Most people look at their animals and think, man these guys sure do live the life! We see our pets as having lives that most anyone would envy – hanging out all day, sleeping, eating, and then doing it all over again. They must not have a care in the world, but did you know that animals can experience anxiety and depression just like humans? And just like us, they each handle it differently. Anything from a new person at the house or loud sounds from construction on the street can create a feeling of fear in our precious pets. Unfortunately, they can’t just shoot you a text like “Hey I’m freaking out every time I see that new kid in the house.” Instead, their issues may manifest in behaviors that may seem funny or maybe even hostile. But in fact, our furry babies are trying to tell us they need our help.
What to Look For:
Compulsive licking or grooming
Cats are meticulous groomers, but when the behavior goes into overdrive, they may start to lose their fur. Reasons for the behavior are varied including common issues such as fleas, allergies or dry skin, but can also be a sign of a compulsive disorder. Since the causes are so numbered, it is best to see a vet to determine how to best help your cat. In dogs, excessive licking could also be a sign of an injury. Seeking medical attention can help avoid further damage or infection.
When you see your pet pressing its head into a wall, you may be tempted to hit up Facebook with some amusing pictures, but this is actually a sign of many potential problems. Generally, when an animal pushes his or her head against a wall, it can be an indication of a neurological condition, damage to the nervous system, or a metabolic disorder. Only a visit to the vet can determine whether or not this is the case, but if it is, the good news is that it is treatable, especially if caught early on.
Pacing and Circling
If your dog is consistently walking in circles for no obvious reason, it could be a sign of a head injury or neurological disorder. Dogs or cats that are experiencing head trauma often find it difficult to turn in the direction opposite the one they are circling in. You can see if this is the case by attempting to get your dog to turn away from the direction in which they are circling, using a treat to entice them to turn the other way. It is always wise to seek the immediate attention of a veterinary neurologist any time your dog exhibits even the slightest behavioral abnormality following head trauma because further delay can have far more serious and lasting effects on your companion.
Suddenly your cat won’t use the litter box, or your dog starts going to the bathroom where he isn’t supposed to. If this happens, ask yourself some questions: did you recently move the litter box, is the litter box clean and is it the right size? All of these things may be the reason. Think about it, you avoid dirty public bathrooms too, right? However, if none of these are the case, it could be a sign of a medical condition, such as a urinary tract infection. This can be incredibly painful, so it is best to take your cat to the vet right away to address any potential medical problems. In dogs, eliminating in the house may be a result of lack of training, especially in puppies and younger dogs. If you have recently changed your dog’s diet or put them on a new medication, this could also be a cause, and it is best to discuss side-effects of medication or diet modifications with your vet. Most importantly, never punish your dog for inappropriate elimination. This doesn’t teach your dog where you want him to go, but it can quickly teach him to hide where he eliminates to avoid making you mad.
By nature, dogs are playful, and it’s not uncommon for them to occasionally chase their tails, especially puppies. It can become worrisome, however, when it becomes excessive, causes injury or interrupts your dog’s daily functioning. We use the expression “chasing our tail” to describe feeling like we are spending a lot of energy and aren’t getting anywhere. And when your pet is actually spending that energy trying to catch its own tail repeatedly it can be a sign of excessive boredom or anxiety. In very rare circumstances, severe tail chasing has been attributed to epilepsy and is sometimes described as a seizure-related symptom. As a rule of thumb, if the behavior is getting more frequent, see your vet to rule out any medical disorders. Often behavior modification techniques, such as giving your dog a toy such as a Kong toy with peanut butter can help keep them busy instead of consistently chasing their tails.
Sudden Aggressive Behaviors
Maybe your cat has always been chill and now she hisses every time you walk by. Has your once friendly dog started growling other dogs are near? It is important to keep in mind that dogs and cats mainly communicate through body language. When a dog uses aggression it almost always because it thinks that it is under some form of threat. This could be related to personal safety, to take away something (or someone) it values highly, or by preventing it from doing something it really wants to do, which causes frustration. Seeking the help of an animal behaviorist can help determine what may be causing sudden changes in demeanor and how to spot and relieve the anxiety or other feelings that may be leading to the aggression. Some signs of anxiety include yawning, lip licking, averting their gaze, turning their head away, dropping ears, crouching, low wagging or tucking their tail under and rolling over on their back. These are sometimes termed “submissive” but the intention is the same as aggression – to stop whatever is happening – and if they don’t work the dog may escalate its communication more actively, such as growling, snarling and sometimes barking or snapping. Discussing these signs with a behavior specialist can help address the issues and make your dog feel more comfortable, and therefore, less likely to show aggression. Cats will also show their discomfort with signs of restlessness, tail twitching, ears turning back or flicking back and forth, turning or moving her head toward your hand, a sharp meow, low growl, hiss, or may even put her teeth on you lightly to tell you to stop.
Excessive Barking, Crying or Vocalization
You may think your pet is just being demanding but they are trying to communicate the only way they know how. It is a good idea to note down when your companion is most vocal. There may be something in their environment that is causing them to be extra territorial or anxious. Visiting your pet’s doctor and seeking a behavior specialist to determine the cause will help to find ways to ease your pet baby’s nerves.
How Can I Tell What’s Wrong?
If you notice these changes in your pet or any other new strange behaviors, it’s always best to get them to the vet ASAP. But you can also do a survey on your own to see if you can determine what is causing these behaviors. Has there been any changes in your home such as new pets, new work schedules, or new people? Rather than getting angry, seek to find out what your pet is trying to communicate. Maybe they needs more play time with you if you have suddenly started going out of town frequently. Animals suffer from separation anxiety, fears, and phobias just like us. Fortunately, once you determine the issue you can help your pet get back to a better place for the both of you.
So What if You Can’t Figure it Out?
The best bet is always to see a vet when we notice any change. What you DON’T want to do is get angry at your pet or punish it for these behaviors. By their instincts, cats are drawn to use a litter box, so if yours suddenly is going everywhere else, it’s not because she wants to. Don’t try to stop them from engaging in repetitive behaviors (i.e. putting a cone on them so that they can’t groom for long). This only causes more anxiety and will delay getting to the root of the problem.
There are also natural remedies such as herbs, aromatherapy, and massage. The most important part is to weed out any serious physical causes so you and your vet can create an action plan. We must remember that our pets are a commitment and not let frustrations get in the way of your good pet parenting! Our pets can suffer like we do and it’s our job to understand that when they give us the signs, they are asking for help.
Featured image source: Dog Heirs