Emotional Wellness:
Dog & Cat Anxiety

When we think of dogs, we often imagine a happy-go-lucky pup with its tongue out and tail wagging or a content cat basking in the sun. It can be hard for us to see the connection between dogs and anxiety or depression when they’re such naturally joyful animals.

But just like humans, dogs and cats have emotional, as well as physical, needs.

While it’s natural for all animals to exhibit occasional nervousness, stress, and pet anxiety, we can curb these negative experiences by attending to our fur babies’ emotional needs and building strong relationships. By cuddling, feeding, playing with, and generally caring for your pets, you can take steps to ensure the only thing they’re worried about is how many bedtime treats and belly rubs they can get out of you.

Cool, Calm & Collected

Unfortunately, your furry friend can’t express their feelings in words. That’s why they need your help interpreting their body language and removing potential triggers or stressors that impact their overall wellness.

It’s important that both you and your pet recognize you’re not alone in this. At AskVet, our experts are available 24/7 to provide training tips, support, and answers to the questions that may be causing you stress.

With the right training and care, your four-legged friend can overcome any negative feelings and get back to their important business—fetch, chew toys, and of course, belly rubs and treats from their pet parent.

The experts at AskVet are qualified, experienced, and always on the clock.

Make confident, intelligent decisions about your pet’s health care, by making the most of AskVet’s 24/7, virtual veterinarians.

At AskVet we take a lifestyle approach to pet wellness. We believe when you live a healthy lifestyle, so does your pet. The hardest part can be finding that wellness balance—we’re here to make it easy.

Why Is My Pet Acting Like This? Reasons for Abnormal Pet Behavior

There are a number of different factors that affect our pet’s well-being and can even lead to animal afflictions like puppy anxiety or cat depression.

To effectively care for your pet, it’s important to determine whether they may be depressed or anxious, as well as the specific cause.

Types of Cat and Dog Anxiety

Is your fur baby stressed, on edge, and difficult to play with? This could be because of:

Environmental anxiety – Unfamiliar faces, strange animals, fireworks, and car horns can be alarming to the best of us. For our furry friends who don’t understand what’s happening, it can be especially scary and confusing. They may also feel anxious because of sudden changes in their environment, including the introduction of another pet or moving to a new home.
Social anxiety – If pets aren’t properly socialized when they’re young, the presence of unfamiliar people or animals can elicit stress and anxiety.
Separation anxiety – Separation anxiety is the most common anxiety disorder in dogs, affecting approximately 14% of our canine companions. Cats can also experience separation anxiety, especially if they’ve been abandoned and rehomed in the past.
Age-related anxiety – Older animals may develop cognitive disorders that affect their memory, learning, and awareness. Their growing confusion goes hand-in-hand with newfound anxiety.
Physical ailments – If your pet exhibits sudden and unprovoked signs of dog anxiety or cat anxiety, it may not be about their mental state at all. They could be in serious pain and may require prompt medical attention.

How To Tell If My Pet is Anxious: Common Signs of Pet Anxiety

Understanding your pet’s body language will alert you to the situations or places that cause them anxiety. Naturally, any new or strange behavior is a potential warning sign, but there are several standard indications of dog anxiety and cat anxiety that can be helpful to note.

Signs You Have A Panicked Pup

  • Urinating or defecating indoors
  • Repetitive behaviors like pacing
  • Digging or otherwise trying to escape
  • Ears pulled back and tail tucked

Manifestations of A Fearful Feline

  • Urinating or defecating outside of the litter box
  • Hiding or withdrawing
  • Vomiting or loss of appetite
  • Increased scratching
  • Excessive grooming

Shared Indications Of Agitated Animals

  • Aggressive behavior or destructive behavior
  • Panting
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Increased vocalizations, whether excessive meowing or barking

Reasons for Dog and Cat Depression

Is your four-legged friend lethargic and hard to excite? This may be because they’re:

Mourning – Like humans, dogs and cats form close bonds with their owners and fellow furry friends, and can exhibit depressive behavior due to grief.
Isolated – Animals, especially highly social dogs, don’t usually do well with long, consistent periods of alone time.
In pain – Chronic pain and difficulty moving make it hard for our pets to enjoy the activities they usually love. They may also experience depressive episodes after trauma, such as mentally or physically abusive previous homes.
Bored – Pets, especially high-energy dog breeds, need ongoing mental and physical stimulation to stay healthy.
Adjusting to a new environment – Sudden changes in routine, such as moving to a new house or living with a new owner, can trigger pet depression.

