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Pet Anxiety & How to Manage It

Pet Anxiety & How to Manage It

As Singapore enters a new normal, we'll gradually find ourselves returning to the office, or going on holidays with the VTLs. 

Pets are like young children; once settled into a routine, any sudden disruption to it can trigger negative behavioural traits. This is commonly manifested into anxiety and anxious behaviour in pets.

We can expect more behavioural changes from our pets as we gradually spend more time away from home.

Anxious pets are sensitive to change and prefer a set routine. Sudden, big changes trigger anxiety manifestations through changes in behaviour such as lack of focus, increased reaction to other animals/people/vehicles, and destructive behaviour. Some dogs engage in severe destructive behaviour from anxiety until it causes injury to themselves, cats can also destroy furniture and soil areas in the house when they are stressed or anxious! Anxiety and elevated stress levels also cause immunosuppression in our pets that can make them more susceptible to allergy flare ups and illness. Think about the last time you were stressed, you also felt a little under the weather too didn't you? It's similar for animals!

Incremental, gradual change is key with any pet exhibiting signs of anxiety. As with humans, this is a mental health challenge that needs work to improve. There is no magic drug available to immediately change an anxious dog into a calm one. 

I usually recommend a holistic approach to dealing with anxious pets:

  • Training
  • Reinforcement
  • Support

Training

I can't emphasize enough how vital it is to engage a good, qualified trainer who understands dog behaviour well to enable us pet owners to catch on cues and understand their needs better. This would empower us to react quicker to situations which can lead to exacerbation of negative behaviour! Animals express themselves totally different to how we do, so it is vital we pick up on early warning signs to initiate correction ASAP.

Reinforcement

Practice, practice, practice. Discipline and patience (and lots of breaks and positive rewards too) will help increase the bond between pet and owner as well. Allow your pet to ease into the routine at their own pace without forcing them. A tip would be to introduce gradually. For example, when training for separation, start small by exitting the room and leaving your pet alone for a minute, then two, and longer once your pet gets used to the idea that you return. Remember to reward them for good behaviour while you're away! This establishes trust and kinship, cementing the bond for the longterm. 

Support

We're lucky that there are lots of supportive accessories and therapies that can be used together with training programmes to enhance and accelerate positive change for our pets.

Here are some of my favourites that have been tried and tested:

Thundershirts : This shirt exerts a gentle, constant pressure when worn on your pet that is similar to swaddling an infant, making them feel safe and more secure. I like to use this when thunderstorms are approaching, or when i have guests visiting.

Adaptil : Adaptil is a unique product that mimicks the calming pheromone released by a nursing mum to her puppies. This triggers a calming, comforting response in the dog within the environment where Adaptil is used. Great for managing separation anxiety.

Feliway : A dedicated cat product with a similar mechanism of action as Adaptil. Great for when cats are being introduced to new homes, new additions to the family, managing stress levels with any change in the cat's usual routine.

Zylkene : Natural peptide with a calming effect on dogs and cats. Taken orally, can be used on days where your pet is due to visit the vet or the groomers, or when moving. Non-drowsy formula.

Calmivet/Clomicalm : Calmivet is a sedative drug that should only be used in very severe cases of anxiety, particularly if your pet is exhibiting extreme distress and destructive behaviour that is detrimental to itself and the environment. It can be a helpful drug for highly stressed animals to use prior to vet visits/grooming/other stressful situations. Clomicalm is an antidepressant that can work very well in tandem with a good training programme to accelerate positive behavioural change and alleviate separation anxiety. These 2 drugs can have sedative/drowsy effects, as well as other gastrointestinal side effects.

I personally own an anxious pet, and it was through a combination of training perserverance,constant reinforcements and supplementary aids that she is where she is today. If you've any questions about managing your pet's behaviour, why not have a conversation with your primary care veterinarian?

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