Feeling anxious is a widely accepted part of the human experience but can it be felt by our pet counterparts? To break it down, anxiety is fear which is a natural survival instinct experienced by all animals. Anxiety occurs when there is anticipation of danger.
Dogs get anxious about thunderstorms, loud noises, changes to their environment, traveling, moving, strangers, other animals and more. Separation anxiety is the most common type of anxiety in dogs. Digging, chewing, pacing, whining, howling, barking, soiling inappropriately and trying to escape are all signs of an anxious pet. Separation anxiety was exacerbated in the pandemic by lockdowns – owners would suddenly go back to work after months at home! This is anxiety-invoking because food, walks, and play all depend on people.
Tips for reducing anxiety include ignoring your dog directly before leaving the house and greeting them gently when you return. Try and dissociate signs of departure with leaving. For example, you could start picking up your handbag when you’re not actually taking off so your dog stops associating that action with departure. Another way to reduce anxiety is linking leaving with good things! You could leave behind a kong type stuffed toy with food that takes up to half an hour to consume. A delicious distraction!
You can also look into things like calming shirts, anti-anxiety beds, and even a pet massage. It’s important that dogs have lots of mental and physical stimulation – just like humans this is great for their mental health. You can achieve this through making sure your dog exercises, has appropriate chew toys, healthy food, play time, and the company of other dogs. If the anxiety appears to be severe or unable to treat make sure you contact your vet.
RSPCA – https://kb.rspca.org.au/knowledge-base/what-can-i-do-if-my-dog-is-anxious-when-im-not-at-home/
ABC Everyday (Animal Behaviourist, Kate Mornement) – https://www.abc.net.au/everyday/signs-your-dog-is-anxious-and-how-to-treat-it/10952390
Beyond Blue – https://www.beyondblue.org.au/the-facts/anxiety