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10 Ways to Comfort Your Anxious Pet

Author and pet expert Peggy Frezon offers some tips for keeping your pets calm during time of stress and turmoil.

An anxious dog hides behind a sofa

Got a stressed pet? Here are a few tips to comfort and calm them:

1. Recognize stress-induced behavior.
Don’t assume your pet’s negative behaviors are signs of disobedience. Situations that may trigger stress are socializing, moving, traveling, adoption, loud noises and being left alone. Signs of stress include scratching, panting, pacing, trembling, excessive licking, hiding, accidents in the house, barking or howling (dogs) and excessive vocalization (cats).

2. Watch the timing of rewards.
Your pet craves your attention, and coddling him during stressful moments may be interpreted as a reward. For instance, making a big production out of saying goodbye when you leave the house can actually cause your pet to become anxious. Instead, say a few parting words and walk out the door as if leaving is no big deal. Save the petting session, extra cuddle time or treats for when you return.

3. Keep them occupied while you’re out.
Many pets experience separation anxiety. Have a pet food dispenser and puzzle toys available when they’re home alone. For cats, place a perch near a window. If possible, arrange for a visit from a pet sitter.

4. Try training.
A professional trainer can guide you in replacing your pet’s negative behaviors with positive ones. “Redirection” is often effective. If your pet focuses on something that causes anxiety—say he growls at another dog behind a fence while you’re out on a walk—divert his attention. Use a favorite toy or bits of food. This helps defuse an emotionally charged moment.

5. Soothe with scents.
Some pets respond to pheromones, airborne substances that mimic natural calming chemicals produced by animals. Pheromones come in sprays, plug-in diffusers, wipes and collars. Humans can’t smell them, but for many pets they do the trick.

6. Put on some mellow music.
Albums such as Through a Dog’s Ear and Through a Cat’s Ear are specifically created to relax your pet during times of stress. Bonus: You may also enjoy the classical music!

7. Tame travel terrors.
Many pets are anxious riding in cars. If your pet gets carsick, ask your vet about medication. Before the trip, withhold a meal (but always provide water), give her ample time to relieve herself and tire her out with a long walk or play. A safe place to ride is crucial. Keep your cat in a carrier. For dogs, use a crate or a seatbelt tether. Simply being away from home can cause stress. Bring along her favorite toys or blanket, especially if she’ll be staying somewhere without you, like a sitter’s home or a boarding facility.

8. Prepare for fireworks.
Fourth of July fun often isn’t fun for pets. If loud noises upset yours, stay home during fireworks. Play games or practice obedience commands to engage him. Provide a safe and secure retreat, but never shut your pet in a room. Turn up the TV or music (see no. 6) to muffle the fireworks. Use the same techniques during thunderstorms.

9. Swaddle them.
A calming coat, such as a Thunder- Shirt, uses straps with hook-and-loop fasteners to apply a constant, comfortable pressure (similar to swaddling an infant). These coats for dogs and cats come in a range of sizes and help during thunderstorms and fireworks or any time your pet is anxious or reactive.

10. Consider alternative remedies.
For severe cases, in which the fear is so intense that your pet is causing herself harm, your vet may prescribe a sedative. For milder cases, homeopathic or herbal remedies may work. Melatonin is often used for anxious pets, and Rescue Remedy is a popular herbal treatment. Discuss these options with your vet before giving them a try.

Being aware of when your pet’s anxiety arises and taking steps to relieve it will help make him feel safe and happy—just as your faithful friend does for you.

For more inspiring animal stories, subscribe to All Creatures magazine.

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