3 Ways to calm an anxious pet by Dr Jacqui Ley

3 ways to calm an anxious pet

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Pet owners often find themselves having to deal with an anxious pet, but there are various treatments and strategies that can be applied to shift this behaviour and improve the quality of life for both pets and their families.

According Veterinary Behaviourist Dr Jacqui Ley, there are several tools that can be used in the treatment of anxiety in pets.

Dr Ley explains how pets feel anxiety and reveals 3 simple ways to calm an anxious pet.

“Pets feel anxiety in similar ways as we do. It’s a normal emotion that prepares you for a negative experience.

“Anxiety is what makes us alert in a dark alley or careful on the edge of a cliff. Signs of anxiety include jumpiness, fidgeting, increased heart rate, dry mouth and gastrointestinal irritability. So it makes sense that to reverse these sensations of anxiety, we need to counter it with relaxation techniques to reduce the heart rate, relax muscles and calm brain activity,” said Dr Ley.

During prolonged periods of relaxation, the brain secretes protective mood altering neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, a powerful hormone associated with feeling of happiness, contentment and relaxation.

“The treatment of anxiety disorders involves calming the overactive pathways in the brain while teaching better coping strategies to help the sufferer return to a calmer state.

“It’s important that any behaviour modification exercises are taught in a quiet environment before they’re practised in increasingly challenging environments,” Dr Ley said.

Dr Ley’s 3 ways to calm an anxious pet

Sit-stay-look exercise. This is a simple type of exercise to use. Unlike obedience, the focus is not on the tasks of sitting, staying and looking but rather on seeing a relaxation response. So it provides a framework for relaxation to occur.

Rewarding relaxed behaviour. Whispering “good boy” every time the pet is relaxing is a simple and effective technique and easy for owners to incorporate into their busy schedules.

Massage. Long, firm, slow strokes can be a great way of relaxing pets and can be done while owners watch TV or listen to some music. Massage isn’t appropriate for all pets though, especially for those who dislike being touched.

“When these behaviour modifications are combined with environmental management and for some, medication, it can provide a powerful three-tiered approach that can see a marked shift from anxious to more relaxed behaviour,” she said.


About Dr Jacqui Ley

Dr Jacqui Ley presented this topic ‘How to help your furry friend relax’ at the 2016 Australian Veterinary Association Ltd (AVA) Annual Conference.  Located in Melbourne, Dr Ley is a Registered Veterinarian Specialist in Behavioural Medicine at the Melbourne Veterinarian Specialist Center. Dr Ley has over 15 years of experience in this field. This means she is qualified to a specialist level in dog behaviour, cat behaviour or just about any other animals behaviour.