As devoted pet owners, our furry companions’ well-being is a top priority, and seeing them distressed or anxious can be heart-wrenching. With the growing awareness of mental health in animals, the market has responded with many pet anxiety supplements, each promising to bring tranquillity and relief to our beloved pets. However, amid the vast array of products and conflicting information, it becomes challenging to discern the truth behind these anxiety supplements and their effectiveness. We consulted veterinarian Dr Carra Walters from Hillcrest Veterinary Hospital to clarify this subject. Here is her expert perspective:
1. What are some of the most common signs of anxiety pet owners should watch out for in dogs and cats?
The first signs of fear in pets can be observed through their body language. They might exhibit lower head carriage with their tail tucked in instead of the usual wagging tail. They may also lower their stance, attempting to make themselves smaller. Shivering is another common sign of fear, along with avoiding eye contact and yawning, which is a stress response. Fear can sometimes lead them to try and bite, but it’s important to note that this fear-induced biting is not necessarily aggressive. It’s more of a fear response. They may also avoid certain situations or, on the other hand, become more reactive and aggressive in some cases. However, in some situations, fear might lead to hiding or turning their head away. Cats, in particular, tend to isolate themselves when scared, hiding under beds or in secluded spots for days. Inappropriate urination or defecation can also be signs of fear and stress. A fearful pet might show reluctance to move forward on a lead during a walk, signalling their “flight or fight” response kicking in. These are some of the main signs that indicate a pet is feeling fearful and stressed. Understanding these cues can help pet owners provide appropriate care and support to help alleviate their fears and anxieties.
2. What should pet owners consider when buying over-the-counter pet anxiety medication?
When considering over-the-counter medications for pets, it’s crucial to strike a balance between the potential benefits of the medication and the stress it may cause during administration. The last thing we want is to exacerbate their fear and anxiety by forcing them to take medication. In such cases, it’s essential to weigh the pros and cons carefully. In some situations, less invasive options like using pheromones or calming collars might be more suitable and cause less distress to the pet. However, it’s important to remember that not all pets will respond well to every method. For instance, while pheromones or collars may work for some dogs, others might find wearing a collar stressful and counterproductive. It is also important to note that if pets show behaviour that can cause serious harm to themselves or others, they require veterinary attention and may need more than the over-the-counter treatment that can be prescribed. If you need more guidance with an anxious pet, contact a reliable local vet for expert advice on how to treat your pet’s anxiety.
3. For pet anxiety supplements like CBD oil or calming treats, how effective are they in treating pet anxiety?
CBD oils and other calming supplements usually work very well. However, currently, CBD products are not well-regulated, and this lack of regulation is a major concern for veterinarians. The hesitation among vets regarding CBD usage is primarily due to the absence of sufficient oversight on the manufacturing of these products, which makes it challenging to ensure their safety. However, it’s essential to note that the CBD products intended for pets are formulated to be free of THC, the psychoactive component found in cannabis responsible for its intoxicating effects. This THC-free nature is what makes them safe for pets. Despite the lack of strict regulations and clinical trials for CBD products, many pet owners who use them report positive results. These products come in various forms, such as biscuits or oils, and may vary in strains and concentrations. Determining the appropriate dosage can be difficult without proper guidelines.
4. What should owners look for when purchasing pet anxiety supplements?
It’s crucial to seek advice from the people you talk to when considering pet supplements because the available options may vary. For example, in my practice, we offer a wide range of supplements, and the advice you receive will depend on cost implications. Often, the saying “you get what you pay for” applies here. Some people might find certain supplements expensive, especially if they have a large dog that requires a larger dose. So, the cost is one consideration. Another important factor is the size and type of your pet, as well as what you find easy to administer. Different supplements come in various forms, such as oil drops, gels, pheromones that you plug in, or tablets. The ease of use is a significant aspect to consider. Additionally, the time it takes for the supplement to take effect matters too. For instance, with CBD, you might not need to load the dose and can administer it at the time when required. In making a decision about which supplement to choose, all these factors need to be carefully considered. You might be directed towards a particular option based on its cost and how amenable your dog is to the method of administration. Some dogs may easily take a tablet, while others might require a liquid form. Taking all these factors into account will lead to the most sensible approach in selecting the appropriate supplement for your pet.
5. What types of situations or triggers most often cause pet anxiety?
Previous experience, children, loud sounds like the vacuum cleaner or anything that is quite invasive in terms of overstimulating your pets. For example, vacuum cleaners or loud strimmers can overstimulate pets, causing cats to hide or dogs to get scared. Another factor could be when you don’t have children, and suddenly your friend visits with their child. The child’s presence and behaviour can be very different, and they may not understand the pet’s boundaries, which can be unsettling for the animals. Children can induce fear in pets. Similarly, encounters with other animals, like unfamiliar dogs or monkeys, can also be fear-inducing, as they exhibit different behaviours that put pets on edge. Aside from sounds and overstimulation, experiences can also play a role. If a pet is not accustomed to car rides and finds them overwhelming, they may develop fear or anxiety associated with the car. On the other hand, if they have positive associations with the car, it can lead to good behaviour. For example, my dogs love getting into the car because they associate it with enjoyable experiences. However, if I needed to take them somewhere scary, they might become hesitant. Positive associations build good behaviour, while negative associations instil fear.
6. What lifestyle changes beyond pet anxiety supplements or medication do you recommend to reduce anxiety?
Positive association is very important to help with fear and anxiety. For instance, if your dog is afraid of thunder, you can play very quiet thunder sounds in the background while providing positive reinforcement. You can offer treats, cuddle them, or do something nice during these sessions. Gradually increase the volume of the thunder sounds, so your pet associates the noise with positive experiences. When real thunder occurs, they might recall the previous positive associations and feel more at ease. Daily activities like socialization and positive reinforcement are essential for pets. Additionally, getting to know your pets and incorporating them into your lifestyle is crucial. Mental and physical stimulation play a significant role in reducing fear and anxiety in pets. Boredom can lead to issues, so keeping them engaged and active can help them redirect their energy away from worry or fear. I strongly encourage pet owners to spend more time outdoors with their pets. Engaging in activities, exercising, and providing positive mental stimulation can deplete the resources of anxiety and fear, as pets become occupied and less focused on their worries. For example, in Joburg or Cape Town, where people might live behind gates, it’s important to ensure that your dog gets adequate exercise and mental stimulation. Even if they have access to open spaces and interact with other animals, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are fully stimulated in the right way. Ensuring the right kind of mental and physical activities will greatly benefit their overall well-being and reduce fear-related issues.