November 19, 2009

Fear and anxiety are some of the most common emotional problems to plague domesticated pets in the United States. Sometimes a past trauma or bad experience is to blame, other times it’s a lack of proper socialization during the formative early months. In other cases it just seems to be an individual pet’s genetic makeup and inbuilt character that makes them nervous. Some dogs or cats become terrified of strange objects, unfamiliar places, the dark, cars, or just about anything. Even thought we try to reassure them, they are unable to rationalize what they’re afraid of. Sometimes, this can develop into a serious issue, for example extreme fear of fireworks or thunderstorms leading to a pet bolting away from home.

Socialization is extremely important especially between the ages of 12 and 20 weeks when a young puppy’s mind is so impressionable. It’s vital that he have many positive and varied experiences with all sorts of sights, sounds and places and an opportunity to meet lots of different people and pets. Some socialization is also important before age 12 weeks but care should be taken to avoid contact with strange dogs or feces that could carry contagious diseases to which he doesn’t yet have immunity.

In extreme situations of fear and anxiety that develop into long term stress, diarrhea and vomiting, compulsive self-licking or chewing and other behavioral problems can occur.

Herbs

Chamomile is a very helpful herb for easing anxiety. You can simply make a tea by steeping a chamomile teabag in hot water for a few minutes and adding the brew to his food.

St John’s Wort is another popular herbal remedy for anxiety and stress since it relieves troublesome symptoms without sedation.

Nutrition

B-complex vitamins are very helpful for stress. Vitamin B12 and Folic acid are especially helpful. The amino acid phenylalanine is also used for anxiety; it helps to form a state of natural relaxation and has a positive effect on mood and behavior. In traditional Chinese medicine, fear may stem from hereditary weakness involving the kidney or heart. Barley and Oats nourish these organs and the nervous system. Adding 1 teaspoon to ½ cup of these thoroughly cooked grains to the diet may help calm an anxious pet.

Flower Essences

Honeysuckle is useful for more straightforward cases of separation anxiety.
Gorse is useful for despair and grief, especially when an owner has passed away
Rock rose helps to calm terror that manifests as trembling, cowering and panting as though the world might end.
Mimulus helps with fears of everyday life – strange places, the dark, and strangers or crowds for example.
Larch helps to cultivate bravery and courage along with emotional security.
Walnut helps to build up a sense of security and emotional independence.
Chestnut Bud can help as a preventive for a young dog, so that he can learn form his experiences and process new information to assist him in becoming an emotionally stable young dog.
You can add 3 drops of any or all of these flower essences to you pet’s water bowl. Some people also apply flower essence to their pet’s paws or ears.

Homeopathy

Arsenicum album is a very useful homeopathic remedy for fear and anxiety that are caused by a deep-seated insecurity – those pets who are constant worriers.
Aconite especially good for animals who bite when they are frightened, especially when going to the veterinarian. Use 1-3 pellets (depending upon the animals size) 30 minutes before a vet visit to calm the animal.
Gelsemium is good for the animal who becomes weak, shaking with fear in the rear legs. Use 1 dose.

Training

If your pet has developed anxiety or fear about something, gradual de-sensitization is a good approach to help him resolve his issues. For example, if he’s petrified of crowds, start off by introducing him to a very small group of people, maybe as few as two and give him lots of praise and treats in exchange for approaching them and saying hello. Once he accepts the small group, try to have other people join in the same session, or take him somewhere where he’ll meet a few more people next time. Again, lots of praise and treats are vital as he shows willingness to interact. Try to ignore fearful behavior and don’t pick him up if he’s afraid! You could also try walking on the opposite side of the street to a school as children are arriving or leaving, so he can observe a crowd form a distance.

For fear of loud noises like fireworks, you could utilize the crate, offer something like a marrow bone to keep him occupied and perhaps turn on the TV or play some music to help drown out the noise. Make sure your pet is secure and unable to clamber out a window and come to harm.

A crate can be a useful training tool by providing a safe place for your dog to lie down when he’s anxious. It’s also important that a worried pet have the opportunity to exercise and play regularly, and have an outlet for their energy.

Fear of strange objects can be overcome with a similar approach. Drop treats in a trail leading up to the scary item so that he can approach slowly and get rewarded along the way. Don’t force him to approach but gently coax him along. If you sit close to the item he may be more likely to approach. Once he gets really close, you can give an extra special treat and lots of praise so that he starts to form a positive association with the object of his fear.