Anxiety is something we’ve all had to confront in the last 18 months. The worry over Covid levels, the restrictions we all live under and the risk to our family and friends has become part of the background noise of every day.
It may surprise you to learn that your pets can suffer from anxiety as well. If it’s not addressed then it can have all sorts of effects, from physical symptoms like shedding fur and losing weight to problematic behaviours.
Today we’re taking a look at some of the causes of anxiety in pets, the effects it can have, and what you can do about it. If you’re worried about your pet’s behaviour or symptoms, get some specialist advice from your vet or an online veterinarian.
What Does Anxiety in Pets Look Like?
Identifying anxiety in pets can be difficult as it can look very different not only from species to species but from animal to animal: one anxious dog might behave very differently from another.
Some of the physical symptoms to look for are loss of weight and shedding fur or hair. Many pets only eat when they feel safe and secure, so a loss of appetite might indicate that your pet isn’t feeling safe enough to let their guard down and eat in your home.
Anxiety can also manifest in your pet’s behaviour. Some develop repetitive or even obsessive behaviour patterns that comfort them when they’re feeling unsafe. In others, anxiety creates destructive behaviour like chewing furniture, clawing sofas and rugs or defecating indoors. This can help relieve their anxiety, or make them feel more in control or at home in their environment.
Some pets also get more aggressive when they’re experiencing anxiety: if your dog starts to bark and growl at other dogs or people when they haven’t before, this could be a sign of spiking anxiety.
Causes of Anxiety in Pets
One of the big causes of anxiety in pets is loneliness. When your pet feels unsafe when they’re left alone and is unable to comfort themselves until you return, this is known as separation anxiety. If you’re going from a stay at home pet parent to being away at the office it’s important to build your pet up gradually – take short trips out and make a big fuss of them when you come home. For dogs this is particularly important as they are naturally social creatures and look to you for reassurance and comfort. There is a natural (and sometimes low) threshold for the amount of time dogs can be left alone. It’s important to use training to build them up to this over time.
Other anxieties can be caused by negative associations with particular times, places or people: visits to the vets are one example. The appearance of the carrier can cause aggressive or reluctant reactions from many pets as they anticipate pain, discomfort and the presence of other anxious animals. Try to maintain your own calm, provide treats and reassurance for your own pet, and do everything you can to lessen their distress: the more smoothly the experience goes, the greater the chance you can lessen that negative association.