Like people, animals go through various amounts of stress in their lives, based on the circumstances around them. When dogs and cats experience a substantial change, be it in location (such as moving house) or in community (like gaining another pet in the home) or a painful physical ailment, their bodies suffer from stress for a time. This might manifest as what many call “doggy depression,” in severe separation anxiety, or the inability to keep food down. Stress symptoms typically subside with time, but if they do not, it will be important to note when your pet might be in need of professional assessment from a veterinarian.
Over Shedding: Nervous tension can result in a plethora of unfortunate side effects. One of the most common signs of anxiety in domestic pets is heavy shedding of fur. Different from seasonal or climate changes and coat thinning, stress-shedding can happen suddenly, or be lost in clumps when an animal feels tense. Their coats might appear patchy, bare, or uneven and dull when their panic levels are high.
Excessive yawning or licking: Just as we learned that yawning can be a sign of motion sickness, it can also indicate that a pet is nervous or uneasy and is doing so to relieve themselves of tension. Some cats and dogs will also lick their nose and mouth, or their feet and coats, the same way a person might bite his or her nails.
Wet paw prints: Cats and dogs both sweat through their paws. That means, when an animal is highly anxious or stressed, he might leave damp paw print tracks. Dogs and cats sweat to cool down or calm down.
Destructive behaviors: Similar to humans, when an animal feels anxious, they may turn to other means of expression, “venting” out their nervous energy through different avenues. For example, your cat might attack the indoor plant or his furniture with new fervor, whereas you might find your dog foraging through the trash frequently, or engaging in other destructive behaviors. In some cases, the animal might also act on the defensive, even becoming aggressive toward the owners they love. Be cautious whenever approaching a creature that has heightened anxiety.
Illness or Change in diet: If a dog refuses his favorite treat, that should be a signal to you that something is wrong. Cats and dogs tend to experience diet changes when they are stressed, even refusing to eat or being unable to keep food down when they do. Agitated bowels often accompany tension, whether that is evident through vomiting or diarrhea. Bladder control also becomes an issue when a pet is anxious. Cats will spray unexpectedly, while dogs might leave puddles around the house, even pets who have never struggled with that before.
Sniffing and seeming “distracted”: Particularly evident in dogs, this dedicated sniffing or seemingly distracted behavior is often accompanied when a dog is given commands, or is in a training session that he gets stressed by and doesn’t want to do. The sniffing might be nothing more than a ploy to make you think he is just stubborn or not focusing so that he will be let off the hook.
Posture/Avoidance: A dog or cat’s posture is a very important indication of what is going on in his brain. If a canine is uncomfortable and tense, he might freeze up, pin his ears back, and stand with eyes wide open. This kind of posture indicates heightened focused usually brought on by stress or fear, and may be accompanied by him snapping at anyone coming too close. Cats crouching low to the floor, with wide eyes riveted, and tail erect and twitching indicate the same kind of stress focus. Wait until the dog or cat stands casually, with their ears up or drooping, and with their eyes squinted or opened in a laid-back/lazy way. If they turn their backs on you, cowers away, or seems to be avoiding you, this posture reflects their level of tension, and should be noted.
Barking/Meowing: While some pets pull away and become aloof or silent when they are stressed, others just to vocalize with greater determination. Cats will yowling or meow repeatedly, while dogs will bay sorrowfully, or whine when they are anxious. All of these signals are meant to get your attention that your pet is not doing well, and needs some extra TLC and maybe even a visit to the vet if other symptoms persist.
Remedy The Stress
Help your dog or cat find normality through a balanced routine. When you are trying to help your pet stabilize after a traumatic experience or a move (or whatever else might be causing the anxiety), try to help your cat or dog avoid scenarios where their tension level might increase. This could be as simple as keeping them quiet in their own area of the house while they adjust to the big changes, or implementing crate training. It could also mean avoiding high-intensity situations or stress triggers (such as having large parties of people over, playing loud music, or taking them to unfamiliar places like the beach or busy city streets, etc.). Once your dog or cat has adjusted, and seems comfortable and relaxed, he will be better prepared to experience life as usual.
Offer other opportunities for the pet to channel the anxiety in a healthy way. Invest more time in exercising your pet, by walking/jogging with your dog or playing rigorously with your cat. Spend quality time with them, keeping your kitty or pup close by when you can while you work on your hobbies, whether weeding in the garden, working in the garage, or cooking dinner. These small steps will bring comfort to your pet and will help them attain a calmer state of mind. If the tension and stress signals continue for longer than a few weeks, consider bringing your pet in to the vet to make sure the anxiety isn’t caused by a concerning health condition.