Basic Pet Care

Is Your Pet Neurotic?

Is Your Pet Neurotic?

Neurosis has been defined as "a psychological state characterized by excessive anxiety or insecurity without evidence of… disease, sometimes accompanied by defensive or immature behaviors" in The American Heritage Science Dictionary.

Pets are emotional creatures who sometimes respond to negative or traumatic events by exhibiting anxiety, stress and even phobias. Poor early socialization can also be a factor. And even genetics may come into play, as timid pets may give birth to ones that share that personality trait, according Amy Bender in The Spruce.

  • Fear of thunder and/or lightning
  • Fear of fireworks
  • Fear of loud noises
  • Fear of riding in a car
  • Fear of a raised hand or arm
  • Fear of abandonment (aka separation anxiety)
  • Fear of staircases
  • Fear of strangers
  • Fear of crowds and open spaces
  • Fear of men
  • Fear of the veterinarian
  • Fear of things (e.g. vacuum cleaner)

Cats are vulnerable to all of the above. In addition, cats may be frightened of dogs, regardless of their size. It's less common for dogs to be afraid of cats, but possible.

Signs of Stress in Pets

Although dogs and cats will lie on a couch with little encouragement, they aren't suited for Freudian talk therapy. Instead, when they're stressed, their symptoms reveal themselves physically.

Pets who are frightened may flatten their ears, tuck their tail between their legs and attempt to escape the immediate environment. Both dogs and cats may respond to stress with:

  • Trembling
  • Growling
  • Submissive urination
  • Digestive distress, including diarrhea, constipation and gas
  • Loss or decrease of appetite
  • Whining
  • Clinginess – or withdrawing or hiding
  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Excessive barking
  • Aggression toward people and other pets

What You Can Do to Alleviate a Pet's Stress

As a good pet parent, it's up to you to find out what's causing your pet's fear and anxiety – and then take steps to lessen it. Unchecked fears can lead to aggressive behavior, even biting.

The first step to take, if possible, is removing her from the situation that's causing the fearful response. With a trained dog, you may be able to distract her by issuing an obedience command such as sit, lie down or stay. Offering a treat can also work as a distraction to calm a fearful pet.

Some pet parents have been successful in quelling a pet's fear by having it wear a Thundershirt, which feels like a reassuring hug to the dog or cat inside it.

If your pet continues to be stressed out or has severe symptoms, visit your veterinarian to determine if anything physical is causing her anxiety. If she gets a clean bill of health, you may want to discuss treatment with calming medication. Also, confirm that your pet is microchipped, so that she can be quickly identified if she escapes out of fear and is subsequently found.

A consultation with an animal behaviorist may also help to allay or reduce your pet's anxieties. He or she should be able to come up with a plan to desensitize your cat or dog so that when a stressful situation arises, your pet stays calm.