Anxious Dog or Cat? 10 Steps to Help Calm Them Down

Monday Dec 3, 2012 | BY |
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If your dog or cat is anxious, there are other options besides drugs.

Most of the time, our pets teach us how to face the world with a positive, happy attitude. They’re excited to go out in the morning, eager to eat, thrilled to see is, tickled to get a treat—most pets are pretty happy most of the time.

Have a thunderstorm roll into your area, however, or take out the carrier for a trip to the vet, and you may see totally different behavior. Cowering, shivering, whining, wetting the floor, growling, and running to hide are all signs of anxiety in animals. If your pet suffers from separation anxiety, you may see more serious symptoms, like diarrhea and skin lesions.

Your vet may recommend anti-anxiety medication, but what if you don’t want to put your pet on drugs?

Behavior Modification
You may want to try teach your pet not to be afraid of whatever it is he is afraid of. If your dog is terrified of you when you’re wearing a hat, for example, and scurries to the other side of the house before you even put it on, you may be able to gradually get him to understand that you’re the same, friendly person you always are, and that you just look a little different.

You can start by showing the dog your hat, and speaking in soothing, calm tones. If your dog wants nothing to do with it, just leave it nearby on the floor or on the table, where he can see it. Keep picking it up and speaking in soothing tones. When your dog gets to where he doesn’t care anymore if you pick up the hat, put it up on your shoulder. Again, speak in soothing tones. And continue gradually until you have it near your head, then just barely on your head, and finally completely on your head, until your dog is no longer afraid.

Sometimes, particularly if you rescued your pet from the Humane Society or animal shelter, you may have a situation on your hands that is not going to go away. It’s hard telling what the animal was exposed to before he came to live with you. Over time, fears may gradually diminish, but on the other hand—such as with aging animals—fears can actually become worse, especially fears of loud noises.

The key is to relax and never punish your pet for displaying signs of fear, such as wetting the floor, as that will only escalate the problem. Try some of these ideas instead.

Some Natural Solutions

  • Music: Particularly if you’re going to be gone, certain types of music may help calm your pet. Through a Dog’s Ear (TADE) is a clinically researched auditory series that features piano music shown to help calm dogs. According to a study from Colorado State University, classical music may reduce stress in dogs. Heavy metal music, on the other hand, amplifies their anxiety and leads to more barking and shaking.
  • Thundershirt: You’ve probably seen the ads for this product. So far, people are saying that they work. The gentle, constant pressure of the garment, which you wrap around your pet, has shown in company surveys to improve symptoms in anxious, fearful, or over-excited dogs. Other similar products include the Anxiety Wrap and the Storm Defender.
  • Massage: You know how a massage makes you feel relaxed? It can do the same thing for your pet. In fact, many veterinarian offices now offer massage treatments, but you can do it yourself, as well. Just three to five minutes can be extremely beneficial. According to the Peninsula Humane Society, those animals that are massaged regularly are adopted more quickly than those who aren’t—because they are more personable and relaxed with people. The benefits are two-fold, as studies have also shown that time with your pet can also help reduce your stress levels. Make sure you’re calm and relaxed before starting, then simply start with the shoulders (avoid the head) and use slow, even strokes.
  • Diet: Some hyperactive animals are behaving that way because of the food they’re eating. Foods with synthetic preservatives, meals, and byproducts can make anxiety worse. Pet owners often note a reduction in anxious behaviors after they switch from a high carbohydrate to a high protein diet. Look for foods that have a meat source (e.g., “chicken,” “beef,” “salmon,”) first in the ingredient list, and that avoid by-products and corn. Try oats—they are healthy for pets and can also be calming.
  • Exercise: Many times, animals are overly anxious because they’re not getting enough exercise. When was the last time you walked the dog, or played with your cat? Both are usually calmer and more relaxed after a little workout—which is of course, good for you, too! If your pet tends to be anxious as a rule, exercise becomes even more important.
  • Toys: Pets may exhibit symptoms of anxiety because they’re bored. Spend time training them to do simple commands (sit, down, stay for dogs), and regularly bring out new toys. The Kong toy, for example, which has a treat inside a rubber ball, can be a good option for dogs that can keep them busy for hours. Once your pet gets bored with one toy, put it away and pull out another one. Then resurrect the old toy weeks later and your pet may enjoy it like new.
  • Herbs: Certain herbs are known to help calm your pet’s nerves. Try valerian to help soothe dog anxiety (150 mg for smaller dogs, 300 for medium-sized, and up to 600 mg for larger dogs). Skullcap, kava, passionflower, and chamomile mixed in with dog or cat food, can also help. Talk with your vet about dosages.
  • Aromatherapy: Scents can have a calming effect on our pets, just like they do on us. Particularly if you use the scent when your dog is relaxed, he may grow to associate that scent with relaxing times. Try a few drops of lavender, neroli, marjoram, rose, sweet orange, and vanilla on part of the pet’s bedding, or on a cloth that you then rub over your dog’s neck and chest. (It’s best not to rub oils on your cat’s fur, as they will then ingest it when grooming.) A bit of peppermint oil on a dog’s pads may help calm him down.
  • Acupuncture: Acupuncture can be just as helpful for pets as for humans. If you have a particularly anxious pet that isn’t responding to other remedies, you may want to try acupuncture. Membership to the American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture has increased—driven by pet owners who are sold on the therapy. Find a certified acupuncturist and ask him or her about your pet’s anxiety issues.
  • Personal stress-relief: Our pets react to our emotions, so if you’re stressed, your pet will be, too. Are you stressed out when you leave the house? Do you act like you’re worried about your dog? If so, the pet will pick up on your feelings. When your animal is anxious, don’t make a big deal of it. Act as you normally do, and think distraction—get out a favorite toy, or work with your animal on obedience commands. When you come home, be calm. Take the dog for a walk, or go take a nice, warm bath. Keeping your own emotions calm will help your pet to be relaxed, as well.

Are your pets anxious? How have you coped?

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Source
“Study: Classical Music Best to Calm Dogs,” CBS News, November 2, 2012, http://denver.cbslocal.com/2012/11/02/study-classical-music-best-to-calm-dogs/.

Kevin Gianni

Kevin Gianni is a health author, activist and blogger. He started seriously researching personal and preventative natural health therapies in 2002 when he was struck with the reality that cancer ran deep in his family and if he didn’t change the way he was living — he might go down that same path. Since then, he’s written and edited 6 books on the subject of natural health, diet and fitness. During this time, he’s constantly been humbled by what experts claim they know and what actually is true. This has led him to experiment with many diets and protocols — including vegan, raw food, fasting, medical treatments and more — to find out what is myth and what really works in the real world.

Kevin has also traveled around the world searching for the best protocols, foods, medicines and clinics around and bringing them to the readers of his blog RenegadeHealth.com — which is one of the most widely read natural health blogs in the world with hundreds of thousands of visitors a month from over 150 countries around the world.

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  1. Charlotte says:

    You are so right! The Thundershirt works and so does the massage…its amazing how massage calms them down and they enjoy it.. I saw it done on a tv show and the dog immediately calmed down. I will try the Kong toy as it sounds like a great idea and the peppermint oil on paws and Diet is major. I give him beef and a natural dog food that has no fillers and has blueberries and vegetables and bison in it. Glad there are so many better dog foods out now. Thanks for the herbs valerian advise, I did not know they could have them. Thank you for a great article.

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