anxiety treatment

  • Guest Blogger: Mikkel Becker

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    We’re thrilled to welcome back well-known and respected pet behavior and training expert, and Vetstreet.com contributor, Mikkel Becker on our blog today! She’s talking separation anxiety in our pets… Take it away, Mikkel!

    Countless canines become anxious when left alone. Stress upon separation spans from mild anxiety to an extreme state of panic. Whenever a dog is anxious at separation, it’s important to address the issue immediately, starting with a visit to your veterinarian. Stress upon separation rarely goes away without intervention, but more often, escalates over time. Caretakers of dogs who are anxious when left alone, find that normal tasks, like going to work or going out on a date, are difficult to impossible. The situation can become so severe the dog causes serious harm to themselves or to the home. Even for dogs who internalize stress, the state they are in emotionally is damaging long term to their health and affects their ability to cope with everyday stressors.

    There are numerous indicators of a dog nervous with separation. Signs can include excess salivation, panting, hyper vigilance, whining, barking, acute anorexia, pacing and inability to settle. Anxiety can amplify to the point of self-injury where the dog causes themselves serious harm as they attempt to claw, bite and jump out of exit points. The household also suffers devastation. Doors, crates and windows can be damaged as the dog attempts to flee, while household items like couches can be ravaged from anxious chewing. Dogs become so nervous they may even lose control of bodily functions and have accidents in the home.

    Dogs in this panicked state are literally helpless at their own behavior. Dogs don’t do these destructive behaviors out of spite as a way to teach their person a lesson for leaving them. Instead, their behavior stems from a root emotion of fear. To change the behavior, the root emotion must be changed.

    In my profession as an animal trainer working in conjunction with numerous veterinarians, including my father, Dr. Marty Becker, I help address separation anxiety on a regular basis. Separation anxiety is one of the most common behavior problems in dogs, with 20-40% of dogs reported as having the condition.

    Thankfully, with the right combination of training, environmental modification and veterinary intervention, separation anxiety can be decreased or eliminated. Whether a dog is only moderately nervous or in an all-out panic, it’s important to take the necessary steps to help a dog overcome their distress when left alone.

    Keep in mind, before training begins, it’s important to train under the supervision of a veterinarian who can rule out any medical conditions contributing to behavior and properly diagnose separation anxiety if needed.

    As an animal trainer, I want to share with you several of my top tips for addressing separation anxiety. The training is also helpful as a preventive tool against the development of separation anxiety.

     

    1. Use a ThunderShirt. One of my favorite tools in my training arsenal is the ThunderShirt. Regardless of the size or breed of the dog, the ThunderShirt works on about 80% of dogs. Even without any training, the ThunderShirt drastically reduces anxiety with near immediate results. The ThunderShirt works to non-invasively calm dogs in a similar manner to swaddling a baby.

    2. Many dogs dislike being crated, and some of their panic may stem from being shut in an enclosed area. If your dog dislikes the containment aspect of separation, find a more open area of the home to leave your pooch in that’s doggy proofed. The area of the home should have windows, as dogs feel less enclosed when windows are present. If you have a secure fence and your canine is not an escape artist or incessant barker when separated, consider allowing access the outdoors. By opening up the dog’s area, canines are less likely to feel trapped, and may relax as a result.

    3. When you leave and when you come back, keep attention on the dog as minimal as possible. A simple, non-emotional goodbye or greeting will do, rather than hugs, kisses and emotional words. The more calm and nonchalant the greetings, the less worked up the dog will get. When you return, wait five minutes or until the dog calmly settles into a relaxed sit or down, before acknowledging.

    4. Reduce departure cues. Throughout the day, even on weekends, randomly put on your shoes, pick up the keys, turn on the car, open the garage and do other cues that may signal you’re leaving. Often dogs become anxious even upon the perception of these cues, because they signal you’re leaving. However, if you do these cues with the end result being you still stay home, the cue loses its meaning.

    5. Train your dog to enjoy time alone in their own area. Put the dog in a certain area of the home, like an xpen, or tether the dog with a leash and harness next to a comfortable area, like a dog bed. Place food puzzles or long lasting chews in these areas for the dog to nibble on. To begin with, sit a few feet away and get the dog comfortable with just a short distance separation. The training can be made more challenging later by giving the food item and leaving to go into another room or going outside. Return to the dog before they finish eating their food reward. The idea is to have separation happen with associated pleasurable rewards and at a pace the dog can remain relaxed at. Play classical music during separation, proven to calm pets, to further promote relaxation.

    6. Protect your pet. During training, management techniques like sending the dog to doggy daycare or a dog sitter during inevitable long departures is helpful. In some cases, medication from your veterinarian added in combination with training, will provide especially anxious pets with the best chance of recovery.

