Treating Your Cat or Dog's Anxiety

Anxiety in dogs and cats - how can you recognise and reduce it?

Cat and dog anxiety is stressful, making your precious pet fearful in everyday situations when no real danger exists. Minimising or avoiding potential triggers is the best way you can help reduce their anxiety.

An anxious cat or dog may vocalise more and display undesirable behaviours, such as over-grooming and being destructive. Anxiety can be caused by many different factors - genetics, early life experiences, changes to their routine and environment, loud noises, or separation from their humans.

Cat and dog anxiety is stressful, making your precious pet fearful of everyday situations. Our pets are naturally hardwired to experience fear as it enables them to act quickly when they are in danger. This survival response focuses the mind, and prepares the body, to fight, freeze, or flight (run away). However, when this fear is being felt when no real danger exists, it becomes a problem.

Minimising and avoiding potential triggers is the best way you can help reduce anxiety.

How do I know if my cat or dog is anxious?

The most common signs of anxiety in cats and dogs include:

  • Increased vocalisation – barking, howling, meowing
  • Timid body language – ears back, tail down, slinking, shaking
  • Hiding – under the house or furniture, burrowing into beds or blankets
  • Over-grooming – excessive licking, chewing themselves, sometimes creating bald spots in their coat
  • Naughty behaviour – digging, destroying things, escaping
  • Toileting inside

Whilst anxiety is often the underlying reason for these behaviour changes, have your pet examined by their vet to rule out any physical causes.  

What causes anxiety in cats and dogs?

Temporary and ongoing anxiety in cats and dogs can be caused by the following:

  • Genetics - some are more prone, like the ‘naughty tortie’ (tortoiseshell) cat and smaller dog breeds.
  • Life experience - lack of desensitisation or socialisation when young or a traumatic event.
  • New arrivals into their home - a baby, another pet, new flatmate or visiting humans.
  • Holidays – stays in kennels and catteries, getting use to a new environment with roommates, not knowing when their human will return.
  • New neighbours – humans and pets, add a new sense of danger and change.
  • Moving house – travelling, leaving behind familiar territory, getting used to a new one.
  • Sudden loud noises – sensitivity to thunder, fireworks, or renovations.
  • Separation from their humans - probably the biggest trigger of recent times. With many of us having returned to the workplace after lockdowns and working from home, our pets are now having to get used to being apart from us.

Some tips for dealing with separation anxiety in dogs

Cats are mostly independent and enjoy quiet time away from us, but dogs are pack animals and need company. The good news is you can train your dog to minimise their separation anxiety.

Desensitise them to you leaving so they become calm, comfortable, and confident that you will return. Pretend to get ready to leave, then stay and sit with them. Progress this to leaving the house for 10 minutes then return, 1 hour then return, and so forth. The key is to always return so they can learn to trust that they won't be abandoned.

Reward them when you leave, with a treat or special toy to keep them occupied. Only allow your pet to access that toy when you’re leaving and returning. Anti-anxiety wraps, beds, calming scents and medication are also available.

Talk to our friendly team for more details and training tips.

Some tips for dealing with separation anxiety in cats

It can be hard to pinpoint an anxiety trigger but bear in mind, cats love their creature comforts,. They hate changes in routine and are not fans of intruders through their cat flap, dogs wandering onto their section, or humans visiting their home. A few tips to help calm and reduce cat anxiety include:

  • Quiet, comfy space – a warm bed located off the ground, to sleep safely in during the day
  • Microchip activated cat flap – programmed for your cat, keeps out intruders
  • Cat calming spray – containing facial pheromones, they calm cat emotions
  • House sitter – rather than a cattery when you go away, ask someone to stay in your home

If your pet’s symptoms continue and you want further information, please don’t hesitate to contact us!

Disclaimer: This article provides general information only. It is not intended as medical or health advice and should not be relied on as a substitute for consultation with a qualified healthcare professional who understands your pet's individual needs.


Franklin Vets

Franklin Vets - excellence in veterinary care for dairy, farming, lifestyle, equine and household pets. BESTPRACTICE ACCREDITED NZ.