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Causes of Fear and Anxiety in Dogs and Cats

Anxiety related disorders are a common problem for both dogs and cats. But what causes one animal to turn into a trembling mess may have no effect at all on another, making it hard to anticipate what stimulus or events will result in a native reaction. Whether these triggers are real or only perceived, they will have the same impact on your furry friend, resulting in physiological, behavioral or emotional symptoms that can be upsetting and even dangerous.

Anxiety vs fear

Although the words ‘anxiety’ and ‘fear’ tend to be used interchangeably and are interrelated, they do in fact mean different things. Anxiety is the anticipation of a future event or unknown threat. An example of this would be when your dog notices your putting on your jacket, they know that you are planning to go out soon and therefore start showing signs of anxiety. Fear is triggered directly by an event taking place or a particular stimulus. This could be the noise or fireworks, or the experience of traveling in the car.

Separation anxiety

For dog owners, this is a common cause of complaint. Dogs are highly social and form a strong connection with their family members – be they humans or other dogs. So, when a dog is left alone at home for extended periods of time they can experience the distress of separation anxiety, which not only takes an emotional toll but can also lead to destructive and anti-social behavior.

Thunderstorm phobia

For your pet, there is a lot to be scared of when a storm hits. The noise of thunder, loud and unexpected, seems to your pet like danger from an unknown source. In addition, there is the darkening skies, flashes of lightning, and the wind and rain. Some people will notice that their pet shows signs of anxiety even before the storm hits, as they can sense the change in air pressure that comes with a storm.

Vet visits

Taken to a strange place and being poked and prodded? It’s no wonder that your pet doesn’t like going to the vet. Visits to the vet can encompass a number of different fears for animals, including being away from home, meeting new people and animals, traveling in a car and the examination itself. Add to this that your pet may already be sick when you take them to the vet, and you can see why it’s such an unpleasant experience for them.

Noise phobias

It’s not just the noise of storms that produce adverse reactions in animals. Other loud or sudden noises can be just as problematic, including fireworks, lawnmowers, and vacuum cleaners. Some pets, dogs, in particular, may react to specific sounds that you may not consider particularly loud or threatening, such as skateboards or birds.

Car rides

This fear often tops the list for cats, who are not usually as keen on car travel as their canine counterparts. While dogs may link a ride in the car with a trip to the park, cats are usually only driven to the vet or a boarding kennel, provoking a negative association. In addition, cats are highly territorial animals that do not like to be out of their home environment. And don’t rule out the fact that just like humans, animals can suffer from motion sickness.

Why fears develop

Although fear or anxiety can develop at any time, the first year and a half of an animal’s life is key to the development of their personality. At this age, in particular, it is important that they become accustomed to being alone, that they engage in positive socialization, and that any abnormal nervous reactions are discussed with your vet. If you have adopted a rescue dog or cat, it may be that their fear and anxiety is due to negative experiences or trauma, either at the hands of their previous owners or during their time at a shelter. If your pet suddenly develops a phobia where they were otherwise unperturbed by a situation, you may wish to check with your vet if there are any underlying medical conditions that have prompted the change.

Causes of Fear and Anxiety in Dogs and Cats

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