Can pets get anxiety? Yes, sadly, anxiety is treated in pets more commonly than one might expect. Anxiety can range from mild symptoms of restlessness and panting to full blown reactive responses and destructive behaviors. When a dog, cat, or other animal (even human) animal is anxious, the stress responses of the body are in overdrive. Cortisol, the “stress hormone,” gets produced in overdramatic amounts. This makes it harder for an animal to learn tasks or have regular, clear cognitive function. With long- term anxiety or stress, the body is in constant fight-or flight mode. During this time the body is not tending to maintenance and repair, or “clean up” functions as well as it should. As a result, digestion can become impaired, leading to diarrhea, vomiting, regurgitation, or even constipation. Normally a healthy body can intercept mutations occurring in cell reproduction. But if a body is stressed, the ability to do this can also be hampered, making it easier to succumb to development of cancerous changes in the body.
Why do pets get stressed? City living can be stressful for anyone. Factor in a dog’s athletic or sporting nature and natural need for long runs and plenty of exercise, and a good portion of the culprit can be curtailed by merely providing for this level of activity. When allowed to have plenty of outdoor activity, the physical benefits are supported by mental stimulation as well. All the smells and sounds of other animals and plants can be really good for animals. However, too much stimulation in the sense of traffic noises, sirens, too dense of concentration of animals or people can be stressful. In other words, dogs and cats need their exercise and time outside if possible. However, they need at least some of their own space, where they are not constantly inundated with other animals or people.
Dogs in particular like to have a “job.” If given an opportunity to perform some sort of job, or mental exercise, this brain work can diminish anxiety as well as physical exercise. Both mental and physical exercise are essential for well-being. “Nose works” classes are available in the city for assistance in meeting some of these needs. Playing hide-and-seek and other interactive games with pets can be an at-home way of achieving similar activities. Behavior training and conditioning are essential for communicating clearly and effectively to pets what it is that is expected of them to cohabitate peacefully in our homes. We are fortunate to have many gentle, skilled trainers and behavior specialist available to us in our area. Like exercise, rest and sleep are also critical for averting anxiety. Sleep time should be quiet, without extraneous electronic noises such as televisions, radios, games, or computers. Avoid gadgets with high frequency noises to avert pests, as many dogs and cats can become agitated by these.
Besides exercise requirements, playtime/mental stimulation needs being met, health needs requiring attention can create anxiety, too. For example, obesity, inappropriate diet, missing nutrients, or joint problems can all contribute to stressors on the psyche and physique. Remember that pets are evolutionarily conditioned—especially under stress—to mask or hide illness. If your pet is experiencing stress or anxiety, have your holistic veterinarian assess their health, lifestyle, diet, etc. Acupuncture helps anxiety by reducing cortisol and increasing seratonin and other “feel good” brain hormones. Herbs, supplements and diet are also effective methods for improving the overall big picture to devise a safe, natural plan to help you and your pet live optimal, full, stress-free lives.