Dog Anxiety Help: How to Calm Down an Anxious Dog

by Megan Petroff, DVM (Clinical Behavior Resident) as seen in PetMD

 

For people, anxiety can feel overwhelming and debilitating at times. If you have a dog that struggles with fear, anxiety, or stress, it’s important to be supportive and patient.

Calming a frequently anxious dog is possible, but it may require collaboration between you and your veterinarian, or a board-certified veterinary behaviorist.

If you have a nervous dog, here’s some insight you can use to identify the signs and triggers, and steps you can take to help calm your dog’s anxiety and improve their quality of life.

Recognize the Signs of Dog Anxiety

“Dogs use body language to communicate how they are feeling,” says Ashley Atkinson, CPDT-KA and behavior consultant at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary.

For example, if your dog seems uneasy or is fixated on licking, they could be communicating nervousness, stress, or fear. There are many subtle signs of dog anxiety.

According to Dr. Susan Konecny, RN, DVM, medical director of Best Friends Animal Society, some clinical signs include:

  • Pacing
  • Trembling
  • Shaking
  • Hypervigilance
  • Lip licking
  • Frequent yawning
  • Decreased appetite

She also says that some physiological effects of anxiety can include:

  • Increased salivation or drooling
  • Dilated pupils
  • Increased heart rate and panting
  • Skin lesions from self-trauma
  • Over-grooming

Talk With Your Veterinarian About Your Dog’s Anxiety

Once you learn how to detect when your dog is anxious, you can begin to identify the triggers that are causing the anxiety. Write down the signs that you see and describe the situations and circumstances when your dog showed these signs. Then schedule an appointment with your vet so they can rule out underlying medical issues,and help you get the right treatment for your dog.

Anytime a behavior change is noted in a pet, medical problems in other areas of the body could be at play. Your veterinarian can perform diagnostic tests to confirm that your pet is otherwise healthy.

In all cases, it’s best to seek the help of your veterinarian to make sure you are doing everything you can for your dog. When no other cause is found, your veterinarian can prescribe anxiety medication if needed, and/or recommend a veterinary behaviorist.

Board-Certified Veterinary Behaviorists

If your veterinarian thinks it’s necessary, they may refer you to a board-certified veterinary behaviorist to help your dog.

These veterinarians are specialists who have done a residency for three or more years in clinical behavior medicine, and passed a board-certification exam. Board-certified veterinary behaviorists are experts in treating fear, anxiety, and aggression in pets.

The American College of Veterinary Behaviorists has a directory on their website with the current board-certified veterinary behaviorists near you.

Tips for Calming Your Dog’s Anxiety

Your veterinarian can help create a plan for relieving your dog’s anxiety, and it may include the following steps. Some are simple actions you can try at home, and others require your veterinarian’s oversight.

Remove Triggers That Cause Your Dog’s Anxiety

If you’ve already gone to your veterinarian to rule out other illnesses, and they’ve helped identify possible stressors, then it may be as simple as removing those stressors and seeing if your dog’s anxiety lessens.

For example, if your dog is afraid of other dogs or people, you can skip the dog park. Alternatively, you can take your dog for walks when fewer people will be outside, play in a fenced yard if you have one, and play games inside the home.

Try Dog Appeasing Pheromones

Dog appeasing pheromones are synthetic pheromones similar to the calming pheromones that female dogs give off while nursing puppies.

These pheromones can help reduce anxiety in some dogs and are available in a few different forms. There are collars, sprays, and diffusers, so you can choose the best option for your dog.

Exercise With Your Dog

Exercise can help with our own anxiety, and research studies have shown that greater levels of exercise in dogs are associated with lower levels of aggression, fear, and separation anxiety.1

Create a Sanctuary Space

Some dogs get so anxious in certain situations that no amount of calming, praising, or rewarding will give them relief. “When this is the case, they need a quiet space with no stimulation where they can turn off all the input and simply unwind,” says Dr. Konecny.

This can help in many situations, such as if they are nervous:

Drowning out ambient sounds with white noise may also help them relax in their sanctuary room.

Ask Your Veterinarian About Anti-Anxiety Medications

If your dog is truly struggling with anxiety, you can talk to your veterinarian about whether anti-anxiety medications would be beneficial.

Some pet owners worry about using these medications:

  • Will it make their dog sleepy all the time?
  • Will it change their personality?
  • Will these types of medications shorten their dog’s lifespan?

When treated with the proper medications, your pet should exhibit less anxiety, seem happier, and still have the same personality. If your veterinarian isn’t sure what to prescribe, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist can help you find the best medication for your dog to help them thrive.

Try Behavior Modification

Sometimes, additional modalities are needed to treat behavior problems in pets. Behavior modification can help you change the emotional response your dog has to offending situations or triggers.

Through this cognitive therapy, your dog can learn to become less afraid of stressors and more calm. In some cases, behavior modification can help a dog to the point where they will no longer need to be on medications.

This is something a veterinary behaviorist can help you with as well.

Be Supportive

Learning and avoiding what causes your dog stress, ruling out possible underlying illnesses, and seeking professional help will all improve the quality of life for your anxious dog.

Scientific evidence has shown that stress has negative effects on health in people, and this is true in dogs as well. A 2010 study of 721 dogs concluded that, “The stress of living with a fear or anxiety disorder can have negative effects on health and lifespan in the domestic dog.”2 For this reason it’s important to be proactive to help your dog with their anxieties.

Don’t give up. The solution may not be quick or easy, but with dedication and the right professional assistance, you can help your dog be happier and healthier.

Citations

  1. Lofgren, Sarah E., et al. “Management and Personality in Labrador Retriever Dogs.” Applied Animal Behaviour Science, vol. 156, 2014, pp. 44-53.
  2. Dreschel, Nancy A. “The Effects of Fear and Anxiety on Health and Lifespan in Pet Dogs.” Applied Animal Behaviour Science, vol. 125, no. 3-4, 2010, pp. 157-162.

 

Symptoms of Canine Cognitive Decline

By Dr. Karen Becker DVM

Veterinar­ians sometimes use the acronym DISHA to evaluate evidence of dementia in a senior dog:

• Disorientation — Is your dog walking aimlessly about the house, staring at the walls, or even losing her balance and falling? The key here is that even when she’s in her normal, familiar environment, she gets disoriented, for example, she goes out her doggy door to the backyard, and then seems to forget how to get back in. There can also be a loss of spatial awareness.

• Interactions — Is your dog interacting differently with family members or other pets in the home? This can involve sudden or increasing irritability or even aggression in a dog who’s been friendly and social all her life. It can also take the form of withdrawal from family members and the features of daily life she was once very interested in, such as a knock at the door or the appearance of her leash, meaning she’s about to get a walk.

• Sleep — Is your dog no longer sleeping through the night, or is restless or wakes frequently? Like many older people, senior dogs can experience changes in sleep patterns or even a disruption in circadian rhythms. Your dog may begin pacing at night instead of falling into a deep slumber as he once did. Some dogs even reverse their schedules entirely, doing during the daytime what they used to do at night and vice versa.

