What Are the Options for Treating Anxiety in Your Pets?

Treatment for anxiety in pets range from behavior training to medicines.

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Depending on their life experiences and personalities, dogs and cats can sometimes experience anxiety. They may express this in different ways, like shaking, hiding, or aggressiveness. It’s normal for any pet to have occasional bouts of anxiousness (hello, July 4th fireworks). However, if your pets have frequent or constant anxiety, it may be time to consider treatment options.

When Is It Time to Seek Treatment for Anxiety in Pets?

Pets can have anxiety for a number of reasons, including:

  • Trauma in their past, such as an abusive human
  • Conflict with another pet in the house
  • Separation from their humans
  • Confusion caused by aging
  • Fear of loud sounds, strangers, new environments, etc.

For starters, it’s never too early to consider options for treating your pet’s anxiety. Simple behavioral modifications may help your pet in a number of ways without side effects.

However, if your pet’s anxiety is causing challenges in the home (such as biting, scratching, or other types of aggression), it’s definitely time to reach out for help. Some treatment options can be done at home without a professional. Others may need the help of your veterinarian and/or a specialist.

Treating Your Pet’s Anxiety

Behavior Training

Behavior training is often the first step, especially for dogs. (Kudos if you can find ways to train your cat!) Two examples of behavior training that may help with anxiety include:

  • Desensitizing: Your pet may have specific triggers that bring them fear, like other pets, your energetic niece, or the lawnmower. Continuing to reintroduce this trigger may help them be less afraid of it over time. Usually, you use treats to reward calm behavior around the trigger.
  • Counterconditioning: This strategy is a way to divert your pet’s attention away from negative behaviors in moments of stress. For example, if your dog starts barking and acting aggressively around visitors, teach them to focus on you (and give them rewards for doing so). This conditions them to focus on something other than the trigger.

Prevention Strategies

Prevention strategies are also a great place to start for some anxious pets. These methods simply require you to anticipate triggering situations for your pet and plan ways to manage your pet’s reactions. Prevention strategies include:

  • Avoiding triggers: For example, if your neighbor’s dog gives your pup anxiety, try to coordinate with your neighbor so that you don’t let your dogs out when the other is already out.
  • Exercising your pet: Sometimes, you can reduce symptoms of anxiety by helping your pet shake off extra energy before encountering triggers. If you know strangers are coming over, take your dog for a long walk or give your cat an extended play session beforehand.
  • Socializing your pet: Often, pets who get nervous around other pets simply haven’t had enough practice with socializing. This is another form of desensitization.

Medications for Pet Anxiety

Medications may be necessary for pets with severe and frequent anxiety. This is especially true if your pet’s anxiety is leading to severe aggressive or destructive behavior.

Note: Medications for your pet should always be prescribed by your veterinarian. Pet anxiety medicine is sometimes the same medicine as those for humans, but you should never give your pet your own medications. Your veterinarian can prescribe the appropriate medicine for your pet and their symptoms, and give you instructions about proper dosage.

Medicines for pet anxiety include antidepressants (such as SSRIs, anxiolytics, and tricyclics) and sedatives. The latter may be helpful for pets who only have anxiety in particular situations, such as going to the vet or riding in cars.

Finally, note that there are several medicine types that can help with anxiety for pets. If one doesn’t work for your pet, don’t give up: Talk to your veterinarian about trying another type. Your veterinarian may also be able to refer you to specialists who can further help you teach you and your pet strategies to manage and relieve anxiety.