How to Spot A Depressed Pet: Tell-Tale Signs of Animal Depression

As with pet anxiety, body language and behavior changes can tell you a lot about your pet’s overall wellness. Look for these common signs of depression in dogs and cats, as well as any noticeable changes in routine or habits.

Signs You Have A Depressed Dog

  • Acting increasingly clingy
  • Increase in aggressive or destructive behavior
  • Visiting places their companion went a lot, after a death

Shared Indications Of Pessimistic Pets

  • Decreased appetite
  • Lethargy, or an increase in time spent sleeping
  • Withdrawal from activities they enjoyed
  • Increase in vocalizations
  • Eliminating waste in inappropriate, unusual places

Manifestations of A Melancholy Cat

  • Decrease in self-grooming
  • Increase in urination
  • Lack of interest in going outside, for cats who are allowed

Protect Your Pet’s Mental Wellness: How to Treat Anxiety or Depression in Dogs & Cats

Just like in humans, most mental health conditions are manageable—with the right techniques, that is. With time, patience, and consistent treatment, you may be able to relieve your pet’s stress and give them the tools they need to overcome their anxiety or depression altogether.

Don’t know where to start? Try these:

Counter-conditioning – This technique aims to change your pet’s response to anxiety-inducing stimuli by replacing a negative (fear) with a positive (pleasure). For instance, if your pet experiences separation anxiety, you can provide them with a special toy or treat whenever you leave the house. As part of the behavior modification process, they’ll associate your departure with a tasty snack rather than a panic attack.
Desensitization – Desensitization training relies on repeated exposure to the triggering stimuli in slow, short intervals. If loud noises trigger your dog’s or cat’s anxiety, play a less intense sound near them and reward them with a treat. Continue to do this until the less intense sound no longer startles them. Then, slowly increase the volume and repeat the process until loud noises don’t affect your pet at all.
Socialization – Dogs and cats are inherently social creatures. To combat their depression, avoid leaving your pets, and especially your dogs, alone for long periods of time. If you’re often gone for the entire day, hire a pet sitter or ask a neighbor to check in on and play with your animals. You may also want to add another animal to your household to give your depressed pet a companion, especially if your fur baby is mourning the loss of a furry friend.
Mental stimulation – Prevent boredom both while you’re home and away. Spend quality with your pet, including active playtime like walks, fetch, and cat wands, and equip them with cognitive stimulation tools like feeding mats, hide and seek with treats, and puzzle toys when you leave. This will improve their mental stimulation and distract them while you’re out to prevent loneliness and boredom all at once.
Medication – A veterinarian may prescribe your pets SSRIs or antidepressants if they have generalized anxiety disorders or depression. If your senior dog is exhibiting clinical signs of age-related anxiety, your veterinarian may also recommend medication to address their cognitive dysfunction, contributing to canine or feline stress.
With the AskVet mobile app you can:

Chat with a licensed vet 24/7 to get real time answers to your questions. You can even upload pics or videos to help illustrate your concerns.

Work with your Certified Pet Lifestyle Expert to address your pet’s environment and develop strategies that work specifically for you and your four legged friend.

Enjoy a personalized, guided experience as we anticipate your daily needs.

Shop recommended treats, toys and items that alleviate anxiety to add into your healthy routines.

Get personalized guidance from trusted professionals to create a happy and healthy lifestyle for your pet.

Additional Pet Wellness Resources

What Causes a Dog
to Vomit?

Physical Exam Checklist
for a Dog

Treating the Vomiting


American Kennel Club. Understanding, Preventing, and Treating Dog Anxiety. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/treating-dog-anxiety/

Animal Surgical & Orthopedic Center. Signs of anxiety in dogs (and what to do about it!). https://www.animalsurgical.com/anxiety-in-dogs/

East Valley Animal Hospital. Cat Anxiety Signs and Symptoms. https://www.eastvalleyanimal.com/cat-anxiety-signs-and-symptoms/

PetMD. Extreme Fear and Anxiety in Dogs. https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/behavioral/c_dg_fears_phobia_anxiety

American Kennel Club. How to Know If Your Dog is Depressed. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/how-to-know-if-your-dog-is-depressed/

PetMD. Is Cat Depression Real? https://www.petmd.com/cat/behavior/can-cats-get-depressed

PetMD. Dog Depression: Signs, Causes, and Treatment. https://www.petmd.com/dog/behavior/can-dogs-get-depressed

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