Cat Anxiety Treatment

  • What’s making your cat anxious?

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    So, maybe you’ve noticed your cat’s behavior has changed or they are acting out. This could be a sign of anxiety, which occurs more frequently in cats than we may think. Here is a brief outline of what some common symptoms and causes of anxiety are and what you can to treat them.

    The symptoms.

    While with any animal the symptoms of anxiety will vary. Here are some of the most common:

    • Spraying (even in neuters)
    • Inappropriate elimination
    • Pacing back and forth at perimeters of fences
    • Loss of appetite
    • Pulling out of fur
    • Trembling
    • Excessive meowing
    • Hiding from the world, under beds, behind curtains etc.
    • Physical symptoms and illness – some illnesses and disorders (such as acne) have been associated with stress. Stress can also be a response to physical illness, so it is most important to check with your vet to rule out a medical condition

    If you are noticing these symptoms in your cat, it may be a result of one of the following:

    • Overcrowding in multi-cat households
    • Moving
    • Travel
    • New family member (human or animal)
    • Parties/visitors
    • Medical conditions/injury
    • Confinement
    • New cat in the neighborhood
    • Change of any kind

    Cats differ in their responses to stress. Some may take on major changes without any signs or symptoms, while others may fall apart at the slightest change. To treat anxious cats, we first recommend talking to your veterinarian. In addition to conditioning your cat to become more used to their surroundings (which sometimes just takes time), we also recommend the ThunderShirt for Cats. The ThunderShirt for Cats applies a gentle constant pressure, like a hug, around a cat’s body- making them feel safer, calmer and more relaxed. For more information about the ThunderShirt for cats, visit www.ThunderWorks.com.

  • 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.

  • Singing for ThunderShirt by Special Guest, Sandy Robins

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    I have always been “blessed” with cats that sing in the car. But Ziggy out sings every cat I’ve ever known.

    When we took him home from the animal shelter, I put his vocals down to nerves.

    Not long after, we had to take him to the vet for his kitty shots. The moment we placed him in his carrier, the singing began.

    It started off with a tentative operatic dolcissimo (very sweet) “mew”. Followed by a second and then a third.  As we turned the corner he started scratching on the side of the carrier and the mew got more espressivo (insistent). Then he tried a new tactic and the mews got doloroso (sad and mournful).  From his perspective, he probably thought I wasn’t listening so he began to get more insistenta (insistent) until his vocals turned fortissimo (very loud).

    On the way home, it was a repeat performance. He wasn’t being naughty; he was really just stressed and anxious. Who knows what experiences he had an in a car before we adopted him.

    A few weeks later we were off to the vet again for follow-up shots. And soon Ziggy was singing the same aria. The next week, when it was time for his rabies shot courtesy of the animal shelter, we were back in the car and Ziggy was singing again.

    What was so interesting was the fact that it sounded like the same song.

    Cats in fact have quite a large vocabulary. Author and naturalist Jean Craighead George who writes about the language cats have in her award-winning book The Cats of Roxville Station and has studied cats in nature, says that the different ways in which a cat meows has a special idiosyncratic meaning. She has categorized some feline vocalizations as follows. They are written phonetically to emphasize the different sound and tones:

    In Kittens:

    • Mew (high pitched and thin) - a polite plea for help
    • MEW! (loud and frantic) - an urgent plea for help

    Adult cats:

    • Mew - plea for attention
    • Meow - emphatic plea for attention
    • MEOW! - a command!
    • Mee-o-ow (with falling cadence) - protest or whine
    • MEE-o-ow (shrill whine) - stronger protest
    • MYUP! (short, sharp, single note) - righteous indignation
    • MEOW! Meow! (repeated) - panicky call for help
    • Mier-r-r-ow (chirrup with lilting cadence) - friendly greeting

    Soon I worked out that Ziggy had composed a feline “song”:

    Here are his lyrics:

    Mew…mew…

    MEW!!

    Meow

    MEOW!

    Mee-o-ow

    MYUP! MYUP!

    MEE-o-ow

    MEE-o-ow

    Second verse same as the first.

    So I decided to translate. It goes something like this:

    Hello… Helloow …

    What’s happening here?

    This isn’t fair

    You scooped me out of my favorite chair

    I was a sleep

    What did you think --I wouldn’t make a peep?

    What’s happening now?

    Meeow miaow

    The vet!! Oh No!

    I don’t want to go

    I’m prodded and given a shot

    It calls for a total boycott

    Take me home….

    NOW!!!

    Meow….

    Finally I couldn’t take it anymore. There are always going to be vet visits for one reason or another. So I decided he was the perfect candidate for a feline ThunderShirt.

    I decided the best way to test the shirt was the take him one way to the vet without it and put it on for the journey home.

    I chose a fairly innocuous vet visit, namely, he was simply going for a Mani-Pedi. No needles or prodding involved. I even took Fudge along in the hope that seeing how she behaved would perhaps help him remain calm.

    No such luck. The outward-bound trip was typical – very vocal with Fudge simply staring at him in disbelief that a cat could make so much noise. So just before we popped him back in his carrier, I put him in a ThunderShirt. I reckoned he wasn’t going to have to walk around wearing it so he didn’t need to get used to it from that standpoint.

    On with the shirt, into the carrier and off we went home. It’s a 15-minute drive. And I must say Fudge and I enjoyed it immensely -- in total silence! I don’t say he enjoyed the ride, but he didn’t seem stressed and anxious to get out of the carrier, as was his typical modus operandi.

    I was amazed how it worked instantly. But apart from keeping him calm, it helped me to drive home fully concentrating on the road and not worrying about my feline passenger.

    When we got home, I took off the shirt and placed in his carrier, ready to go for next time.

     

    Sandy Robins  is an award-winning author and pet lifestyle expert.

    Follow her on Facebook here: http://www.Facebook.com/SandyRobinsPetLifestyleExpert

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