• House soiling — Is your dog no longer alerting you when he needs to go out? Is he urinating or leaking urine indoors? When a dog seemingly “loses” his housetraining, there’s no clearer evidence that something’s amiss with either his health or his cognition.

• Activity level changes — Does your dog seem restless, agitated, or anxious? Does she have a decreased appetite? You may notice she’s no longer coming to the door to greet you or loses focus and no longer responds as she once did to familiar stimuli.

Some dogs seem to forget how to get the food or water out of their bowls or forget where the bowls are located. There can also be periods of restlessness, or repetitive behaviors such as pacing in circles, head bobbing or leg shaking.

Suggestions to Help Your Older Dog Stay Mentally Sharp

1. Offer lots of opportunities for exercise, socialization, and mental stimulation — Senior and even geriatric dogs still need daily exercise to maintain good health and physical conditioning.

While older dogs can’t exercise or compete with the same intensity as their younger counterparts, they still derive tremendous benefit from regular walks — especially gentle, unhurried sniffaris — and other age-appropriate physical activity on a daily basis. There are also a variety of strengthening exercises that can be of tremendous help to aging canine bodies.

No matter how old your dog is he still needs regular social interaction with other pets and/or people. Short periods of socialization and playtime in controlled situations are ideal. Food puzzle and treat release toys provide fun and a good mental workout, as does nose work and brief training sessions to refresh his memory or teach him a new skill.

2. Schedule regular senior wellness check-ups — I recommend twice-yearly wellness visits for pets no matter the age, but this becomes even more important for dogs getting up in years. Ask your functional medicine veterinarian to perform a blood test, including an A1c test to check your pet’s internal organ and metabolic health to make sure you’re identifying possible issues early on.

Alzheimer’s is also called Type 3 Diabetes because so many patients have insulin resistance and persistent hyperglycemia. Keeping your dog’s A1c low and steady means you’re controlling for this variable. If you notice A1c rising in your senior dog, it’s time to take action. Keeping abreast of your animal companion’s internal metabolic changes as she ages is the best way to catch any disease process early.

Over-vaccinating is something older animals do not need, so advocate for your older dog by refusing additional vaccines and insisting on titer tests instead. A titer is a blood test that measures protective immunity against disease. Chances are your dog is very well-protected.

3. Feed a nutritionally optimal, species-specific fresh food diet — A species-specific, nutritionally balanced diet that is rich in healthy fats, including omega-3 fatty acids such as krill oil and others such as MCT oil, is very important for cognitive health.

The best fuel for an aging dog is a variety of living, antioxidant-rich whole foods suitable for a carnivore. Eliminate all refined carbohydrates (which are just unnecessary sugar), as well as grains, potatoes and legumes.

Calculate how much starch your dog is eating and keep it under 20%. Replace those unnecessary carbs with extra high-quality protein and healthy fats. Eliminate extruded diets (kibble) to avoid the toxic byproducts of the manufacturing process that have been linked to neurodegenerative disease.

Processed dog foods are manufactured in a way that creates byproducts that can affect cognitive health, including heterocyclic amines, acrylamides and advanced glycation end products (AGEs).

Fresh, biologically appropriate foods provide the whole food nutrients your pet’s aging brain requires. The right diet will also support the microbiome, which has been linked to improved cognitive health in humans, and I’ve seen an improvement in dogs as well.

4. Provide beneficial supplements — In dogs with CCD and older pets in general, nutraceuticals can significantly improve memory, and the effects are long-lasting. Studies of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) such as coconut oil show they can significantly improve cognitive function in older dogs.

Supplementing with MCTs is a great way to offer an instant fuel source for your dog’s brain. I recommend 1/4 teaspoon of coconut oil for every 10 pounds of body weight, added daily to food. If you use MCT oil instead of coconut oil start slowly and use less, as loose stools aren’t uncommon when beginning this supplement.

I also recommend providing a source of methyl donors, such as SAMe (S-adenosylmethionine), which can assist in detoxification and reduce inflammation. Other supplements to consider are jellyfish extracts, glutathione and resveratrol, which is Japanese knotweed. Japanese knotweed has been proven to help reduce free radical damage and beta-amyloid deposits.

Lion’s mane mushroom has some impressive research tied to improved cognition and vinpocetine has been trialed on dogs with positive results. Phosphatidylserine and ubiquinol, which is the reduced form of CoQ10, feed your dog’s mitochondria and improve cellular energy.

When it comes to general senior health supplements, I typically recommend digestive enzymes and probiotics for all older pets. I also recommend an omega-3 fatty acid supplement such as sustainably sourced krill oil (my favorite, because it’s the cleanest) or algal DHA for pets who can’t tolerate seafood. Curcumin is another supplement that benefits the brain and body.

5. Minimize stress in all aspects of your dog’s life — Fortunately, there are many things you can do to minimize anxiety and stress in your older dog.

Senior and geriatric dogs, especially those with dementia, are often disoriented, so sticking to a consistent daily routine your pet can count on can help him stay oriented, which will in turn reduce his anxiety. Try to get up and go to bed at the same time each day, feed him at the same times, and go for walks on a set schedule.

Keeping him at a healthy weight and physically active will help control arthritis and degenerative joint disease as he ages. Acupuncture and chiropractic care, stretching, and hydrotherapy (exercising in water) can also provide enormous benefits in keeping dogs mobile in their later years.

Regular massage can help keep your senior dog’s muscles toned and reduce the slackening that comes with aging. Massaged muscles are looser, which makes it easier for him to move around comfortably. Massage also improves circulation and encourages lymphatic drainage.

It can ease the stiffness of arthritis, which helps him maintain his normal gait and active lifestyle. Massage also loosens the muscles around joints, which helps promote ease of movement.

If your dog is having some urine dribbling or incontinence as a result of his age (and not caused by an underlying condition that should be addressed), provide him with more frequent potty trips outside. You can also reintroduce him to a crate if he was crate trained initially. Acupuncture can also be very beneficial for age-related incontinence.

If your dog has problems hearing or seeing, use odor cues like pet-friendly essential oils or pheromone products to help him find his way around. Also consider purchasing or building ramps if he’s having trouble getting into the car or up on the bed or a favorite chair, and if he’s slipping or unsure on bare floors, add some runners, yoga mats or area rugs.

For sleep problems, try increasing his daytime activity level. Let him sleep in your bedroom. Sleeping near you should help ease any anxiety that may be contributing to his nighttime restlessness. Melatonin supplementation can also be beneficial.

Guide him with clear cues and easy-to-follow instructions, and when you talk to him, keep your voice quiet, calm and loving.

Why Is My Dog Scared of Everything?

Reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Katie Grzyb, DVM
By: Victoria Schade


If your dog is scared of literally EVERYTHING, then you understand that life with a fearful dog can be limiting.
Instead of greeting the world with a confident walk and a wagging tail, a fearful dog might shy away from anything new, or worse yet, react preemptively to avoid a new situation altogether.
It’s not easy for a pet parent to admit that their dog is scared of everything because trying to work through those fears can be overwhelming.
Fearfulness does have a place in the wild; it increases an animal’s chance of survival by keeping them away from danger. But when your dog is acting strange and scared in everyday life, it’s stressful for both ends of the leash and can even have long-term health implications.
Let’s take a look at why certain dogs are scared of everything, how to recognize fearful behaviors, which situations trigger fear, and how you can help your dog deal with their fear.
What Makes a Dog Scared of Everything?
Dogs that seem scared of everything can be products of nature and nurture. A dog’s genetic makeup, early experiences, environment and daily life can all have an impact on their temperament.
Lack of Socialization
A common reason for fear in dogs is a lack of positive exposure to new people, animals and environments during the critical fear period of the puppy socialization process.
This important developmental stage in a puppy’s life occurs between 8 and 16 weeks of age, when pups need to have a variety of pleasant interactions with the world around them.
Puppies that don’t have positive exposure to the world around them might be more likely to be wary of anything new or unusual. This can lead them to be scared of things we wouldn’t associate with fear, like people wearing large hats or having a stroller/skateboard/skater go past you.
Genetic Predispositions
However, some nervous dogs might also have a genetic predisposition to fearfulness or shyness. Puppies born to anxious mothers are more likely to be fearful as well.
Traumatic Experiences
For some dogs, all it takes is a single traumatic experience to create lifelong fear responses. For example, a dog that’s caught off guard by firecrackers during a walk might then generalize that fear response to any loud noise—like a car door slamming—and might also develop a fear of walking anywhere near where it happened.
Pain
It’s important to note that some behaviors that look like fear might be related to pain. Dogs that seem “hand shy” and nervous about being touched might actually be dealing with an undiagnosed medical issue.
Your veterinarian can help you determine whether your dog is experiencing pain or suffering from fear-based issues.

Recognizing Fear in Dogs
The first step to helping a dog that’s scared of everything is understanding their body language.
Some fear displays are hard to miss—like a trembling, hunched-over dog that has their ears back and tail tucked. But learning to recognize subtler fear reactions will allow you to intervene before your dog’s fear escalates.
Some of the telltale signs of fear in dogs include:
• Trembling or shivering
• Hunched body with head down
• Ears back
• Tail tucked
• Hair standing up on the neck and back
• Growling
• Showing teeth
A dog that’s afraid might also show these more subtle signs:
• Freezing in place
• Moving in slow-motion
• Repeatedly licking their lips
• Yawning frequently
• Trying to move away from the stressor
• Panting heavily or suddenly stops panting
Keep in mind that some behaviors that look like aggression, like leash reactivity and barking, can also be signs of an underlying fear of something.
Common Things That Dogs Are Scared Of and How You Can Help
Many dog fears are universal—it’s rare that a dog actually enjoys a trip to the vet—however, a dog that’s scared of everything might have a difficult time coping with common, everyday noises or encounters.
Loud Noises
It’s almost impossible to avoid having a startle reflex when you hear an unexpected loud noise, but dogs that are scared of everything will react more dramatically to noises.
For example, a typical dog might jump at the sound of a dropped pan, but a fearful dog might run, hide and then refuse to come out.
How to help:
If your dog only reacts to certain types of noises, like sirens or fireworks or thunder, you can use behavioral modification to help your dog learn to tolerate the sound. Use a recording of the sound to gradually desensitize him to the noise by playing it at a low volume and pairing it with treats.
Increase the sound over a series of training sessions, watching your dog’s body language to make sure that he isn’t becoming uncomfortable with the noise. If your dog is trying to cope with ongoing scary sounds like construction noise, use a white noise machine to muffle the sounds.
Children
Kids can be fast, loud and unpredictable, and because of that, they can be challenging for even the most even-tempered dogs.
But dogs with generalized fear reactions will find children even more distressing, particularly because a child doesn’t understand canine body language and will have a hard time recognizing when a fearful dog is trying to get away.
How to help:
If you don’t typically have children in your home, it’s easiest to manage your dog’s behavior by keeping him in a safe, quiet space when small guests visit.
If you discover that your new dog is fearful around your own children, make sure that he has an area where he can spend time away from them. Then you will need to find a positive-reinforcement dog trainer to help you assess the situation and create a training plan that keeps everyone safe.
Other Dogs
Unfortunately, not every dog wants to be friends with his own kind, particularly timid dogs. If a dog hasn’t had the opportunity to meet dog friends and develop canine language skills, he might wind up feeling overwhelmed when faced with other pups.
How to help:
Helping fearful dogs learn to feel more confident around other dogs requires a slow approach and a good understanding of canine body language. You will need to slowly work through dog introductions in order to keep your dog feeling comfortable.
For dogs that are mildly uncomfortable around other dogs, you should find a mellow, dog-savvy dog and try walking them together, at the same pace but with distance between them. When both dogs seem relaxed, gradually begin to bring them closer together, making sure that they remain calm and happy as they get closer.
Keep early introductions short and end sessions before the nervous dog gets overwhelmed. And remember that making friends with one dog doesn’t mean the behavior will generalize to all dogs.
Strangers
Some dogs are uncomfortable around people that look different from their family (for example, large men with beards or people wearing hats and bulky jackets), but dogs that are afraid of anyone outside their family can make going into public or having guests over traumatic.
How to help:
Using desensitization and counter-conditioning can help a stranger-shy dog start to overcome his fears.
To begin, figure out your dog’s “buffer zone”—the area at which he can remain calm when faced with a stranger. Then have the stranger come into view at the edge of that buffer zone and feed your dog a bunch of extra-special treats that he doesn’t normally get.
Continue giving treats while the person is in view for a few seconds, then have the stranger disappear.
Gradually bridge the gap between your dog and the person over a series of training sessions. Always watch your dog’s body language to make sure they remain calm and confident throughout the training process.
Going Outside
Sometimes the world outside your front door is a scary place. Dogs that move to a different environment, like from the suburbs to the city, might find the noise and crowds in their new neighborhood overwhelming.
Similarly, a traumatic experience outside, like having a fight with another dog, can be enough to create an overwhelming fear of going outside.
How to help:
Dogs that are afraid to leave their home can benefit from a training process called “shaping.” Shaping makes it easier for dogs to face their fears by breaking behaviors down into manageable steps and rewarding the dog for making progress toward the finished product.
Pet parents can begin the process by standing near the door with a handful of treats. When your dog makes any movement towards the door, mark the behavior with a clicker or verbal marker like, “good!” then toss a treat to your dog. Continue to build on and reward each step towards the door until your dog is able to cross the threshold.
Be Patient With Your Dog
Keep in mind that a fearful dog should always set the pace for training. Trying to push a nervous dog beyond his comfort zone could derail the training process, so be patient and encourage your fearful pup as he learns to be a more confident dog.
Talk with your veterinarian about pairing training and desensitization efforts with natural, holistic calming supplements or pheromone collars. Sometimes, medication is very helpful to calm some dogs in certain situations if natural options have not worked. Also, working with a veterinary behaviorist may be the best option if all other routes have failed.
By: Victoria Schade

How communication between veterinarians and a canine (and feline) massage therapist (CCMT or CFMT) can ensure a safe treatment plan for your clients.

