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Managing an Anxious Pet

Anxious pet dog.

Pets suffer from anxiety and stress as much as humans do.  While unpleasant, anxiety is a normal and healthy response to an imminent threat or scary situation. For instance, your pet can show symptoms of separation anxiety if they see you picking up the keys or putting on shoes before you leave the house. If disproportionate levels of anxiety are left unchecked, your pet can develop an anxiety disorder and behavioral problems. Anxiety in pets can be totally cured, but in some cases, it can only be managed.

Read on to learn common sources of anxiety in pets, how to know if your pet has anxiety and the most commonly proven ways to calm your anxious pet.

Common Causes of Anxiety in Pets

Pets experience anxiety for several reasons. The following are the most common causes of pet anxiety.


Fear-related anxiety is most often brought on by triggers such as unfamiliar people or animals and specific situations like car rides or the vet’s office. However, anxiety can also be triggered by loud noises, visual stimuli like umbrellas or hats, and new or strange environments. While a pet’s behavior may go back to normal once they’ve acclimated to changes, some pets are affected permanently.

Consider taking your pet to a certified Fear Free facility like Naples Coastal Animal Hospital. At Naples Coastal, we focus on giving your pet the best care, while catering to their emotional needs. By doing this, our patients are at ease, and any procedures are less stressful for both you and your pet. Our vet techs are fully trained in understanding pets’ emotions and reactions and how to minimize their stress, anxiety, and fear.


Separation anxiety affects around 14% of pets. This type of anxiety occurs when a pet develops a fear of being left alone for an extended period of time. Pets with separation anxiety are often unable to find comfort when left alone or separated from family members. Separation anxiety often manifests when pets are puppies, after a big change, or as they become seniors. Pets adopted from shelters are much more likely to develop separation anxiety. Usually, this will manifest 1 to 2 months after the adoption.

Pets with separation anxiety will engage in undesirable behaviors, such as barking and destroying furniture and furnishings around entry and exit points. They may also attempt to break out of their crate or window, and possibly urinate or defecate in the house.


Aging pets can experience progressive and irreversible cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS). Pets with CDS experience a decline in memory function, perception, awareness, and learning. CDS is similar to Alzheimer’s disease in humans and can lead to confusion and severe anxiety in aging pets.

Symptoms of Anxiety in Pets

Depending on your pet’s personality, it may not be easy to separate anxiety symptoms from regular behaviors. Anxiety symptoms may be occasional or recurrent and may manifest in multiple ways, including:


  • Trembling or hiding more than usual
  • Excessive licking or chewing
  • Drooling, panting, or shaking
  • Excessive barking, meowing or whining
  • Trying to escape
  • Changes in eating and drinking habits
  • Repetitive or compulsive behavior
  • Tail-tucking
  • Pacing or restlessness
  • Destructive behavior
  • Urinating or defecating in the house

Some of these symptoms may spring from occasional anxiety-causing events, but they can also become recurrent and cause more serious problems. With that in mind, aggression is by far the most dangerous symptom of anxiety in pets. Depending on the situation, aggression can manifest as direct or indirect. If you suspect your fur baby is suffering from anxiety, the first thing to do is speak with your vet.

Strategies for Managing an Anxious Pet

Your vet may help you identify what is causing the anxious reaction and determine the type of anxiety your pet is experiencing. Your vet will also help you determine if the anxiety is situational or if it’s becoming a serious issue. What’s more, the vet can rule out any underlying medical condition that could be responsible for your pet’s symptoms. They’ll develop a treatment plan based on the cause and severity of your pet’s anxiety.

Training and Counterconditioning

Training can help your pet overcome their anxiety. One proven training strategy is counterconditioning. This type of training helps to change your pet’s response to the trigger or cause of anxiety. Replacing the anxious or aggressive behavior with a more desirable behavior such as focusing on the owner or sitting is a great tool for correction. Another training strategy involves desensitization. Introduce the pet slowly to the source of his anxiety, usually in small doses. Repeated exposure and positive reinforcement can go a long way toward managing your pet’s anxiety.

Improve Your Pet’s Environment

In addition to the training strategies described above, it’s also important to make your pet’s environment more comfortable. Almost all pets will benefit from having a safe space they can retreat to when they feel anxious. This may be a crate or kennel with a comfy bed and favorite toy. For example, if your pet is sensitive to loud noises, you may want to prepare a space for them in a windowless, interior room. Playing some soft music in the background can help keep your pet calm and in a happy state of mind. Also, give your furry companion as much love and attention as possible.

Medication and Natural Therapies

Your vet may recommend medications or natural therapies if your pet is experiencing severe or debilitating anxiety. Occasionally, a vet will prescribe antidepressants and SSRIs for pets with anxiety, including clomipramine and fluoxetine. For predictable anxiety-producing events like thunderstorms, car rides, or fireworks, your vet may prescribe benzodiazepine in combination with an antidepressant to keep your pet calm. Older pets with CDS may benefit from selegiline. Depending on your pet’s case, the vet may also recommend CBD oil or other natural products that use aromatherapy or pheromones to reduce anxiety.

Learning how to manage your anxious pet can ensure they have a healthy and enjoyable life. If your pet is exhibiting symptoms of anxiety, book an appointment at Naples Coast Animal Hospital today. As a certified Fear Free facility, your pet’s mental health is just as important to us as their physical health. Our skilled vets are here to provide your pet with compassionate, comprehensive, and quality care.