Common Myths About Anxious Pets

True or False With Dr. Jen Perret

Many animals are anxious at the clinic, but some animals find all new situations stressful, and some are even nervous at home. These may be the cats that hide for days when the furniture is moved, or the dog that barks incessantly and lunges at other dogs on a walk. Sometimes the behaviour is a new one, but it might just seem to be part of the pet’s personality. As a pet owner, where do you turn for help?

True or False: Veterinarians deal only with the physical causes of behaviour.

False. Veterinarians are concerned with your pet’s emotional and mental health as much as its physical health! If the problem is too complex to be addressed during a behavioural consultation in the clinic, we may recommend a referral to a specialist.

True or False: Changes in behaviour can indicate a change in health.

True. A good physical exam and medical history, sometimes combined with bloodwork or a urinalysis, might reveal a reason for your pet’s unpleasant behaviour. For example, older dogs might be startled more easily if they are losing their vision or hearing. Cats with bladder stones will often urinate around the house.

True or False: If my pet needs medication for her behaviour, she may not need it for life.

True. For very anxious animals, even training is too stressful. A temporary stint on medication or supplements can be very helpful to put them in the right mindset. Once calmer behaviour has been learned and reinforced, the medication may be reduced, or no longer needed. Some pets only need help during certain stressful events such as thunderstorms.

True or False: Cats who are fighting will work it out if left to their own devices.

False. Cats lead complex social lives and are very quick to learn negative associations. Each time they fight with another individual, their anger toward that cat gets stronger! This effect can be true even if the fight starts with something completely unrelated – like a loud noise. Cats who are fighting should be kept apart as much as possible until a strategy is devised for their slow reintroduction. Often, we’ll use the feline comfort pheromone (Feliway) to curb their anxiety about the situation.

True or False: Dogs who misbehave need to learn that you are dominant.

False. Although occasionally effective, misguided attempts to “dominate” anxious or aggressive dogs will often result in an escalation of the unwanted behaviour. A veterinarian or canine behaviourist can help direct you toward a positive training method that will allow you to be a leader for your dog, without increasing their level of anxiety or stress.

Behavioural issues remain one of the top reasons that cats & dogs are rehomed or surrendered to rescue agencies. The sooner a problem is addressed, the more likely it is to be corrected. At Guelph Animal Hospital, we are here for you and your pet.  Book a consultation today if you are worried about your pet, we can help!

Dr. Jen Perret

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