Dogged by fears

Dogged by Fears?

Can emotional disorders equivalent to the fears, anxieties and panic disorders that plague some people affect our pets?

They sure can!

There was the Abyssinian with agoraphobia that was too scared to go outside.

The Beagle with brontophobia was showing a very a serious and common anxiety and then there was the panic attack Poodle that was uncontrollable in the clipping salon and the Terrier with the toe-nail-trim terror. Both of these had post-traumatic stress. Poor pets!

Fears, phobias and anxieties in pets are becoming more common as our pets try, often in vain, to keep up with the pounding pace of the computer age and the shrinking back yard.

What Type of Fears do Pets Develop?

A fear of thunder (brontophobia for the technophiles), of storms and of loud noises, is very common in dogs. Many dogs look like a hairy blancmange when exposed to thunder, gunshots, nailing guns and other similar and sudden noises. With their acute hearing, dogs are much more sensitive to such noises than us comparatively deaf humans.

A behavioural problem known as a Separation Anxiety is also very common. This anxiety is shown by dogs when they are away from their owners. Their owners may be at work during the day or in bed at night. Such dogs often bark or howl relentlessly. They may be destructive or they may escape continually.

Some dogs fear men and some fear women. People wearing hats are often viewed with anxiety by many dogs too. They find the unusual profile disturbing.

Then there is the terrifying visit to the v-e-t. Many dogs and cats totally lose their composure when in a veterinary surgery. It can be associated with pain that may have occurred in previous visits but the unusual smells and the presence of other animals also contribute to the arousal of fear. The same applies to dogs and cats that are fearful in grooming parlours.

Cats show anxieties and fears too but often in a more subtle way. An alien cat roaming through your back yard may upset the apple cart for your puss. This is especially so if the alien cat is spraying urine. If your cat is skulking around the house, hiding under furniture and showing reluctance to go outside, or if it is spraying or urinating inside, look for a marauding moggy or two in your backyard.

I have also seen cats become very nervous and frightened when they have been scared by a snake or a possum that they have seen in the garden.

There is no doubt that some breeds are more prone to phobias. One study put German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers and Chows Chows on the top of the paranoid pooch list. Staffordshire Bull Terriers also suffer from unusual fears and panic disorders.

Early experience is important too. A dog or cat scared by an event when they are under three months of age can often show a fear response from that time on. Puppy Pre-Schools and Kitty Kindys are an important way of ensuring a peaceful exposure to unusual stimuli.

What Can Be Done to Treat Fears, Anxieties and Phobias?

There are three broad approaches to the treatment of fears, anxieties and phobias. One is to use behaviour modifying techniques including techniques such as progressive approximation and progressive desensitisation.

A second is to use medication and the third is to look at ‘environmental’ issues such as the pet s lifestyle, the owner s lifestyle and other related matters.

Progressive desensitisation utilises a sequence of rewards to make a desired behaviour less likely to occur.

For example, progressive desensitisation could be used to make a cat less likely to show fear of a newly-introduced cat to the household or a dog less anxious when being left by its owner.

Some dogs and cats are so overcome with fear that they cannot learn to accept challenging situations like this. Their fear swamps their ability to think logically. For such pets, medication is being used more frequently nowadays. A range of target medications is available that specifically reduce anxieties without causing other unwanted side effects.

If your dog or cat is fearful the solutions can be tricky on your own.

More information

Mood disorders of pets

Medication for pet behaviour therapy