Anxiety, including separation anxiety, is surprisingly common in pets, and it can occur for a variety of reasons.
Sometimes a past trauma or bad experience is to blame, other times it’s a lack of proper socialization during the formative early months. Sometimes, no logical reason for anxiety is known and an individual pet’s genetic makeup and inbuilt character just gives them a nervous disposition.
Some dogs or cats become terrified of strange objects, certain types of people, other animals, unfamiliar places, the dark, or cars. Even with reassurance, they are unable to rationalize what they’re afraid of. Sometimes, this can develop into a serious, life-threatening issue, for example extreme fear of fireworks or thunderstorms leading to a pet bolting 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, anxiety can lead to long-term stress, which may result in diarrhea and vomiting, compulsive self-licking or destructive chewing and other behavioral problems.
A crate can be a useful tool for fearful dogs (except those who are afraid of confined spaces). It offers a safe place for her to hide in, when she’s anxious. Crate training should be approached carefully and slowly with dogs who have an anxious disposition, so as to gradually build up their confidence to go in and stay there – even with the door closed. Feeding inside the crate, or offering a juicy marrow bone in there, can help the your dog to form positive associations with the crate. It’s also important that a nervous pet have the opportunity to exercise and play regularly in a safe place where she can’t come to any harm. This will provide an outlet for her nervous energy.
How to Treat Anxiety
There are a number of really helpful complementary therapies that can work wonders in helping to alleviate fear and anxiety. Here are a few recommendations.
Chamomileis a very helpful and well-known herb for easing anxiety. It also helps to soothe a tense tummy and alleviates mild GI upset, which may be linked to nervousness.
Oatstrawis a nutritive and nervous system tonic. Oat contains a number of constituents including flavonoids and alkaloids which help to provide a balance between lethargy and nervousness. It can have a calming effect on nervous animals but helps to stimulate the nervous system in those who are debilitated.
Passionfloweris a mild sedative, pain reliever and anti-spasmodic. It is calmative and often used for insomnia in people.
Valerianis a well-known, safe, gentle and natural sedative, which is useful for nervous anxiety. It also has mild pain-relieving properties and is anti-spasmodic, helping the patient to relax during physical pain and alleviate intestinal spasm or tummy upset caused by anxiety. Some herbalists use it for epilepsy, to help reduce the incidence of seizures. Valerian is not related to Valium in any way.
Skullcapis in the mint family. It’s a nervine herb which is commonly used for jittery anxiety and nervous tension, excitability, restlessness and hypersensitivity
St John’s Wortis another popular herbal remedy for anxiety and stress, since it relieves troublesome symptoms without sedation.
B-complex vitaminsare very helpful for stress. Vitamin B12 and Folic acid are especially helpful. The amino acidphenylalanineis 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 weakness of the kidney or heart.BarleyandOatsnourish 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.
Honeysuckleis useful for more straightforward cases of separation anxiety.
Gorseis useful for despair and grief, especially when an owner has passed away
Rock rosehelps to calm terror that manifests as trembling, cowering and panting as though the world might end.
Mimulushelps with fears of everyday life – strange places, the dark, and strangers or crowds for example.Larchhelps to cultivate bravery and courage along with emotional security.Walnuthelps to build up a sense of security and emotional independence.
Chestnut Budcan 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 your pet’s water bowl. Some people also apply flower essence to their pet’s paws or ears.
Arsenicum albumis very useful for fear and anxiety that are caused by a deep-seated insecurity – those pets who are constant worriers.
Aconiteis 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.
Gelsemiumis good for the animal who becomes weak, shaking with fear in the rear legs. Use 1 dose.
If your dog or 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.
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.
With many dogs, a rather loud, overly-cheerful, sing-song voice (“Oh my goodness, that was SUCH a BIG LOUD truck, wasn’t it? You are SUCH a brave boy!”) seems to be more reassuring than a gentle “It’s OK, come on…… don’t worry” in a low voice – so see which version works better for your dog.
Brandy Vachal Moore is a dog mom to three pint-sized dogs: Donnatella the Maltese, Ernie the Yorkie-Maltese mix and Rico the Chihuahua. When she’s not defending her personal space from three dogs who know no boundaries. Brandy enjoys anything fitness related, traveling, hiking, and being outdoors in the San Diego sunshine. She loves all things social media and journalism and has worked for The Honest Kitchen for the past 5 years.