Anxiety in Animals

Information on causes and symptoms of anxiety disorders in cats and dogs.

Select a Topic

  1. What is Anxiety?
  2. Diagnosing Anxiety
  3. What Causes Anxiety?
  4. Help for Anxiety
  5. More Information on Anxiety

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety in pets is a very common problem. Pets will exhibit their fear and anxiety in a variety of ways, and causes of anxiety can range from a visit to the vet’s office, separation from the owner, a change in routine, the sound of fireworks, moving to a new home, a traumatic event or the presence of small children.

Although some pets are naturally high strung, anxiety can also affect pets that are left alone for long periods of time in a confined space. This lack of exercise and social contact causes many pets to become bored and stressed. Pets also pick up on the mood and feelings of the people around them, so if you are anxious and stressed most of time, your pet is most likely to be as well.

The most common anxiety disorders include separation anxiety, noise phobias and social anxiety:
  • Separation anxiety is one of the most common anxiety disorders and typically occurs when pets are left alone and separated from their owners. Pets experiencing separation anxiety often exhibit destructive behavior when they are left alone, such as continuous barking and whining, chewing on furniture, scratching doors or soiling floors.
  • Noise phobia is a fearful reaction to loud noises, such as thunderstorms, firecrackers, gunshots, bird calls, a vacuum cleaner or a hairdryer. When animals are frightened by loud noises, they will often run away and try to hide in a safe haven from the din. In trying to escape, they may endanger themselves by jumping through windows, digging under fences or running into traffic. Other signs of noise phobia include excessive barking or meowing, drooling, trembling, chewing, and inappropriate urinating or defecating.
  • Social anxiety most often occurs in pets that have not been socialized at an early age. Pets with social anxiety often become fearful and overwhelmed in large crowds, small groups of people or when they are around other animals. When the pet encounters these situations and becomes anxious, his natural reaction to feeling trapped or cornered may be to become aggressive or run away to a safe retreat. Aggression is a common dog stress symptom, and hiding is a strong sign your cat has anxiety1.


Owning a pet is a huge responsibility, and it is your job to ensure that your pet is not only physically healthy but feels safe, secure and confident as much as possible.

Diagnosing Anxiety

You and your vet can determine whether your pet has anxiety by observing the symptoms they exhibit.

The most common symptoms and signs of anxiety include:

  • Excessive barking or meowing
  • Nervousness
  • Whining and moaning
  • Tremors or shivering
  • Drooling and panting
  • Pacing
  • Poor appetite
  • Excessive licking beyond grooming or chewing on the skin
  • Yawning and licking the lips
  • Hyperactivity or excitability
  • Soiling the house or tearing up household items in your absence
  • Urinating outside the litter box
  • Inappropriately aggressive behavior
  • Piloerection, i.e. the hair on the animal’s back raising up1

What Causes Anxiety?

Much like humans, pets are very sensitive to changes in their surroundings. Certain factors that can cause stress and anxiety for pets include:

  • Separation from their owner (separation anxiety)
  • The addition of a family member whether human or animal (a new baby, spouse or furry friend)
  • Moving to a new residence, being placed with a new family or temporarily boarding at a kennel or other animal care facility
  • A change in the daily routine such as a visit to the vet or grooming parlor
  • Change of owner
  • Underlying health conditions
  • Poor nutrition
  • Crowds, groups of people, small children
  • Genetic conditions that result from breeding
  • Noises such as thunder, fireworks, sirens, loud parties and the sound from a vacuum cleaner or hairdryer

Emotional stressors can also contribute to a pet developing anxiety. These include events that are difficult for pets to process, such as undergoing a trauma, having a nervous temperament, losing a family member or pet companion to death, developing jealousy or rivalry within a pack, especially among dogs. In older pets, poor health, declining sensory perception (sight, hearing) or underlying conditions like Cushing’s disease can also contribute to anxiety1.

Help for Anxiety

Various treatment options are available to help your pet cope with the symptoms associated with anxiety. Certain anti-anxiety medications such as Clomipramine, amitriptyline and acepromazine can help to suppress anxiety and stress. However, these medications immobilize pets and often include very negative side effects such as diarrhea, low blood pressure, vomiting, dry mouth and bowel movement disturbances.

Natural and homeopathic medicines offer relief for symptoms of stress and anxiety in pets without side effects. PetCalm™ is available in both spray and granule forms to administer with ease in tense situations like competitive events or a change in environment. Other homeopathic choices — like Scare-D-Pet™ for Fear of Loud Noises  — can relieve acute symptoms and soothe your pet into a more balanced mood.

Behavior modification is also essential when managing your pet’s anxiety. Practicing positive reinforcement for appropriate behavior and avoiding excessive punishment are essential for changing a pet’s negative anxiety responses. With care and patience, it may be possible to desensitize an animal to some fearful situations, but professional help in the form of discipline classes may be necessary1. Keep in mind that a healthy diet, plenty of water, regular exercise and loads of love and attention also contribute to the physical and emotional wellbeing of your pet.

More Information on Anxiety

There are a number of ways to reduce anxiety in pets. These include:
  • Feeding your pet a healthy, well-balanced diet that boosts his immune system
  • Making sure your pet can exercise regularly
  • Keeping your own stress levels in check around your pet, as she will sense your anxiety and mirror it. A calmer owner means a less anxious pet.
  • Avoiding stress-inducing situations like fireworks or thunderstorms. Bring pets indoors, allow them access to a quiet room without windows, and turn up the television or radio to drown out the noise.
  • Reducing interaction with your pet before leaving and providing a distraction like a long-lasting treat to assuage separation anxiety. Also consider leaving a television or radio on in your absence to help your pet feel less alone.
  • Introducing your pet to a new home before moving so that he can investigate the surroundings and become familiar with them. Give him some treats and play with him in the new home so he will associate something positive with the experience and feel less stressed.
  • Hiring a pet sitter or asking a neighbor or friend to check on your pet during the day
  • Refraining from yelling or hitting your, pet as this will only increase anxiety
  • Consulting an animal behaviorist who can retrain your pet to behave in a calmer manner
  • Gradually introducing your pet to a new animal playmate if your pet is grieving the loss of a companion. Continue to shower them both with love and affection.
  • Maintaining a normal routine despite the arrival of a new baby or household member
 
Resource:
1. Martin, Kenneth, DVN, and Debra Horwitz, DVM. "Fears, Phobias, and Anxiety in Cats and Dogs." Vca_corporate. Accessed July 07, 2019. https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/fears-phobias-and-anxiety