How communication between veterinarians and a canine (and feline) massage therapist (CCMT or CFMT) can ensure a safe treatment plan for your clients.

As seen in Innovative Veterinarian Care

Massage therapy can be a valuable addition to a clinic’s treatment options. Whether a client or their veterinarian initiate the idea of supportive massage therapy, the benefits for the patient and the potential for successful treatment will increase with good communication on behalf of the veterinarian and certified canine (and feline) massage therapist (CCMT or CFMT).

Appropriate processes when working with a CCMT or CFMT

Vets may come across reasons for their clients to consult a CCMT or CFMT and should keep them in mind for referrals. Veterinarians are all familiar with the need to forward the relevant medical history of a patients’ condition to a referral specialist/practitioner. This communication is just as important when referring a client to a CCMT or CFMT. Ideally, with the clients’ approval, the pertinent medical history and any treatment restrictions should be forwarded to the therapist. This will help reduce potential problems or misunderstandings that could negatively impact the patient or slow achievement of the desired outcome.

A CCMT or CFMT will likely become aware of some contraindications through their interview and intake history notes, however clients may not remember or think to disclose particular conditions. Getting permission from the client to contact the animals’ veterinarian can be crucial for a successful outcome in some cases.

 

Contraindications and caveats

There are a number of contraindications and caveats that a veterinarian should inform a massage therapist about before starting treatment. If a CCMT or CFMT does not know these contraindications beforehand, it can pose risk to the patient and prevent proper treatment. Contraindications and caveats include:

Acute pain and/or inflammation – Injury resulting in severe pain, heat, and/or inflammation should be examined by a vet first. Massage can only begin after the area of pain, heat, and/or inflammation has been resolved.

Cancer – Light massage, especially acupressure, can be used safely for the palliative process, otherwise massage will increase lymphatic flow, increasing the potential for cancer cell metastasis.

Circulation problems – Massage in the case of edema is safe in short, frequent sessions. As for hematoma, massage could be dangerous, as it may cause small blood clots to break away and migrate to the heart, lungs, or brain.

Dermatological conditions – Mange, hot spots, septic foci, or ringworm can be severely aggravated by massage, so the therapist must be sure the patient is receiving veterinary care, and massage may only be done in non-affected sites.

Infectious or contagious disease – Do not massage in the case of these types of diseases, including Kennel Cough, Distemper, Infectious Enteritis, or any viral or bacterial related illness. The possibility for contamination of equipment, including hands and clothing, is too great, and spreading such an infection is too easy. In the case of fever (when the body temperature exceeds 38.5 C +/- 1 degree), massage may work against the immune system and the body’s ability to regulate temperature, and the infection could also spread deeper into the body.

Post-surgery – Hemorrhaging could result in areas not fully healed, therefore massage may only commence two weeks after surgery, or once the sutures have been removed, and only in areas that are remote from the surgical site. The surgical site will not be massaged for at least another six weeks after this.

Pregnancy – Neck, arm and leg massage is okay, but massage cannot be done over the abdomen or low back where the fetuses could be disturbed and labor triggered prematurely.

These are just some of the potential contraindications, and there are details on more including after meals, diabetes, epilepsy and heart conditions.

Conclusions

Keeping each other in mind and sharing our experiences with our patients as we go along is always helpful, especially as the pet’s healthcare needs change. For the most part, information will be communicated back and forth through the clients and it will be important to encourage them to share certain information between the therapist and veterinarian as is required.

It is crucial to establish good communication right from the start, prior to the animal’s first massage appointment to ensure lines of communication flow smoothly between vet and therapist from that point on throughout the animal’s life.

 

What’s Behind Your Aging Cat’s Quirky Behavior?

By Dr. Karen Becker DVM

Cats, like humans, experience physical and mental changes as they age, which can translate into behavioral changes that range from minor to major. Your once social kitty may spend much of his time sleeping or even avoiding the family, and cats that are typically mellow can react aggressively when you don’t expect it.

While it may sound alarming that your cat may morph into a seemingly different feline once he reaches his golden years, it’s a natural and, typically, gradual process.

It’s important, though, to keep a close eye on your senior kitty to watch out for any changes that could signal an underlying disease or pain. Twice-yearly wellness visits with your veterinarian will help with this, as will being a dutiful owner who takes note of any unusual changes.

How Old Is ‘Old’ for a Cat?

It’s often said that one cat year is equal to seven human years. This isn’t entirely accurate, but it’s true that cats age much faster than humans. Generally, a 1-year-old cat is similar physiologically to a 16-year-old human, while 2-year-old cat is like a 21-year-old human.

“For every year thereafter,” the Cornell University Feline Health Center notes, “each cat year is worth about four human years. Using this formula, a ten-year-old cat is similar age wise to a 53-year-old person, a 12-year-old cat to a 61-year-old person, and a 15-year-old cat to a person of 73.”1 With proper care, many cats live into their late teens and early 20, but around the age of 10, a cat is considered to be a “senior.”

You may notice he’s slowed down a bit from his younger years, and by the time a cat reaches 12 to 14 years, he’s probably moving even slower and may be having some age-related health problems, such as vision and hearing loss or age-related cognitive decline.

At 15 or 16, cats join the geriatric club, where their movements and cognitive function are likely noticeably slower than they once were. These numbers are just estimates, though, as every cat will age at its own individual pace — just like humans.

Behavioral Changes Are Common as Cats Age

Aging is a natural process that’s often accompanied by behavioral changes, which commonly include:2

Less grooming, and less effective grooming, which can lead to fur matting or skin odor Less use of a scratching post, which may lead to overgrown claws
Avoidance of social interaction Wandering
Excessive meowing, especially at night Disorientation
Changes in temperament, such as increased aggression or anxiety Increased napping
Litterbox accidents Acting less responsive or less alert

Some of these changes, such as sleeping more and preferring to spend more time alone, are a normal part of getting older, but other are signs of potential health issues. Even though your cat is a senior, many conditions can be treated or managed, which is why letting your veterinarian know about behavioral changes is so important.

Hiding, loss of appetite or a reluctance to move around can be signs that your cat is in pain, possibly due to arthritis, for instance. Aggression can also be rooted in pain or can result if your cat is feeling increasingly anxious — an outcome sometimes linked to anxiety.

“Cats who are suffering from cognitive decline, and thus experiencing increased anxiety, can show a tendency to react aggressively,” Dr. Ragen T.S. McGowan, a behavior research scientist, told PopSugar.3

Hyperthyroidism can also lead to behavioral changes in cats. Sudden, unexpected bursts of energy in an older cat is a definite sign he or she may have an overactive thyroid. It’s important to make an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible in this case.