  • It’s a Smoky Situation…

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    While we usually speak on the dangers and possible pet anxiety-triggers caused by summer storms, it’s important to be aware that forest fires can also bring stress to your pet. Lately, many of the areas in west coast region have been in flames due to forest and brush fires, and it’s not just the flames that are destructive- fire smoke can travel hundreds of miles, affecting the air quality throughout a whole region and forcing our pets to stay inside.

    For pets that are accustomed to consistent time outside, posting up indoors may spur on added anxiety or destructive behavior. To combat this, we suggest our ThunderShirt, ThunderToy and ThunderTreat to help calm your pet and keep them occupied as the smoke clears. While short trips to answer nature’s call are inevitable, keep in mind that heavy smoke can take a toll on our pet’s respiratory systems just as it can on ours. Additionally, if your home is in danger of a fire and you are forced to evacuate, the hustle and bustle of packing your things can spark anxious behavior in your dog. Consider using ThunderShirt when packing and to take with you to a safe location to help your dog stay calm and relaxed.

    Live in an area prone to forest fires? Here’s some safety tips for you and your furry friends!

    If your area’s air quality is labeled “unhealthy”

    • Shelter in place, stay indoors.
    •  Keep you and your pet hydrated to progress a cough and help prevent smoky air from settling in the lungs
    •  Use air conditioning if possible, to help filter air throughout a house
    •  Keep all doors and windows shut in both home and vehicles, if in a vehicle make sure the air conditioner is set to reticulate the air
    •  Humidifiers will help the air quality in a home or building

    If You Are Forced to Evacuate

    Plan ahead for a safe place for your pet
    Evacuation shelters generally don’t accept pets and for this reason it’s important to plan ahead to ensure that your pets and family will have a safe place to stay. Research hotels and motels outside your immediate area for pet policies and ask friends and relatives outside the area if you and your pets can stay with them in case of a disaster.

    Proper Identification and Updated Vaccinations
    Having your pet licensed AND microchipped can protect your pet and help identify them if they were to become lost. Also, keep your pet’s vaccinations current, and keep the records handy.

    Leave early and take your pet
    One of the most important things to do if you are evacuating your home is to take your pets with you because you may be forced to stay away longer than anticipated. In addition, leave early and don’t wait for mandatory evacuation orders because if emergency officials have to evacuate you, you might be told to leave your pets behind.

    If you are away
    The risk of a fire may strike when you’re away from home. Make arrangements in advance with a trusted neighbor (who is comfortable with your pets and knows where in the home they are likely to be) to take them and meet you at a specified location.

    Picture perfect
    Have a photograph taken of you with your pets to show proof of ownership should you become separated.

    Pet carriers 
    Have pet carriers ready that are the correct sizes for each of your pets. Make sure each carrier is labeled with your contact information, should you become separated from your pet.

    Prepare an emergency kit
    Have a pet emergency kit prepared and ready for a disaster like a forest fire. This kit should have:

    • Three-plus days supply food and food bowls, water and two weeks of your pet’s medications
    • A ThunderShirt
    • Litter boxes with litter, if you have cats
    • Extra leashes and collars
    • Vaccination and medical records
    • Photos and descriptions of each pet
    • Pet first aid kit and pet first aid book

    Emergency numbers:
    If you have to evacuate at the last minute and cannot take your pets, don’t be a hero and return to the danger zone to try to rescue them.  Contact a trained professional rescue team, such as your local animal humane society.

    (tips adapted via)

  • Summer Storm Safety

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    As we are all aware, summertime storms can cause MAJOR anxiety and stress in our dogs and cats. And, it’s just about that time of year when super storms and hurricanes begin to arrive. Using a Thundershirt is an excellent way to calm your dog or cat should heavy winds, thunder and rain begin to pick up. In addition to using a ThunderShirt, here are a few more tips to keep in mind should heavy storms and troublesome weather arrive:

    • A permanent pet ID such as microchip is advised to help you locate your pet in case they get lost.
    • Keep pets inside and monitor them when the go out for bathroom breaks, at times, storms can spook pets into running away.
    • Photograph each pet and store these pictures with other important documents in sealed/waterproof plastic bags.
    • Make sure that your pets are up-to-date on their vaccinations. Boarding kennels typically require proof of current vaccinations.
    • During a storm, you can play pet-friendly, classical music, or even run a load of dishes or laundry. The calming or familiar noise may be relaxing to your pets.
    • Also, have your pets’ favorite toy, blanket and/or bed nearby during a severe storm.
    • Try not to scold a scare pet as it may confuse them and reinforce fearful behaviors.

    We hope you have a safe and calming storm season!

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