July 1, 2022

How to recognize and treat emotional issues in your pet

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By Lynn Allison From Newsmax


Most pet owners pay attention to the physical health of their furry companions, but we probably don’t realize the importance of their emotional health, and how it factors into every other aspect of their well-being, as well as our own.

According to the American Pet Products Association, about 69% of U.S. households own a pet, totaling a whopping 90 million dogs and 94 million cats. Sometimes our companion animals can suffer from fear, anxiety and stress, or FAS, according to Mikkel Becker, the lead animal trainer for Fear Free, which provides online education on the emotional well-being of pets to veterinarians and pet owners.  Founded by renowned veterinarian Marty Becker, DVM, in 2016, the organization has led the path in compassionate pet treatment and veterinarian education.

“Common signs of FAS in cats include ears pinned against the head or out to the side, tail thumping, dilated pupils, growling, spitting and panting,” Mikkel tells Newsmax. “Dogs may present with FAS with stiff spines and posture, tense jaw, growling, biting, snarling, and short tense lips.”

Both Beckers say that one of the most common causes of FAS is being in unfamiliar situations and environments. This is especially true for cats, who tend to like stability and routine with the same home and the same human companions.

“Taking your pet to a vet, trainer, or groomer who is not trained in Fear Free practices, especially one where you are not allowed to go in with your pet, can be traumatic and stressful,” says Mikkel, who adds that noise aversion is another important cause of FAS and could be triggered by anything from running a dishwasher to thunderstorms and fireworks. “This is like a human having a panic attack and may cause the pet to engage in destructive behavior, which can fracture the human-animal bond.”

Separation anxiety makes up 10 to 20% of the cases referred to veterinary behaviorists. The symptoms can present from mild body language issues to severe concerns, where the dogs can injure themselves or destroy the home.

“Regular stressors like these can have negative effects on your pet’s overall health and can create a PTSD-like trigger response,” says Mikkel.

Marty says that remedies and treatments for FAS depend on the cause.

“Obtaining a diagnosis from the veterinarian is the first strep toward treatment,” he says. “The patient should be medically worked up and assessed as there may be underlying medical or anxiety-related concerns that will exacerbate the issue.”

After a medical workup, the veterinary team can help the owner devise a treatment plan for the animal that includes safety, prevention, management, and behavioral therapy. Sometimes medications can help, and other times behavioral therapy holds the key. This can be helpful in cases of separation anxiety, say the Beckers.

“A great way to start this process is with high-value treats for the patient to enjoy during departures,” says Marty. “A lickable item that is easy to ingest and easy for a pet to focus on when distressed. Think peanut butter, cream cheese, canned pumpkin or yogurt stuffed into food bowl mazes or Kong toys.”

Use tiny treats to help a pet get over the anxiety of a car ride, and if your pet suffers from noise aversion, try reducing the noise by playing soft music or soundproofing an area, such as a closet or basement, to provide a safe haven. There are also medications that your veterinarian can prescribe to help reduce FAS.

For free videos, articles and more information that will help improve the physical and emotional health of your pet visit fearfreehappyhomes.com.

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