In older cats, increased meowing can be the result of cognitive dysfunction, which is a form of dementia, especially if it’s accompanied by confusion (staring off into space), eliminating outside the litterbox and loss of interest in interacting with human family members. Increased vocalizing could also be due to stress or confusion.

 

How to Support Your Aging Cat

Aside from bringing your senior cat to your veterinarian twice a year to keep an eye out for age-related health problems, there are simple ways to help your pet age gracefully. You’ll want to respect his wishes for increased alone time and sleep, but at the same time make a point to interact with him daily, via belly rubs, ear scratches, toys or treats — whatever he prefers.

Senior cats can also be easily stressed by changes in their household and routine, so keep to a familiar schedule and avoid making any significant changes that aren’t absolutely necessary. Providing a warm, soft space for your cat to nap is essential, as is regular brushing and nail trims.

Continue feeding a nutritionally balanced, antioxidant-rich, species-appropriate diet that includes omega-3 essential fats such as krill oil, and consider supplements that may benefit your aged kitty, including:

  • SAMe (S-adenosylmethionine), which may help stall mental decline, improve mobility and assist in liver detoxification.
  • Superoxide Dismutase (SOD) is a naturally produced enzyme that is important for the conversion of superoxide radicals into less reactive molecules in the body, but production can diminish with age. SOD is found in unprocessed raw food but is inactivated with heat processing, so if your cat is consuming ultra-processed food (kibble or canned food), supplementing with SOD may be a wise choice.
  • Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), found in coconut oil, which can improve brain energy metabolism. I recommend 1/4 teaspoon for every 10 pounds of body weight twice daily for basic MCT support, if your cat will voluntarily eat it.
  • Low dose melatonin, which is not only a sedative with a calming effect but also an antioxidant. This is useful for senior cats that vocalize and wander at night.
  • Glucosamine sulfate with MSM and eggshell membrane, to help maintain healthy tendons, ligaments, joints and cartilage.

Most of all, make sure to spend all the time you can with your long-time friend, and if you notice any behavioral changes, bring them up with your veterinarian. Even small changes can give clues about your pet’s health that shouldn’t be overlooked.

 

6 Tips for Caring for Senior Cats

6 Tips for Caring for Senior Cats

As seen in PetMD and Reviewed for accuracy on November 18, 2019, by Dr. Liz Bales, VMD

With good care—and good luck—our cats can live well into their late teens, and even their twenties. But as cats age, their physical and behavioral needs change.  

While these changes are obvious as your kitten matures into an adult cat, the changes when your cat transitions from an adult to a senior—starting at 11 years old—can be harder to spot. 

Here are the top six ways to care for aging cats.

1. Pay Extra Attention to Your Senior Cat’s Diet

Senior cats have unique dietary and behavioral needs. It is more important than ever for your cat to be a healthy weight to maintain optimum health. 

Talk to your veterinarian about how and when to transition your cat to a senior food. 

Your veterinarian will help you asses your cat’s optimum weight and can recommend a senior food to help maintain, lose or gain weight.

A cat’s digestion is also improved by feeding them small, frequent meals throughout the day and night. Measure your cat’s daily food and distribute it in small portions.

You can use tools like hunting feeders, like Doc & Phoebe’s Cat Co. Indoor Cat Feeder Kit, and puzzle toys that promote physical and mental engagement at mealtime.

2. Increase Your Cat’s Access to Water

As cats age, they are prone to constipation and kidney disease, especially if they are not staying hydrated enough.

Increase your senior cat’s water intake by providing canned food and more options for drinking water.

As your cat gets older, they might not be able to jump up on to counters or access the usual water dish. Add more water stations around the house with plenty of bowls and/or pet water fountains to entice your senior cat to drink more.

3. Know and Keep an Eye Out for the Subtle Signs of Pain in Cats

Cats are masters at hiding their pain. As many as nine out of 10 senior cats show evidence of arthritis when X-rayed, yet most of us with senior cats have no idea.

The most important thing you can do to prevent the pain from arthritis is to keep your cat at healthy weight. As little as a pound or two of excess weight can significantly increase the pain of sore joints. 

Your veterinarian can help you with a long-term plan to help control your cat’s pain with medicine, supplements and alternative treatments, like acupuncture, physical therapy and laser treatments

4. Don’t Neglect Your Cat’s Dental Health

Dental disease is very common in aging cats. Cats can get painful holes in their teeth, broken teeth, gum disease and oral tumors that significantly affect their quality of life.

Infections in the mouth enter the bloodstream and can slowly affect the liver, kidneys and heart. So paying attention to your cat’s dental health is essential to caring for them during their senior years.

Often, there is no clear sign of dental disease. Cat parents see weight loss and a poor hair coat as the vague signs of aging, not an indication of a potential problem.

A thorough veterinary exam and routine dental care can drastically improve your cat’s quality of life, and can even extend their lifespan. 

5. Give Senior Cats Daily Exercise and Mental Stimulation

Environmental enrichment is an essential part of your cat’s quality of life.

All cats need places to climb, places to hide, things to scratch, and ways to hunt and play. All of these things will help your cat stay physically and mentally stimulated as well as healthy.

However, as your cat ages, providing these things may require some extra thought. Your cat’s mobility may become more limited, so you will need to make your home more accessible so that it’s easier on their older joints.

For example, a carpeted cat ramp can act as a scratching post as well as a climbing aid for cats with arthritis. A covered cat bed can give aging cats a cozy, warm place to hide that also helps to soothe sore joints and muscles. You can move their food and water bowls to more accessible locations on the ground instead of on tables or counters.

6. Don’t Skimp on Biannual Vet Visits

Finally, and most importantly, maintaining a good relationship with your veterinarian is critical when discussing care and quality of life for your cat in their senior years. Ideally, cats over 11 years of age should see the veterinarian every six months.

Blood work done during these visits can detect the onset of health issues—like kidney disease—while there’s still time to make medical changes that will improve and extend your cat’s life.

Weighing your cat twice a year will also show trends in weight loss or gain that can be valuable clues to overall health changes. And oral exams will detect dental disease before it negatively impacts your cat’s health.

Cat Constipated???

Cat Constipated???

By Dr. Karen Becker

 

Just like us, our feline friends can suffer from constipation. In some kitties it happens just once in a while; for others it can become a persistent problem.

When stool stays in the colon too long, it becomes dry, hard, and difficult to pass. Left untreated, chronic constipation can lead to megacolon, a terrible condition in which the large intestine stretches so much it can no longer do its job effectively.

How to Tell if Your Cat Is Constipated

Your kitty should poop at least once every day because it’s an important part of the body’s natural detoxification process.

Your cat is constipated when he either has difficulty pooping (and the stool he produces is dry and hard), or he isn’t pooping at all. This is why it’s so important to keep an eye on kitty’s daily “output.” The quantity, color, texture, and smell, along with the presence of mucus or blood, are all indicators of his general well-being.

