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Pet Anxiety

If you have a pet you may know that ther are some common stressors that produce Anxiety in Pets.

Fear of separation from owner (separation anxiety)
Noise phobias (guns, fireworks, cars, machinery)

Storm phobias

Fear of people (including children)
Fear of places

Fear of other animals (including dogs, cats)
Veterinary clinic visits

Boarding kennels
Car journeys

Anxiety in pets manifests in many different ways, causing stress to the pets and to their owners. Listed above, these manifestations are often described as fears or phobias that arise when a pet reacts to something that it does not understand perceives might be harmful.

The fear response is driven by an instinctive alarm system that results in a reflex of either confrontation or self protection (“fight or flight”). In the case of an event (stimulus) that the pet finds intensely fearful, anxiety is increased and a deep seated, lasting memory of the stimulus is buried in its brain. When the stimulus is repeated, the pet is unable to make a conscious decision and adopts a fight or flight response. In many cases, it may not be just the stimulus itself, but signs that precede it that initiate the fear response.

For instance, in storm phobias, it may not just be the sound of the storm that can cause the problem - darkening skies and high winds can initiate the pet’s fear. The sensitivity of dogs to noise, and an ability to hear sound frequencies that are beyond those of the human ear is well known, as is the canine and feline sense of smell. Similarly, changes in barometric pressure may also warn pets that a storm is approaching and so initiate a fear response before the owner is aware of why the pet might be showing fear.

Changing anxiety-inducing behaviors that are so deep seated requires an understanding of the problem and time and patience in correcting it. Because it is such a complex area of veterinary medicine, and no pharmaceuticals are indicated for most anxiety problems, there is no easy solution. This often leads to off-label use of pharmaceuticals which do not fully solve the issue, and which also risk side effects, such as sedation, lethargy, vomiting and depression, that the pet and owner may find worse than the problem the drug was intended to cure.

Anxious dog
A growing area of pet care involves alternative medicine, including homeopathy. The leading producer of such medicines, HomeoPet, is a long established international maker of veterinary homeopathic formulas that are targeted to reducing or eliminating a pet’s anxieties. HomeoPet’s formulas are designed and prepared under veterinary supervision, providing assurance of their quality and the role they can play in veterinary medicine. It is noteworthy that HomeoPet products are tested by leading veterinary behaviorists internationally in double blind trials that often involve hundreds of dogs worldwide. A recent study of around 150 owners who used HomeoPet Anxiety found a satisfaction rate in their response of at least 80% in owners of dogs and cats (see figure). Importantly, there were no unwanted adverse events. The use of Anxiety in these pets was to treat a variety of fears that included noise phobias, storm phobias, introduction of new people or pets to a household, and fear of car journeys including travel sickness.

HomeoPet Anxiety
Results of a survey of Australian owners of 113 dogs and 29 cats that were prescribed HomeoPet Anxiety by their veterinarians to treat anxiety in their pets.

While study results indicate that HomeoPet Anxiety may provide substantial improvement in pet phobias, it remains important to recognise that pet anxiety problems are typically deep seated as a result of repeated mis-learning. Owners need to understand that an inappropriate response toward their pet, such as aversive correction techniques or punishment, might cause an unpleasant outcome. Similarly, because pets are sensitive to an owner’s frame of mind, an owner’s anxiety will reinforce a pet’s anxiety problem. Thus true correction of the problem requires an understanding of behavioural changes that will help the pet, including non-punishment based techniques (such as counter conditioning and desensitisation) that teach the pet a different and acceptable response to the fear-provoking stimulus. It is also important to recognize that attempts to calm the pet may be perceived as a reward for displaying a fear response. In utilising these techniques, it is essential that the owner remain calm and relaxed.

In conclusion, most anxiety problems in pets require a compassionate, relaxed and educated approach that can train the pet out of its fear behaviors. HomeoPet Anxiety can be a valuable tool in helping veterinarians to help owners to reduce or eliminate the pet’s fear and in helping to calm the pet so its training in reducing anxiety can be more successful.

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