Pet anxiety is an issue that’s been close to my heart for many years. Last year, along with respected veterinary and pet experts, I launched the first annual Pet Anxiety Awareness Week (PAAW) with the goal of educating pet parents about what to do for pets with fear, anxiety, and stress. This year, PAAW runs from June 25 to July 1.
By devoting an entire week to this heartbreaking and difficult issue, I hope to make pet parents more aware of pet fear, anxiety, and stress (FAS), and give them everything they need to help their best friend, including education, tools, resources, and most of all, hope!
I’ve written before about my experience with my canine soul mate, Buck. His ordeal with FAS was the impetus that led to PAAW, so I want to share it with you again, in hopes that you find it helpful. My experience with Buck certainly helped to prepare and educate me on how to deal with the fear, stress, and anxiety that my current dog, Chilly, suffers from. So, please, if you find this post helpful, share it with friends and family whose pets may be struggling with FAS.
My Experience With Pet Anxiety
My journey into the world of pet anxiety began over ten years ago when Buck began showing signs of thunderstorm phobia. His symptoms were mild… at first. But they soon escalated from general restlessness during a storm to much more destructive, even dangerous, self-harming behavior.
During the peak of a thunderstorm, our normally fun-loving, joyful boy would become unshakably clingy, even attempting to climb into our laps to weather the storm. The sight of an 80 pound dog trying desperately to curl up on a much-too-small lap would have been funny if it wasn’t so sad. Even in the beginning, we knew our boy was scared — we just weren’t sure what to do to help him.
It was even worse when we weren’t home. That’s when he would become destructive. We would come home to mangled doorknobs and molding. In his attempts to escape, Buck would even chew the drywall right down to the wooden studs. The poor guy wore his teeth down to the point where we couldn’t even feed him dry food anymore — it was too difficult for him to chew.
But it didn’t end there for poor Buck. He began experiencing severe separation anxiety even on days when there were no storms. When he was left alone, he would work himself up to the point where he was tearing gashes in the top of his nose by rubbing it violently on different objects.
For a while we tried to manage Buck’s condition by making sure that either my husband or I was with him 24/7. This was not easy. We brought him with us whenever we could — even bringing him along to a New Year’s Eve party in 2008 so he wouldn’t hurt himself while we were gone. But if we were going somewhere that Buck couldn’t accompany us, one of us had to stay home. We even vacationed separately on several occasions. Pet sitters were not an option. We couldn’t think of anyone we would subject to Buck’s uber-phobic needs. And honestly, we wouldn’t have enjoyed ourselves anyway knowing what he was probably going through at home.
After trying unsuccessfully to help Buck manage his fears, we knew we needed professional help. We made an appointment with a board-certified veterinary behaviorist who was able to provide us with an official diagnosis and shed some light on what he was going through.
We learned that Buck was suffering from the doggie equivalent of panic attacks. His behavior wasn’t purposefully destructive, he was just trying frantically to get out of the house to be back with the people who made him feel safe. That’s why he usually concentrated his efforts in the area around our door.
It was heartbreaking to learn how intense his fear was — he was literally terrified, even in fear of his life! We learned that Buck had felt this fear from the beginning, even when his behavior was much less extreme.
Thankfully, with a combination of anti-anxiety medications and behavior modification, we were able to help Buck deal with his fear and anxiety. I’m happy to say that, once he got the help he needed, he lived a better life in his last few years – and so did we!
Buck is Not Alone
About 90% of pets will experience fear and anxiety at some point in their lives. And one third of them will deal with chronic anxiety. As a matter of fact, Chilly has storm phobia and separation anxiety. He also experiences anxiety during vet visits.
Thanks to the things we learned from Buck, we recognized the signs early and have been able to manage his symptoms through behavior modification, prescription medications, and natural therapies, including many I’ve mentioned here on my blog. We also make sure he gets lots of exercise and playtime, since staying active and engaged can also help to alleviate anxiety.
One thing that our experience with Buck taught us is the importance of getting help for animals with FAS right away. Their symptoms will not improve on their own — in fact, they will probably get much worse. They did with Buck.
If you think that your pet is showing signs of FAS, don’t try to handle it on your own. Talk to your vet about his symptoms and triggers so that you can come up with a treatment plan to help him cope with his anxiety. You might even need to ask for a referral to a board certified behaviorist.
Even though we were able to eventually help Buck to enjoy a much better quality of life, I often think back to what we went through with him and think of how much suffering our whole family could have avoided if we had only known a little more about his condition.
It is my goal during Pet Anxiety Awareness Week to help as many pet parents as possible learn what they need to know so that they can give their pets the help they need. All week I’ll be posting blogs about helpful products, sharing advice from other experts, and interviewing leading authorities on this important issue.
If your pet has been dealing with FAS, it’s not a lost cause! You CAN help him to feel safe and calm again. Please go to petanxietyawarenessweek.com to learn more about FAS and receive helpful products and tips for coping with your pet’s fear, stress, or anxiety.
And speaking of helpful products, in honor of Pet Anxiety Awareness Week coming up, I’ve got some paw-tastic products to give away through the entire month of June! All of them are designed to help keep pets calm and happy. Scamper on over to the Pet Living website to enter!