Often, what passes from (or in the case of constipation, doesn’t pass from) your pet’s body is the first sign of a health problem, so you should regularly monitor your cats litterbox and familiarize yourself with what “normal” looks like for your kitty.

Your cat’s stools should be brown, formed, and soft enough that litter sticks to them. If your kitty isn’t going daily or his stools are so hard and dry that litter doesn’t stick to them, he could be constipated. And keep in mind most constipated cats will never show overt signs of a problem. In fact, some suffer their entire lives and their humans don’t realize it because they aren’t aware of the more subtle signs of chronic constipation.

Left untreated, a constipated cat may begin to vomit intermittently, lose his appetite, and start dropping weight. He may seem lethargic. Don’t let the problem progress to this point before you take action.

Potential Causes of Feline Constipation

Often, constipation in cats is simply the result of inadequate water consumption or lack of dietary fiber. But sometimes the situation is more complicated, involving an obstruction inside the colon or a problem in the pelvic cavity, such as a tumor that interferes with bowel function.

If you actually saw your cat swallow something that could cause an obstruction, get veterinary help right away as this situation can rapidly progress to a very serious and even fatal problem.

Intact males, especially if they’re older, can develop enlarged prostates that compress the bowel, creating very thin stools or even an obstruction. This problem can usually be resolved by having your male cat neutered.

Hernias in the rectum are another obstruction that can cause constipation. The hernia bulges into the rectum, closing off passage of stool. Hernias usually require surgery to repair.

Constipation can also be the result of a neuromuscular problem or a disease like hypothyroidism or hypercalcemia. Some kitties have insufficient muscle tone or neuromuscular disorders that impede the body’s ability to efficiently move waste through the colon.

Other causes of constipation can include infected or cancerous anal glands, or a hip or pelvic injury that makes pooping painful, the effects of surgery, certain medications, iron supplements, and stress.

Hands Down, the Most Common Reason for Kitty Constipation

With all the above said, when it comes to constipation in cats, by far the most common cause is inadequate fluid intake. Your kitty’s natural prey (e.g., mice) contains 70% to 75% water, and felines are designed to get most of the water their bodies need from their diet.

Cats fed exclusively kibble are getting only a very small amount (10% to 12%) of the moisture their bodies need, and unlike dogs and other animals, they won’t make up the difference at the water bowl due to their “underactive” thirst drive. So, these cats are chronically dehydrated, which causes constipation.

The lack of moisture causes stool in the colon to turn dry, hard and painful to pass; it also causes the kidneys to become stressed. If your cat happens to be overweight and not getting enough exercise, the problem is exacerbated. Physical activity stimulates rhythmic muscle contractions (peristalsis) in the colon, which helps move things through the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

Unfortunately, many housecats have lifestyles that involve eating too much of the wrong type of food and moving too little. Swallowing fur during grooming can further slow the transit time of waste through the colon, especially in cats fed dry diets who are also not getting adequate exercise.

How to Help a Constipated Cat

Assuming your kitty is in otherwise good health, there are several things you can do to help solve her constipation issues.

  1. If you’re feeding kibble, I strongly encourage you to switch to a moisture-rich, nutritionally optimal, species-specific diet. It’s always the first thing I recommend, especially for cats with any sort of digestive issue. At a minimum, transition from dry food to canned food, which will automatically increase the moisture in your cat’s system.
  2. If you make your own food, be absolutely sure your kitty’s diet is nutritionally balanced. Many of the homemade recipes I’ve analyzed have two to three times the upper safe limits of calcium levels recommended for pets, which will lead to constipation, among many other things. Recipes to try.
  3. Make sure your cat has access to clean, fresh, filtered drinking water at all times. Place a few stainless steel or Pyrex glass bowls around the house in areas she frequents. Avoid plastic water bowls, which can make the water taste unpleasant. You might also want to consider purchasing a pet water fountain to replace your cat’s water bowl, since many kitties will drink more from a moving water source. If she still isn’t drinking enough, consider adding bone broth to her food to increase the moisture content in her diet.
  4. Offer bone broth, in addition to water. Broths are an excellent way to entice cats to drink more. Add a bowl of warm broth beside her regular food on a daily basis. Here’s a recipe for homemade bone broth.
  5. Cats need to move their bodies through play and exercise. Movement also helps stool move through the colon. Regular physical activity can help prevent or remedy constipation.
  6. Add digestive enzymes and probiotics to your pet’s meals. Both these supplements will help with maldigestion, which is often the cause of both occasional constipation and diarrhea.
  7. If your cat lived in the wild, his natural prey would provide ample fiber in the form of fur, feathers and predigested gut contents. Needless to say, domesticated pets don’t get a lot of these things in their meals! Good replacement options for your feline companion include:
Psyllium husk powder — 1/2 teaspoon per 10 pounds of body weight 1-2 times daily on food Ground dark green leafy veggies — 1 teaspoon per 10 pounds of body weight 1-2 times daily with food
Coconut oil — 1/2 teaspoon per 10 pounds of body weight 1-2 times daily Canned 100 percent pumpkin — 1 teaspoon per 10 pounds of body weight 1-2 times daily on food
Aloe juice (not the topical gel) — 1/4 teaspoon per 10 pounds of body weight 1-2 times daily on food Acacia fiber — 1/8 teaspoon per 10 pounds of body weight 1-2 times daily as prebiotic fiber
  1. Chiropractic, acupuncture, and massage can also be very beneficial in helping to alleviate chronic constipation in pets.

Please note these recommendations are for cats experiencing a minor, temporary bout of constipation. If your kitty’s condition is not resolving or seems chronic, or if you aren’t sure of the cause, make an appointment with your veterinarian.

 

Changes to Animal Communications/Healing and Bach Flower Essences

 

Attention: Clients of “For The Love of Animals” (Diane Weinmann)

To become in line with other animal communicator’s practices, I am changing how I perform my sessions and structure my fee schedule for Animal Communications, Distance Healing and Bach Flower Essences

 

Starting July 1, 2020 – All client communication/healing will be charged using the fee schedule below:

 

Animal Communications– performed 1 session of up to 5 questions, additional questions charged at $10 per question

With Email to Client on pet’s responses- $50

With Email on pet’s responses plus phone call to Client – $75

Distance Healing- performed 1 session

Energetic Assessment = free

Healing Touch for Animals Distance healing session with email to Client – $50

Healing Touch for Animals Distance healing session with email and phone call to Client -$75

Custom Bach Flower Essence – $30 includes shipping

Cat Anxiety Meds

As seen in PetMD

 

Cats can suffer from anxiety disorders just as people and dogs can. They can experience generalized anxiety disorders or more specific anxiety issues caused by things like thunder or separation distress when their pet parents are not at home.

The first step to relieving your cat’s anxiety is to talk to your vet, and then you can discuss the need for cat anxiety medications. Here’s a list of the different types of cat anxiety medications and how they work.

