Grey and white Cat in a wicker basket.

Does my cat suffer with anxiety?

Just like us humans, cats can also suffer with anxiety. They will experience anxiety if they perceive a situation as dangerous (regardless of whether it actually is or not). Although they can’t tell us, there are a few telltale signs they may show to indicate that they may be suffering with stress and anxiety.

How would I know?

Typical symptoms of anxiety or stress can include:

  • Destructive behaviour like clawing at the curtains or scratching the furniture
  • Overgrooming themselves, sometimes to the point of causing bald patches or sore skin (“OCD” or repetitive type behaviours)
  • Toileting outside of their litter tray, or urine spraying
  • Hiding away and withdrawing
  • Being easily startled or fleeing
  • Aggression
  • Medical Vocalising or miaowing more
  • Problems such as cystitis

It’s important to work out when your cat began to show symptoms of anxiety. This will help when identifying the best technique to help them.

What causes anxiety?

Again similar to people, cats can suffer with anxiety as a result of big changes to their routine or environment. An obvious example of this is moving house or staying in a cattery, where their entire environment has changed. The introduction of a new baby or another pet, noisy building work being done or a change in job meaning you’re spending more or less time with your pet can also be potential triggers. Changes can be outside the home making the cause harder to identify. Such as a new cat in your cat’s territory due to bullying or competition.

Some cats may be more predisposed to anxiety than others. Particularly if they have missed certain experiences and socialisation as a kitten. If left untreated, anxiety can become a serious problem. It’s unlikely to get better on its own and fearful behaviours can become more pronounced over time.

How can we deal with feline anxiety?

Firstly, if you’ve noticed any changes to your pet’s behaviour, you should always get them checked over by your vet as the symptoms of anxiety can also be signs of other illnesses. Your vet will be able to perform a thorough clinical examination and ensure there are no underlying conditions. Once they’ve ruled out other health issues they may diagnose your cat with feline anxiety and may recommend certain calming techniques or in some cases, medication.

The most important step is to identify the cause of their anxiety, as often a simple change in their environment or routine can be really helpful.

  • If your cat has separation anxiety, then creating a stimulating environment to keep your cat distracted when you’re out of the house can be helpful. Activity puzzle feeders are great for this, as well as toys and perches with stimulating views.
  • If you’ve introduced a new pet to the household, then a gradual acclimatization process will be necessary. It’s very likely your cat will need time to adjust to sharing their space, as well as sharing the attention that you give to them. You will need to ensure your pet has time and space away from the new pet if they need it, including perching places where they can get up high. Baby gates can be useful to give them a safe space.
  • If there’s a new cat on the block, then using a microchip cat flap can ensure no unwanted visitors can get in the house. Shutting the curtains to stop your cat seeing or feeling threatened by a new cat outside.
  • Certain cat calming products, such as Feliway are available in both spray and plug-in diffuser formats. They work by releasing pheromones which mimic natural cat pheromones which help to calm them. They can’t be relied on as a solution on their own but can be helpful alongside environmental modification.

 

Halloween sweets and other dangers

Halloween poses a number of health and welfare risks to dogs, from eating foods that can be toxic to man’s best friend, such as chocolate and some sweets, as well as objects like decorations!

Chocolate

Chocolate contains a chemical called theobromine, which is poisonous to dogs, as well as other animals such as cats, rodents and rabbits. Generally speaking, the darker and more expensive the chocolate, the more theobromine it contains, and therefore the more poisonous it is. White chocolate contains very little theobromine and so is unlikely to cause chocolate poisoning, but is still very fatty and can make your dog ill. Chocolate can initially cause vomiting and diarrhoea, but is a stimulant and so can cause your dog to become excitable, as well as develop muscle twitching, tremors, fitting and life-threatening problems with their heart.

Sweets

If available in large quantities, some dogs may gorge themselves on sugary sweets kept aside for, or collected by, trick or treaters. After eating lots of sugar, or even lots of fat, dogs can develop pancreatitis (an inflammation of the pancreas), which may cause them to be off their food, develop vomiting, diarrhoea, lethargy and go into organ failure.

Sugar-free sweets

Some sugar-free sweets and chewing gums contain an artificial sweetener called xylitol, which can be very poisonous to dogs. Xylitol is more commonly found in food products in America, but is beginning to appear in sugar-free products in the UK as well. Xylitol can cause an otherwise healthy dog’s blood sugar level to drop to dangerous levels and can also cause liver failure.

Obstruction risks

If eaten, sweet wrappers, lollipop sticks, food containers/boxes, or even small parts from a Halloween costume can all cause an obstruction in your dog’s gut. This can be very dangerous and may require surgical intervention. Signs of an obstruction may include your dog being off their food, vomiting, lethargy and not defecating or finding it difficult to defecate.

What to do if your dog has eaten something it shouldn’t

  • Call us immediately
  • It is important that we make an informed decision as to whether your dog needs to be clinically assessed or treated. Where possible please make sure you have the following information to hand:
    • what your dog has eaten
    • how much has been eaten
    • when it was eaten
  • Do not try and make your dog sick – trying to do this can sometimes cause other complications, which can make your dog unwell

Our dedicated vets are on call 24/7, 365 days a year. If you think your pet may have eaten sweets we highly recommend calling us as this can be a potentially fatal situation.

 

Halloween and your pet

Costumes, trick-or-treaters, and jack-o-lanterns — all signs point to Halloween! But before the first trick-or-treaters come to your door and you dress your pet up, make sure that they are ready for the holiday. This year is clouded in uncertainty because of Covid-19 but we always find it is better to over prepare!

