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How to Help Behavior and Anxiety Problems in Pets

Posted August 5, 2016


Think we humans are the only ones you get stressed out and act badly? Well, that’s simply not the case. Dogs and cats also suffer from severe anxiety. In fact, in my veterinary practice, it is very common for my dog patients, who are suffering from anxiety to exhibit destructive or aggressive behavior. Cats too will exhibit these same destructive and aggressive behavioral traits and may also take to spraying the house.

These cases in my opinion are multifactorial; and it is necessary to rule out medical problems, such as chronic pain, metabolic, endocrine problems, or even toxins. In addition, the inappropriate urinations of cats are often linked to urinary tract infections. Once medical problems are ruled out as the cause of the behavior, then it is time to start sleuthing the situation to better understand the triggers that may cause behavior problems in pets. A common example of a trigger for anxiety in pets is thunderstorm phobias— every time your dog hears or feels a storm they become inconsolable.

Signs of Anxiety in Pets

It’s important for pet parents to quickly recognize the signs of anxiety in their pets. Signs of symptoms and types of behavioral problems include trembling:

  • Tail tucked
  • Withdrawal
  • Hiding in fear
  • In panic mode signs are:
    • Escape behavior
    • Potentially injurious motor activity
  • Signs of anxiety include excessive licking and biting at self.

Treatment for Anxiety in Pets

Affected cats and dogs will respond to some extent to a combination of behavior modification and medication, supplements and diet therapy. Behavioral modification is best done after having a behaviorist identify and classify the problem, then coming up with a treatment plan. For example: one of the techniques used are desensitization and counter conditioning, where the goal is to decrease the reaction to a specific stimulus (such as being left alone as in separation anxiety in dogs). Desensitization is the repeated and controlled exposure to the stimulus that usually causes a fearful or anxious response in such a way that the dog or cat does not respond with the undesirable response. With repeated efforts, the goal is to decrease the pet’s undesirable response. Counter conditioning is training the dog to perform a positive behavior in place of a negative behavior. Most forms of behavioral modification are done over the long term, possibly years. Minimum treatment averages 4-6 months.

It’s a good idea to introduce natural supplements to the regime, as they can safely help calm a pet and potentially make training easier. Two supplements that I have had success with are NHV Matricalm for cats and NHV Lesstress for dogs. In addition to helping to calm and soothe your pet, the supplements are all-natural and contain nutritive and immune-stimulating herbs, like Echinacea Angustifolia and lemon balm. I also recommend a simple balanced diet with no fillers or dyes, as well as Chinese herbal formulas. Other western herbs that may be useful are Kava kava, St. John’s wort, and chamomile.   Lavender collars, pheromones sprays are also useful.

Prevention of Anxiety in Pets

Catching behavioral problems early is the key to success. When dogs or cats are young, it is important to expose them to a variety of social situations and environments, in a way that will help them develop confidence when they are young. Puppies and kittens that are deprived of social and environmental exposure until 14 weeks of age may become habitually fearful, which could have been avoided with only a little exposure during this formative time.

Is your puppy or kitten having a difficult time coping with their anxiety? Tell us about it in the comments below, or contact me directly for an online vet consultation.



2 replies.

  1. Philip Hawley says:

    *I will try to keep it short but still explain as much as possible. We have adopted a 9 month old Mastiff. The adoption center was going to put down the dog as unadoptable due to high stress and fear. I am unsure of the exact diagnosis as I am a third party in the house.

    The dog is named Piper and will run from anyone that approaches her. If you avoid looking at the dog, she will stand still when you walk towards her. She will bark at anyone she does not know for several days at a time. I can head to the shower and she will bark at me, though I only have a towel on. She is not aggressive, just vocal. I have been able to go into her crate while she is in there without any obvious fear, growling or aggression by her.

    Any sudden loud noises startle her and she will run if she can. Anything from something dropped on the floor, something knocked over or even her tail hitting something loud. She will go to the bed of the owner, who is a woman, but will avoid her husband. Unless someone sits in a chair or is kneeling down, she will now come towards us. Then there are times where our second dog, a beagle mix, will come into the kitchen when she hears the treat bag open, to be followed closely by Piper. I have not figured out why it is so random yet. It could be the refrigerator running, but is very quiet. Perhaps she heard something earlier that day that scared her. It is frustrating to me as I am unable to help her.

    I am thinking of trying some type of restraint coat like the thundershirt. I don’t think meds are the way to go at this point and she is a friendly dog, especially with kids. If you think trying the shirt would be something to try, let me know. I would like to help her as much as possible to enjoy life and people. Thank you.

    1. *Hello Phillip,

      Thank you for reaching out to us. We are more than happy to offer you some advice and recommendations.

      To address the sort of behaviour that is exhibited by Piper, we would recommend NHV Lesstress. Lesstress is an all natural herbal formulation that acts on the nervous and immune systems, calming anxiety that may be caused by things like separation or fear of strangers. It also has the effect reducing hyperactivity and excitability, reduces destructive behaviour and boosts the immune system.

      As Piper’s behaviour is quite centered around fear and anxiety, this supplement should be very effective in addressing this as the key issue. Among other herbs, this formula contains Chamomile and Passion Flower which are natural calming agents that help address nervousness and excitability.

      Please note that our supplements are all natural herbal formulas and do need time to work. Some pet parents have noticed a difference in their pet after a few days while others have noticed a difference after 2-3 weeks. We would ask that you use the supplement for at least 3 weeks to allow the supplement to work to the best of it’s ability.

      Please note that we have 2 dosages: The maintenance dosage used to maintain health, which is on the bottle (1 drop per 2 lbs of weight, twice per day) and a therapeutic dosage used to address a condition, which is outlined in the table below. We would suggest using the therapeutic dosage when addressing this condition.

      Therapeutic Pet’s Weight Dosage– to be taken two times per day
      0 – 24 lb = 0.5 mL
      25 – 49 lb = 1.0 mL
      50 – 74 lb = 1.5 mL
      Over 75 lb = 2.0 mL

      We would suggest administering the supplements with food or with your furry friend’s favorite treat for convenience. Alternatively you may wish to administer the product via a syringe or dropper directly into the mouth preferably after feeding so that the product is easier on the digestive system.

      With regard to the Thundershirt, it will not interfere or react negatively with our NHV supplement so if you wish to purchase and use it, it is completely up to your discretion. However we would suggest trying the NHV Lesstress first as we feel it may be more cost effective and generally a more consistent product.

      I hope that you find this information helpful and if you have any questions about the supplements or dosages, please do not hesitate to contact us, we are always happy to help!

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*Product reviews are solely the experience and opinion of the reviewer. Actual results may vary.