Talk With Your Veterinarian About Your Cat’s Anxiety

What can you do to help your cat if they suffer from anxiety? First, your cat needs to be examined by your veterinarian to make sure there are no underlying medical problems.

Your veterinarian can discuss with you some medication options or refer to you an expert in the field—a board-certified veterinary behaviorist.

No matter the direction you take, the use of anti-anxiety medication is just one part of the treatment plan. The other part involves management and behavior modification.

How Cat Anxiety Medications Work

Cat anxiety can manifest itself in a variety of ways, so there are both long-term and short-term anti-anxiety medications available.

Long-Term Anxiety Medications for Cats

Some cat anxiety medications are long-term maintenance medications, meaning they can take 4-6 weeks to take full effect. They also are meant to be taken daily.

If the medication is helping, the cat should be kept on it for a minimum of 2-3 months. Once your cat’s behavior is stable, they can be gradually weaned off the medication.

Some cats benefit from staying on anti-anxiety medications for 6-12 months or longer periods. These cats should get a yearly examination, bloodwork, and a behavior reevaluation to ensure that they are still on the best treatment plan for their needs.

Short-Term Anxiety Medications for Cats 

Other anti-anxiety medications are short-term; they take effect in a shorter period of time and only last for several hours.

They are intended to be used for certain situations where your cat experiences increased levels of anxiety and stress.

These medications typically do not require your cat to be weaned off them if they’re not used consistently.

Types of Cat Anxiety Medications

Please keep in mind that the use of all human medications to treat cats with anxiety disorders is off-label.

Here is a list of the most commonly prescribed anti-anxiety medications and their potential side effects. (A small percentage of cat patients may experience side effects while on a medication.)

Click to Jump to a specific section:

Fluoxetine

Indications: Generalized anxiety (moderate to severe anxiety); aggression directed towards people, cats or other animals; compulsive behavior; urine spraying; inappropriate urination; panic disorder; and fearful behavior.

Fluoxetine is classified as a selective-serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). It blocks the receptors in the brain from taking up and removing serotonin, which allows for a higher serotonin level.

Serotonin helps modulate mood and behavior. Increased amounts of serotonin in the brain can help decrease anxiety and reduce reactivity and impulsive behavior.

This medication takes 4-6 weeks to take effect and must be given once daily.

It’s typically dispensed in tablet form and needs to be cut into the appropriate size for cats. It can be compounded by specialty pharmacies into flavored, chewable tablets, capsules, or flavored liquids.

Some potential side effects include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Agitation
  • Sedation
  • Lethargy
  • Decreased appetite

Most of the side effects improve after the first 1-2 weeks. If your cat’s appetite is affected, this medication should be discontinued and replaced by an alternative.

Paroxetine

Indications: Generalized anxiety (moderate to severe anxiety), aggression directed towards people or other cats, compulsive behavior, urine spraying, inappropriate urination, and fearful behavior.

Paroxetine is another SSRI that increases the amount of serotonin in the brain. It’s a good alternative for cats that become agitated or have decreased appetite on fluoxetine. It is less sedating compared to fluoxetine.

This medication takes 4-6 weeks to take effect. It must be given once daily and should not be abruptly discontinued.

This medication should be used with caution in cats with heart disease.

It’s typically dispensed in tablet form and needs to be cut to the appropriate size for cats. It can be compounded by specialty pharmacies into flavored chewable tablets, capsules, or flavored liquids.

Some potential side effects include:

  • Sedation
  • Lethargy
  • Constipation
  • Vomiting
  • Difficulty urinating

Sertraline

Indications: Generalized anxiety (mild to moderate anxiety), inappropriate elimination, and fearful behavior.

This SSRI takes 4-6 weeks to take full effect. It must be given once daily and should not be abruptly discontinued.

This medication typically needs to be compounded by specialty pharmacies into flavored chewable tablets, capsules, or flavored liquids.

The smallest tablet is too large even when cut into quarter tablets.

Some potential side effects include:

  • Sedation
  • Lethargy
  • Agitation
  • Decreased appetite

However, this medication is less likely to cause side effects compared to the other SSRIs.

Clomipramine

Indications: Generalized anxiety (moderate to severe anxiety); aggression directed towards people, cats, or other animals; compulsive behavior; urine spraying; inappropriate urination; panic disorder; and fearful behavior.

Clompiramine is a tricyclic antidepressant (TCA) that modulates serotonin and norepinephrine receptors to reduce anxiety and aggressive behavior.

This medication takes 4-6 weeks to take effect. It must be given once daily and should not be abruptly discontinued.

Some potential side effects include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Agitation
  • Sedation
  • Lethargy
  • Dry mouth
  • Decreased appetite

This medication should be used with caution in cats with heart disease.

Buspirone

Indications: Generalized anxiety (mild to moderate anxiety), and fearful behavior.

Buspirone is classified as an azapirone, which works on the serotonin and dopamine receptors in the brain.

This medication takes 4-6 weeks to take effect. It must be given once daily and should not be abruptly discontinued.

Some potential side effects include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Agitation
  • Sedation
  • Increased affection towards the owner and increased confidence

Some cats that are picked on by other cats in the household may appear more confident and defend themselves instead of running away.

Alprazolam

Indications: Anxiety, phobias, panic disorder, and fear.

This medication is classified as a benzodiazepine, which promotes GABA activity in the brain.

This short-acting medication takes effect in 30 minutes. It can be given every 8-12 hours. Tolerance and dependency may occur if this medication is given daily. Slow weaning off the medication is needed if the cat has been on this medication for a prolonged period of time.

Alprazolam must be used with caution in cats with aggressive behavior. It may reduce the cat’s inhibition, which might lead them to display more aggressive behavior.

Some potential side effects include:

  • Lethargy
  • Sedation
  • Loss of motor coordination
  • Increased appetite
  • Paradoxical excitement
  • Disinhibition of aggressive behavior

Lorazepam

Indications: Anxiety, phobias, panic disorder, and fear.

This is another benzodiazepine.

That means it’s a short-acting medication that takes effect in 30 minutes. It can be given every 12 hours. Tolerance and dependency may occur if this medication is given daily. Slow weaning off the medication is needed if the cat has been on this medication for a prolonged period of time.

Some potential side effects include:

  • Lethargy
  • Sedation
  • Loss of motor coordination
  • Increased appetite
  • Paradoxical excitement
  • Disinhibition of aggressive behavior

This medication must be used with caution in cats with aggressive behavior.

Oxazepam

Indications: Anxiety, phobias, panic disorder, and fear.

Oxazepam is another benzodiazepine, which means it’s a short-acting medication that takes effect in 30 minutes. It can be given every 24 hours. Tolerance and dependency may occur if this medication is given daily. Slow weaning off the medication is needed if the cat has been on this medication for a prolonged period of time.

This medication must be used with caution in cats with aggressive behavior.

Some potential side effects include:

  • Lethargy
  • Sedation
  • Loss of motor coordination
  • Increased appetite
  • Paradoxical excitement
  • Disinhibition of aggressive behavior

Trazodone

Indications: Anxiety and aggression.

