Imagine feeling anxious: your palms sweat, your mind races, and you feel sick to your stomach. Sometimes anxiety comes out in the form of obsessive nail biting, while other times it rears its head in avoidance. Unfortunately, dogs can also have anxiety and while their paws can’t sweat and we don’t know for sure if their minds start to race, we do know the behavior that can come out: destruction.
Earlier this year my husband and I rescued a dog from the island of Kauai, Hawaii. Named Mohihi for the trail we found him on, he was anxious as soon as we got home. From toilet paper rolls to garbage cans to furniture, Mohihi has attempted to take a bite out of most of our possessions in our absence. When we’re at home, our dog is well-behaved and mild mannered but as soon as we leave, our pup becomes a monster. Fortunately, there are several tricks to calming Mohihi and other anxious pets.
Why is my pet anxious?
The American Kennel Club lists multiple reasons for anxiety in dogs. Most commonly, these include fear, separation, and aging. As the American Kennel Club explains, fears are usually triggered by scary sounds, strangers, new environments, or certain floors, like hardwood. Aging, on the other hand, is often related to cognitive dysfunction syndrome, a disease in dogs that is related to that of Alzheimer’s in humans. Lastly, separation is the catch-all term for dogs that don’t like to be left alone or left behind. The AKC estimates that 14% of dogs struggle with separation-related anxiety.
How do I know if my pet is anxious?
If you live with an anxious dog, you probably know when he or she is struggling. Dogs are often far more obvious in their symptoms than cats, but the clues below should give you some idea:
Symptoms of Anxiety in Dogs
- Scratching at floor/carpet/doors
- Excessive barking
- Urinating or defecating inside the house even after he or she is house-trained
- Chewing furniture/couches/cabinets
- Tearing through garbage
Symptoms of Anxiety in Cats
Cats, on the other hand, often do not exhibit symptoms in the same way. Instead, look for the following behaviors, as suggested by the Mother Nature Network, to determine if your cat may be anxious:
- Excessive meowing/vocalization
- Urinating or defecating outside of litter box
- Lack of appetite
- Changes in water uptake
- Scratching/destroying furniture/carpets/couches
What can I do if my pet is anxious?
The simple answer: don’t leave your pet alone. Unfortunately, this isn’t practical unless we never leave our home and/or take our pet everywhere we go. For the safety of our beloved animals, however, it’s sometimes necessary to leave our pet behind when we go out for short periods. Here are five safe, effective, and healthy approaches to helping anxious pets.
Note: Always consult with your veterinarian before trying anything new on your dog or cat.
1. Get more exercise
Sometimes an anxious dog is simply a dog that hasn’t had his or her daily dose of movement. Mornings are busy, and most of have to rush off to work or school, leaving our dogs behind to pace, restless with unused energy. Taking an extra fifteen minutes for a game of fetch, a longer walk, or free time to run at the local dog park can make a big difference in your dog’s behavior.
2. Dose out CBD oil
Cannibidiol hemp oil is high in CBD, but low in THC, meaning that no, your dog will not get high from taking a supplemental dose of this product. That said, your dog will get relaxed—in a serious way. Dogs Naturally Magazine lists several ways in which CBD oil has helped humans (from easing public speaking anxiety to acting as an effective antidote for those struggling from post-traumatic stress) and luckily it acts similarly in dogs. Most natural pet stores now sell CBD oil in liquid forms; most dogs only require a few drops depending on the concentration, making it an expensive up front cost, but an economical choice in the long run.
3. Herbal supplements
Herbs with calming properties can help fretful dogs, similar to how the same herbs can often calm anxious humans. These include chamomile, valerian root, passionflower, and oatstraw, as The Honest Kitchen explains. Several companies create various blends of calming herbs that can be given as drops, sprays, or treats, but always consult with your veterinarian before trying any new product or regimen.
4. Pump up the nutrition
Foods with higher levels of vitamin B can help a stressed-out pet. Foods with B-vitamins include oats, barley, and quinoa, and make easy additions to homemade or store-bought dog food. Additionally, supplemental vitamin B for dogs can be purchased from many pet stores with the help of your veterinarian.
5. Add more stimulants
A nervous pet needs less stimulants—right? Well, no, not exactly. Cats that exhibit anxious symptoms as noted above may simply need more stimulation in their lives, especially when their human counterparts aren’t home. Puzzle feeders, pretend mice, batting-based toys, and even a sprinkle of catnip can make anxiety-time feel more like playtime. The same strategies can work for dogs, too: puzzles, dog toys that provide treats as your dog moves the toy across the floor, and chew toys can help alleviate that panicked feeling when you close the door.
Always consult with your veterinarian before trying anything new on your dog or cat.