This is the story of Buck, my dog with anxiety, who first inspired Pet Anxiety Awareness Month. This awareness event has now evolved into two separate events designed to cater to the specific needs of dogs and cats with anxiety. June is now Dog Anxiety Awareness Month and September is Cat Anxiety Awareness Month.
Read Time: 5 1/2 minutes
Pet anxiety is an issue that’s been close to my heart for many years. In 2017, 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.
Over time, it became clear that one week was simply not enough time to devote to pet anxiety! So we expanded the event to include the entire month of June, which became Pet Anxiety Awareness Month.
The resounding effects were both heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time! It’s so sad to see how many pets are suffering, often needlessly. But it was thrilling to see how many pets and pet parents we’ve been able to help over the years. But that simply wasn’t enough.
In 2022, I was able to partner with leading veterinarians, veterinary behaviorists, and other experts to help Pet Anxiety Awareness Month evolve into something much bigger.
June is Dog Anxiety Awareness Month
June 2022 saw the first-ever Dog Anxiety Awareness Month. I assisted in launching a dedicated website that serves the unique needs of dogs with anxiety. I’m thrilled to present the website, doganxietyawareness.org, which features a veterinary-designed anxiety assessment so you can see firsthand if your dog is suffering from anxiety.
It also contains resources for pet parents to help their anxious dogs and inspiring and comforting stories about other dogs with anxiety. I will share mine in just a moment, because my dog, Buck, was the inspiration for these awareness events that have now helped hundreds of thousands of pets.
If your cat has anxiety, don’t despair…
September is Cat Anxiety Awareness Month
Not to be outdone, cats will have their own dedicated month! Cat Anxiety Awareness Month is in September and will help cat parents better understand their cats’ behavior and identify signs of anxiety.
Cats, as we know, can be particularly mysterious, and their behavior often needs a bit of decoding. So catanxietyawareness.org (to launch in late summer 2022) will help cat moms and dads to learn more about the subtle shades of anxiety their cat may be displaying.
It will also feature an interactive assessment and resources to get help for cat anxiety.
My Experience With Pet Anxiety
I’ve written before about my experience with my canine soul mate, Buck. His ordeal with fear, anxiety, and stress was the impetus that led to the Pet Anxiety Awareness event.
My experience with Buck certainly helped to prepare and educate me on how to deal with the fear, stress, and anxiety that my next dog, Chilly, suffered from. So, please, if you find this post helpful, share it with friends and family whose pets may be struggling with 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.
Finding Help for My Dog’s Anxiety
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 on 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
According to a recent study, 57% of dogs experience anxiety.1 And more than 70% have anxiety that is moderate to severe, just like Buck and Chilly, who suffered from storm phobia and separation anxiety. He also experienced anxiety during vet visits.
Thanks to the things we learned from Buck, we recognized the signs early and were able to manage Chilly’s symptoms through behavior modification, prescription medications, and natural therapies, including many I’ve mentioned here on my blog. We also made sure he had lots of exercise and playtime since staying active and engaged can also help to alleviate anxiety.
One thing that our experience with both our dogs taught us is the importance of getting help for animals with anxiety right away. Their symptoms will not improve on their own — in fact, they will probably get much worse.
If you think that your pet is showing signs of anxiety, 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 both Dog Anxiety Awareness Month and Cat Anxiety Awareness Month 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. But we can’t stop there! Education about dog and cat anxiety needs to continue year-round. So please visit doganxietyawareness.org and catanxietyawareness.org (to be launched in late summer 2022) and spread the word so we can help our anxious pets live their best lives!