This medication is classified as a serotonin-2A antagonist reuptake inhibitor.

This is a short-acting medication that takes effect in 60-90 minutes and lasts about 8-12 hours.

Some potential side effects include:

  • Lethargy
  • Sedation
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Agitation

Gabapentin

Indications: Anxiety and aggression.

Gabapentin is classified as an anticonvulsant. It works on calcium ion channels in the brain to reduce excitement. Avoid the use of human oral solution since it contains xylitol.

This is a short-acting medication that takes effect in 60-90 minutes and lasts about 8-12 hours.

Some potential side effects include:

  • Lethargy
  • Sedation
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of motor coordination
  • Agitation

By: Dr. Wailani Sung, MS, PhD, DVM, DACVB

 

Got a Velcro Dog that You’d like to Liberate?

By Dr. Karen Becker

 

Some of you reading here today have dogs that are, shall we say, extremely bonded to you. They follow you from room to room all over the house. When you stand still or sit down, they immediately put their body in contact with yours. You’re never in the bathroom without an audience. The small ones are constantly, literally underfoot; the larger guys trot behind or next to you, an adoring look on their faces, as you move about.

“Velcro dog” behavior can be charming and lovable, but there are times when it can also be annoying or even dangerous. For example, a tiny dog at your feet trying to follow your every movement is a trip-and-fall accident waiting to happen.

Another potential issue is that clingy canine behavior can progress to or be a feature of separation anxiety, which in many dogs is a serious emotional and behavioral problem.

Most Velcro Dogs Are Made, Not Born

According to veterinarian Dr. Joanna Pendergrass in an article for PetMD, “Clinginess is often a learned dog behavior.”1 Needless to say, they learn it based on how we respond to them when they follow us about. If we reward them in some way (e.g., with a treat or a scratch behind the ears), the behavior will very quickly become imprinted.

“If we give puppies constant attention when they’re developing,” says Pendergrass, “they can become fearful of being alone and subsequently never want to leave our side. Dogs can also become clingy if we change their daily routine.”

Other reasons for clinginess can include the gradual loss of vision, hearing or cognition in older dogs, as well as illness or boredom in dogs of any age. Anxious dogs are often clingy, and because our canine companions are so attuned to our moods, they can also become clingy when they sense anxiety or stress in us.

“As if all of these reasons weren’t enough,” writes Pendergrass, “some dog breeds are prone to clinginess. For example, lapdogs, like Shih Tzus, tend be needy dogs. Also, working dogs, who are trained to be dependent, can become clingy.”

Clinginess Can Progress to Separation Anxiety in Some Dogs

While clingy dogs and those with separation anxiety share certain behavioral characteristics, the major difference between them is the way in which they handle being apart from their humans. In a nutshell, your Velcro dog wants to be as close as possible to you when you’re home but doesn’t have the canine version of panic attack when left home alone.

Separation anxiety is what triggers panic attacks in affected dogs, causing them to engage in behaviors that can be destructive and self-harming. It’s important to understand that dogs with true separation anxiety aren’t “acting out” because their owners are away — they’re feeling overwhelming panic they have no control over.

Unfortunately, clinginess can progress to separation anxiety in some dogs, so it’s important to keep a close eye on your Velcro pup for any signs of nervousness or panic when left alone. If you suspect your dog’s clingy behavior is moving in the direction of separation anxiety, it’s important to address the situation right away.

How to Discourage Your Dog’s Clinginess and Encourage Independence

The best approach to managing Velcro dogs is to help build confidence and encourage their independence while you’re at home with them, which will increase their ability to manage any anxiety they feel when you’re away. Pendergrass suggests increasing physical exercise and mental stimulation, creating a special space where they can hang out instead of trailing you around the house, and desensitization.

• Increase your dog’s daily exercise — Engage your dog in at least one rigorous exercise session daily. I can’t stress enough how beneficial intense exercise is for not only anxiety, but boredom and behavior problems as well.

If you’re concerned that your dog’s clinginess is heading into separation anxiety territory, go for a strenuous exercise (or ball playing) session before you leave the house. A tired dog gets into less physical and mental mischief when left alone.

• Stimulate her mind — Keeping your dog’s mind active is also critically important in preventing undesirable behaviors. Boredom is the breeding ground for all manner of “bad dog” behavior. In addition to daily activities to engage her brain, your dog should be continuously socialized throughout her life with frequent opportunities to interact with other dogs, cats, and people.

Regular training sessions are also a great way to keep her mind occupied and strengthen the bond you share with her. Nose work, which encourages her to use her natural hunting instincts and scenting abilities, can be a great way to keep her mentally stimulated. Even allowing your dog to have 10 minutes a day of sniff-time in a natural setting will enrich her senses and fulfill her need to experience the world through her nose.

And don’t overlook the value of treat-release and food puzzle toys, which not only challenge your dog’s mind, but also provide appropriate objects for her to chew. I find the Treat & Train Manners Minder a great tool for this purpose.

It’s also a good idea to rotate your dog’s toys regularly. If you leave all of them out in a big basket, she may lose interest in them quickly. A better idea is to leave out one or two and put the rest away. In a day or two, swap them out. Also be sure to play with your dog using her toys; rigorous, engaging play sessions several times a day are a great way to her pent-up energy and bond with her at the same time.

• Create a special dog-friendly space — This can be a crate (with the door left open) if your dog is crate trained (which I highly recommend), or a corner of the room outfitted with a comfy, nontoxic dog bed, perhaps an earthing mat or grounding pad, and a favorite toy.

Use positive reinforcement behavior training to teach your dog to respond reliably to a verbal cue such as “Go to your crate,” or “Go to your special space,” and give him the cue when you notice he’s obsessing over your every move.

• Desensitize your dog to your movements — If your dog is made of Velcro, she’s acutely aware of the movements you make as you prepare to leave the house, such as putting on your “outside” shoes, pulling on a coat/sweater/hat, grabbing your car keys, etc.

Pendergrass recommends “normalizing” these movements by performing them when you’re not planning to leave the house. Once these movements no longer signal to your dog that you’re leaving her, she’ll pay less attention to them.

Needless to say, the goal is always to prevent clinginess in the first place, which is best accomplished by asking a prospective breeder what socialization steps are taken with the litter as a part of your pre-purchase interview process. Good breeders know puppies should already have a month of focused, intentional, diversified socialization prior to going to their forever homes. Obviously, this is impossible if you rescue pups.

Once puppies reach their new homes, positive socialization must start immediately and include several opportunities for new experiences on a daily basis for the first year of life. Creating confident puppies that feel safe being alone is the best way to avoid this situation later on.

For adult dogs, if their extreme clinginess persists after you implement these suggestions, or you’re concerned it’s progressing to separation anxiety, it’s important to make an appointment with your integrative veterinarian and/or a veterinary behaviorist.

You might also find these articles on soothing an anxious dog and helping a dog with separation anxiety helpful.