Just as humans can experience certain fears and anxieties, so too can our pets. While it is perfectly understandable that new and unusual things can be alarming, one of the major issues that pets face is not only their lack of understanding but also their inability to handle this. Pets cannot have someone explain to them what is happening and why they shouldn’t be afraid. Fortunately, there are things that pet owners can do to help reduce their pet’s anxiety and fear.
Pet Anxiety and Fear
In order to provide pet anxiety relief, pet owners have to first understand what type of anxiety or fear their pet is experiencing. Separation anxiety in pets, for example, is successfully handled in a way that is quite different than fear of thunderstorms in pets. Here are some common anxieties and fears:
- Separation anxiety. Separation anxiety is one of the most common anxieties that pets can face, and a pet can manifest it in a variety of ways–from whining to destructive behavior and even self-harm. When a pet suffers from separation anxiety, any of their owner’s normal leaving actions, such as putting on shoes or jacket or grabbing one’s keys or purse, can trigger their anxiety. Pets who suffer from separation anxiety can often be aided by several things: ignoring their negative behavior so as not to reinforce it, desensitizing them to leaving motions by going through them only to stop and stay or immediately come back, and rewarding them with a treat when they don’t react to one’s leaving actions.
- Fear of thunderstorms, fireworks or other similar loud noises. This is one of the most common fears that pets can face, often causing many pets to hide in dark, enclosed places. Pets who suffer from this fear can often be aided by being desensitized to the sound that frightens them. For example, one can play thunder sounds at a low volume while interacting positively with their pet–cuddling and playing with them–and slowly increase the volume over time as their pet learns not to fear the sound. Taking pictures of a pet with the flash turned on can help to desensitize them to lightning flashes, and using calming pheromones can help counter the stressful barometric pressure changes.
- Fear of vacuums and other loud household appliances. While some pets find these types of appliances to be fascinating or even boring, other pets can find them to be incredibly scary. This seems to be particularly true with smaller animals, who may feel threatened by appliances that are larger than them and unpleasant to listen to. In many cases, it’s best to handle this fear by putting the pet in a different room while using the appliance. However, where this isn’t practical, one can desensitize the pet much the same way one desensitizes a pet to thunderstorms–by playing the appliance sound (over their computer, for example) at a low volume while interacting positively with their pet. Whenever the sound stops, the fun stops. The pet soon learns that the sound is a normal, positive thing that shouldn’t be feared.
- Fear of strangers. Failure to socialize a pet when they are young can lead to this fear when they are older, but it may not be the only cause. Any pet that has been mistreated, abused or even accidentally scared by a human can become wary and fearful of those individuals whom he isn’t familiar with. Of all the fears a pet can have, this is one of the most important ones to aggressively address and resolve because it can lead to aggressive behavior, including biting, or a complete refusal to leave the home. It often takes quite a bit of time and patience to resolve this fear, as one has to allow their pet to get used to being a visible distance from a stranger before slowly closing the distance to where the stranger can give the pet a treat.
Whether a pet has one of the above anxieties or fears or some other one, it is helpful to bear in mind that they can usually be resolved if one is willing to devote the time necessary to help them overcome it.