Anxiety. Stress. Fear. These can be such hard things for humans to deal with but at least we can talk about it and communicate with words. Our pets though? Not so much.
Anxiety, stress and fear are far bigger issues in pets than many people realize.
Just like humans, these can show up in a variety of ways. While it varies pet-to-pet and species-to-species, stress and anxiety often takes some form of the following:
- compulsive behavior (sometimes to the point of self-harm)
- trembling or shaking
- flattening ears and shrinking away
- being easily startled
- becoming aggressive
All of these signs (and many more!) must be taken in context, of course. When determining your pet’s stress levels, it’s important to look for anything out of the ordinary in your pet’s behavior. “Be particularly aware of behavior that seems out of character for your dog,” says Mikkel Becker, dog trainer and co-author of From Fearful to Fear Free: A Positive Program to Free Your Dog from Anxiety, Fears, and Phobias.
Stress and anxiety in pets generally fall into three categories:
- Fear: Avoiding or being fearful of something is one way anxiety might show up in your pet’s world. Does your dog show different behaviors, like the ones listed above when:
- going to the vet?
- getting into and riding in the car?
- loud noises like thunder or fireworks happen?
- people come over to visit?
These are fairly common scenarios that can make an anxious dog become fearful. Check out these articles for tips from the professionals on how to handle these situations and to understand what really might be going on with them:
- Why Doesn’t My Dog Like the Veterinarian?
- Do Dogs Get Carsick?
- Why is My Dog Afraid of Thunder?
- Holiday Tips: Handling Holiday Guests When Your Dog Dislikes Strangers
- Separation: This is about stress or anxiety that comes on when your pet is left alone—whether it’s all day while you’re at work or just for a few minutes. Separation anxiety can be provoked when your pet is away from everyone or just one specific person. It may also be cued when your pet simply thinks you’re getting ready to leave as they often pick up on little parts of our routines before we leave the house. Did your pup become glued to you as soon as you showered? Grabbed the keys or your jacket? They could be fearful in anticipation of what will happen next.
Learn more about separation anxiety and what the pros recommend you do to help manage and ease it for your dog:
- How Bad Can Separation Get?
- Crying for Help: Why Dogs Bark When You Leave
- Why is My Dog Pooping In My Shoes?
- Age and health: Stress or anxiety caused by health issues such as dementia, pain or other medical challenges would fall under this category. Your veterinarian can help you understand what’s happening and what may be causing your dog’s anxiety, so make sure you get your dog checked out.
We have plenty of resources to get you started learning about age and health-induced anxiety. Learn about how to help your dog cope with and manage their aging bodies and anxieties:
- What is Canine Cognitive Dysfunction?
- Why Is My Older Dog Having Accidents?
- When Pain Causes Anxiety: 4 Common Symptoms
Fear is natural, but some pet’s anxieties can hinder quality of life.
It’s important to recognize that fear itself is natural. “We are all born with a baseline of fear (survival), are predisposed to others (nature) and accrue others through life experiences (nurture),” dog trainer Sam Wike writes in his article Respect the Fear, Change the Perception on Victoria Stilwell’s Positively.com.
Some pets are more prone to anxieties and fears because of this, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. These fears just take a bit of understanding and management to help you and your dog live better together. Does your dog avoid busy streets? A walk in the park might be an easy solution. That said, it’s important to recognize how fear can be disruptive or detrimental to quality of life for some pets and their people. In those cases, it’s time to get some help.
Don’t stress it.
Fear, anxiety and stress are all things you can help your pet with. While it’s not a fast process and requires patience, often small changes to build confidence and help your pet change their perception can make a BIG difference.
It’s hard to see your pet suffer with any of this, which is why we’re here to help.
We’ll bring you some of the best resources, proven strategies and suggestions for how to reduce your pet’s fear and help you all live with a little less anxiety.