Anxiety - How to Tell if Your Pet Has a Problem
Just like us humans, pets can experience anxiety, a condition that can greatly affect their health and well-being. Whether it's triggered by separation, loud noises, new environments or other stressors, pet anxiety is a genuine concern that causes us pet paw-rents almost as much stress as our furbabies.
Behavioural and body language indicators can help us identify and address the causes of anxiety in cats and dogs. By understanding these signals, we can proactively support our pets and offer them comfort.
Causes and Triggers of Pet Anxiety
Our pets rely heavily on nonverbal communication to express their feelings, making it crucial for us to read their behavioural cues accurately. By observing their body language and noticing any changes in their behaviour, we can gain valuable insights into their mental state and respond accordingly.
Some common triggers of anxiety in cats and dogs include:
Changes in environment e.g. moving to a new home
Traumatic experiences such as abuse, neglect or accidents
Lack of socialisation
Loud noises such as thunderstorms, fireworks, construction noises or other loud sounds
Medical conditions such as thyroid imbalances or cognitive dysfunction syndrome
Travel during car rides or when travelling in unfamiliar environments
Visiting the vet and encountering unfamiliar smells, sights and other animals
These events can affect our pets in the following ways:
Behavioural problems such as destructive behaviour, excessive vocalisation, aggression, and self-harm
Physical health issues such as a weakened immune system, increased risk of gastrointestinal issues and exacerbation of existing medical conditions
Impaired socialisation leading to difficulties in forming positive relationships with other animals and people
Reduced quality of life
By observing their body language and noticing any changes in behaviour, we can gain valuable insights into the mental state of our pets and respond accordingly.
Dogs, being highly expressive creatures, exhibit a wide range of behavioural and body language indicators when experiencing anxiety. While individual dogs may display unique signs, there are several common indicators to watch out for:
1. Excessive panting and pacing. Dogs experiencing anxiety often pant excessively, even when they haven't been physically active. They may also pace back and forth restlessly, unable to settle down.
2. Trembling or shaking. Anxiety can cause dogs to tremble or shake, similar to how humans might shiver when feeling nervous or afraid.
3. Yawning and lip licking. Dogs may yawn frequently, even when not tired, as a way to cope with stress.
4. Dilated Pupils. When dogs are anxious, their pupils often dilate, resulting in larger and more prominent eyes. This physiological response is part of the fight-or-flight mechanism and reflects heightened arousal.
5. Excessive vocalisation. Some anxious dogs may vocalise more than usual. They may bark, whine, whimper, or howl excessively, seeking attention and reassurance.
6. Tail Tucking. When dogs feel threatened or anxious, they may tuck their tail between their hind legs, trying to make themselves appear smaller or less noticeable.
7. Excessive licking or chewing. Dogs may lick or chew themselves excessively when anxious.
8. Loss of appetite or digestive issues. Anxiety can lead to a decreased appetite in dogs and they may refuse to eat or display disinterest in their usual food. Additionally, some dogs may experience digestive issues like diarrhoea or vomiting.
9. Avoidance or hiding. Anxious dogs may try to avoid certain situations or people that trigger their anxiety. They might hide in confined spaces, under furniture, or seek isolation to cope with their distress.
10. Excessive lethargy or hyperactivity. Some dogs may become unusually sluggish and withdraw, while others may become restless, hyperactive and unable to relax.
It's important to note that these behaviours can also be indicative of other underlying medical or behavioural conditions. If you observe persistent or severe signs of anxiety in your dog, it is recommended to consult with our vets for a proper evaluation.
Cats are known for their independent and mysterious nature, but they can also experience anxiety. Here are some of the most common signs to look out for:
1. Excessive grooming. Cats are meticulous groomers but when anxiety sets in, they may excessively groom themselves as a self-soothing mechanism. This can lead to bald patches, skin irritation and even compulsive behaviours.
2. Avoidance or hiding. An anxious cat may seek refuge in secluded areas, such as under furniture or in cupboards to escape perceived threats or stressful situations.
3. Aggression. Anxiety can trigger defensive behaviours in cats, causing them to become aggressive towards humans or other animals. They may hiss, growl, scratch, or bite when they feel threatened or overwhelmed.
4. Inappropriate elimination. Cats with anxiety may start urinating or defecating outside the litter box, even if they were previously house-trained.
5. Excessive vocalisation. Anxious cats may vocalise more than usual, meowing excessively, yowling, or howling.
6. Restlessness and pacing. Cats experiencing anxiety may exhibit restless behaviour, constantly moving from one place to another. They may pace, circle, or display an inability to settle down.
7. Changes in appetite. Some cats may lose interest in eating, while others may overeat as a way to cope with their anxiety.
8. Excessive lethargy or hyperactivity. An anxious cat may appear excessively tired, lacking energy and motivation, or they may engage in frenzied activity.
9. Tail and body posture. An anxious cat may hold their tail low, tucked between their legs, or exhibit tense body postures, such as hunching, flattening their ears, or arching their back.
10. Excessive startling or hypervigilance. An anxious cat may display an exaggerated startle response to minor stimuli or exhibit hypervigilance, constantly scanning their surroundings for potential threats.
It's important to note that each cat is unique, and not all cats will exhibit the same set of behaviours when anxious. Some cats may display more subtle signs, while others may show a combination of these indicators. If you notice any significant changes in your cat's behaviour that are consistent with anxiety, it's advisable to consult with our vets for a proper diagnosis and guidance on how to support your cat's well-being.
By understanding the causes, types, and effects of pet anxiety, you can take proactive steps to address and manage your pet's anxiety, improving their overall well-being and ensuring a happier and healthier life. If you have any concerns about your pet’s behaviour, please book a consultation with one of our experienced vets. We’re here to help!