Anxiety in Dogs and Cats

Many people are familiar with anxiety disorders in humans, but did you know that our pets can experience anxiety too? Anxiety is a very normal experience for any animal, and under normal conditions, anxiety helps to keep animals safe from harm. Fear of being alone, unfamiliar animals, big life changes like moving, or scary noises like thunder is very normal. However, if fears last far longer than the inciting cause, if the fear response is much more intense than expected given the circumstances, or if the anticipation of a scary event is so severe that a pet cannot engage with their family normally, it can dramatically affect everyone’s quality of life. 

Signs of anxiety in pets include:

  • Changes in their bodies, include tremoring, pacing, panting, yawning when they are not sleepy, excessive drooling, urinating or defecating in the house despite being housebroken or litterbox trained, or excessive vocalization such as barking or whining
  • Attempts to avoid the fearful stimulus, such as hiding, acting defensive (hissing/swatting or barking/snapping), trying to run away or hide, or refusing to move towards something scary like getting into the car or walking into a vet clinic
  • Freezing or acting “shut down”
  • Inability to participate in social behaviors (playing, approaching, or sometimes even seeing another animal or human)

Anxiety disorders are often rooted in genetics. Puppies and kittens whose parents were anxious are more likely to be anxious as well. Anxiety can also develop if pets had minimal exposure to novel experiences (different humans, animals, places, sounds, textures, etc) during their socialization period, which lasts from about 6 to 16 weeks of age in dogs and about 2 to 7 weeks of age in kittens. Pets can also develop anxiety following traumatic events such as being attacked by another animal.

Once you have discovered that your pet is experiencing anxiety, there are many ways to help your pet have less distressing reactions to stressful stimuli. Anxiety management in pets requires patience and understanding. The good news is that your pet doesn’t have to struggle with anxiety forever. Pets can learn new and safe ways to react to stressful experiences. If your pet is anxious, we recommend enlisting the help of a trainer who is familiar with anxiety. Your veterinarian can also help you with your pet’s anxiety. Anxiety management involves behavior modification (training), environmental management (creating a life that minimizes exposure to anxiety triggers), and sometimes medications and supplements. 

We don’t recommend using punishment with anxious pets. Punishing a pet who feels anxious will usually make them more fearful because it makes pets feel even less safe around whatever is making them feel anxious. We also don’t recommend “flooding”, which is a training technique in which a pet is exposed to their scary stimulus so much that they stop reacting (i.e. forcing a dog who is scared of cars to stay near a busy road until they stop trying to run away). While it can look like the dog becomes comfortable being exposed to cars for an hour, they usually have simply shut down. Most pets who undergo flooding will continue to be very fearful of these stimuli the next time they see them- and sometimes it makes their fear far worse.

With a good support team, your pet can lead a life with less fear and stress. Please reach out if you need assistance with your anxious pet!

COVID-19 Update

We have kept our front door locked during business hours for the past two years in order to control the flow of traffic through our lobby. Beginning on Monday, May 2nd, we will be unlocking our door! Because it has been a while since our check-in process was inside the clinic, here is a reminder of how appointments normally flow:

  • If your pet has an appointment with a doctor, please enter the clinic and check in with the front desk staff. You and your pet will be escorted into an exam room by a veterinary assistant for your pet’s visit.
  • If your pet has an appointment with a veterinary technician (i.e. a blood draw appointment), please enter the clinic and check in with the front desk staff. Your pet will be escorted into the treatment room while you wait in the lobby or in your vehicle

Everyone inside our facility must wear a mask. We can provide you with a mask if you don’t have one. Please do not come inside if you are sick or if you are in quarantine for COVID-19. Anyone who prefers to remain curbside for their visit is welcome to do so! You can call the number on the sign at your parking space in order to have your pet checked in via phone and a staff member will escort your pet inside.

Please remember to have your pets safely secured while in the lobby. Dogs should wear a well-fitted collar and leash (no Flexi-leads please!). Cats, small mammals, and birds should be confined inside secure carriers.

Thank you for your patience as we transition to yet another new normal! We will be adjusting our protocols as we fine-tune our new check in process and appreciate your understanding.

Avian Influenza Update

Highly-Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) continues to make its way across Minnesota as migratory birds are spreading the virus north. The veterinarians at the Raptor Center have asked everyone to please take down bird feeders (except for hummingbird feeders). The more we prevent birds from gathering, the less likely they are to spread HPAI. We were sad to remove our feeders at St. Francis, but know it’s in the best interest of the birds! We look forward to being able to feed our feathered friends again soon.

Happy World Veterinary Day!

World Veterinary Day is celebrated every year on the last Saturday of April. This is a day to celebrate the contributions of veterinary medicine to animal welfare. We know that the health of animals, humans, and the environment are all intertwined, and veterinarians are an integral part of supporting the health of both animal and human life. Thank you for helping us to honor veterinary medicine!