work isn’t the only thing that causes separation anxiety. Dogs can also develop anxiety due to moving in with a new family, moving to a new house, or a family member moving in or out. If one of those things is happening, and your dog is suddenly losing bladder control and tearing up the couch cushions, it’s almost certainly separation anxiety.
The most important thing to do is to make sure you’re socializing with your dog consistently. This means at least half an hour a day of quality playtime, preferably outdoors. A game of fetch in the middle of a long walk can do wonders for your dog’s social needs – and it’s a good workout for both of you!
It’s also important not to make a big production out of leaving the house. That will only reinforce your dog’s feeling that you leaving is a bad thing.
Interactive toys are another good way to keep your dog’s mind stimulated. All dogs love food-dispensing feeding balls, but be careful not to overdo them. They might undo all the calories you’ve burned during your workouts.
If you’re spending time with your dog and they’re getting plenty of exercises, and they’re still getting anxious, the next step would be to consult a dog trainer. We’ve written a helpful guide for finding a well-qualified one.
Should worse come to worst, visit your vet. They can prescribe medication to reduce your dog’s anxiety. Usually, this is done in combination with behavior training.
Dealing With Separation Anxiety in Cats
Separation anxiety is less common in cats. But it does happen.
The main cause is a lack of stimulation, so you’ll seldom see separation anxiety in outdoor cats. For indoor cats, particularly cats in small apartments, it can become a real problem.
The first thing you need to do is make sure your cat has enough toys to keep themselves busy when you’re not around. Small plush toys, particularly ones with squeakers in them, are usually favorites.
When you’re around, spend some time playing with your cat just as you would with a dog. If they’re not interested, they’ll let you know. But most cats are receptive to playing at least once or twice a day.
Managing Object Anxiety
Pet owners know that the stereotype of dogs and cats being terrified of the vacuum is roughly 99.9 percent accurate. So how do you deal with this all-too-common terror?
There are two ways of handling it, depending on exactly how terrified your animal is.
Signs of mild aversion in a dog include barking, hiding while the vacuum on, or growling. In cats, it includes running away a few feet and then watching cautiously from a distance.
This type of behavior is normal and is not cause for concern. One approach to relieving this kind of mild fear is social conditioning. Talk nicely about the vacuum – or hair dryer, or clothes dryer – before you turn it on.
By signaling to your pet that the thing is not threatening, you’re reassuring them that they’re not in any danger.
Terror or Aggression
If your pet is so terrified that they’re losing bladder or bowel control, or if they’re actually physically attacking a particular object, you’re dealing with a more serious problem.
The best thing to do in this case is to isolate them from the object entirely before you use it. For example, before you run the vacuum cleaner in the living room, take your terrier to the bedroom, so they don’t pee all over the carpet.
If they’re still peeing in terror even at a distance, it’s time to see a dog trainer or behavioral therapist.
Our pets are our best friends. They share some of our most private moments and make our lives richer and happier. They rely on us totally for all of their needs, so it’s important to recognize the symptoms if there’s something wrong.
We hope our guide has helped you learn more about how to improve your pet’s life. The more you know, the more you can do for your best friend.