Be wary of strangers

If you want to take your dog along for trick or treating, make sure they’re properly socialized and would actually enjoy being a part of the fun. Many dogs get very nervous when approached by unfamiliar people or excited children and adding Halloween masks and costumes to the mix can set your dog up for a biting incident. Some dogs could become fearful and anxious and try to run away.

Staying safe and secure

Halloween can be stressful for many pets because of the non-stop door knocking and doorbell ringing, trick-or-treat yelling kids, strange costumes, and the constant opening and closing of the door.

  • Create a safe space. The noises associated with trick or treating (such as doorbells, knocking, and loud children) can be stressful for your pets. If your pet is anxious when someone knocks or rings the doorbell, set up a secure room away from all the noise where they can hang out. Put on calming music to block the sound of the doorbell and put out their food and water, favorite toys, or a yummy chew. And don’t forget a clean litter box for the cats!
  • Medication. Medication can help give your dog relief from their noise aversion symptoms.
  • Prevent door dashing. You don’t want your dog to get spooked and run out the front door while you’re handing out candy. Put up gates to prevent your pet from rushing up to trick-or-treaters or dashing out the door. Or put your pet on a leash and keep that leash in hand when you’re opening the door to hand out candy.

Keep sweets and treats out of reach

Halloween treats are delicious for humans but can be dangerous for pets. It’s best to keep all treats out of reach of pets, especially chocolate and treats containing the sugar-free ingredient, xylitol. Keep the bowl of sweets out of reach of your pet in between trick-or-treaters and hang your child’s bag of goodies up high when they get home.

Pet suffocation happens much too often, so make sure to keep any treat bags away from your pet and cut them along all the edges (so it lays flat) before throwing them away. Lots of animals want to investigate bags because they smell like food or candy, but that can be dangerous quickly!

For information on what to do in the event of your pet eating sweets or chocolate – please click here.

Be fire safe

Did you know that about 1,000 fires are started each year unintentionally by pets? Their fluffy tails or excited jumping can knock candles over and harm them or your home. Stay safe and use glow sticks or LED candles in your pumpkins and as decorations this year.

With some simple planning and easy management techniques, you and your pet can stay safe and have fun this Halloween!

Firework anxiety

It is Firework season, which for many is a fun time but for some of our furry friends, it can be a very stressful time. We discuss what causes noise aversion and tips to help your pet during this stressful time.

What is noise aversion?

At least one-third of dogs suffer from noise aversion, a fear and anxiety exhibited upon hearing loud noises (including fireworks) that leads to stress, suffering and potentially-destructive behavior. Other terms used to describe this response to noise include noise anxiety or noise phobia. Noise aversion shouldn’t be a normal part of “being a dog,” as it’s actually a serious medical condition that can be treated. Even though noise aversion is a medical condition, only 40% of owners of dogs that display noise aversion signs seek help from their veterinarian. This is particularly sad, as delaying the diagnosis and treatment can increase both the frequency and severity of a dog’s symptoms, worsen their overall quality of life, increase their risk of injury, and even put a strain on the bond between your family and your dog.

Signs of noise aversion in dogs:

  • Pacing or restlessness
  • Lip licking
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Panting
  • Excessive alertness or hypervigilance
  • Cowering
  • Hiding
  • Brow furrowed or ears back
  • Freezing or immobility
  • Owner seeking behavior or excessive clinginess
  • Refusing to eat
  • Yawning
  • Vocalizing (whining or barking at the sounds)

How noise aversion impacts dogs

When a dog with a noise aversion to fireworks hears them, it’s terrifying and causes great distress. It’s similar to a person experiencing a panic attack. This fear and anxiety causes their heart to race, puts them on heightened alert, and may even cause them to engage in destructive behavior. This destructive behavior can cause your dog to injure themselves trying to escape their environment, or damage their surroundings by chewing furniture, scratching floors and doors, or digging holes in your yard. Untreated noise aversion can also lead to or worsen other canine anxieties, like separation anxiety or general anxiety. It can become a bit of a vicious cycle for an undiagnosed and untreated dog.

How do I know my dog has noise aversion?

Noise aversion is a medical diagnosis, but you need to recognize and speak to your veterinarian about your dog’s signs before diagnosis and treatment can begin.

What should I do if my dog has noise aversion?

If your veterinarian confirms the diagnosis of noise aversion, your dog’s treatment plan may include a combination of medications, behavior modification, and environmental modification.

  • Medication. Different medications may be prescribed, you can administer to your dog before or as fireworks occur. This can help provide your dog with more immediate relief from their noise aversion symptoms.
  • Behavior modification. Behavior modification techniques such as counter-conditioning and systematic desensitisation can help your dog become less fearful of the noise. When using behavior modification techniques, it’s often best to work with a board-certified veterinary behaviorist or a rewards-based, certified dog trainer (ask your veterinarian for a recommendation).
  • Environmental modification. Your veterinarian may also recommend ways to modify your dog’s environment. You can create a safe haven for your dog following these tips.
    • Create a safe zone in an interior room, away from windows, if possible (a bathroom or closet works best). If not, draw the blinds or use blackening shades to help prevent flashes of light, which are associated with fireworks.
    • Place their crate, blankets, food and water, and a favorite toy in this area to help them relax and like spending time in this space.
    • Add white noise or use a fan to help muffle the noises associated with fireworks. Alternatively, turn on music (loud enough to drown out the noise but not so loud that you frighten your dog even more).

Remember that your dog is reacting to the noise out of fear and anxiety, so never punish your dog for their noise aversion signs, as that will only make your dog more fearful and anxious.

Noise aversion is a terrible experience for your dog. By identifying the signs and speaking to your veterinarian to initiate treatment early, you can prevent your dog from suffering and keep her a happy and healthy member of your family the entire year, including November and December!

 

To help our patients during firework season, we are offering 10% off Adaptil and Feliway!