Just as many people suffer from overwhelming feelings of fear and anxiety, the same is true for many dogs and cats. Fearful demeanors can stem from inbreeding, past abuse, less than ideal socialization early in life, an inherited fearful disposition, or some or all of the above. Living in fear takes away from quality of life and can even lead to adverse health consequences. It can make visits to the groomer and veterinarian very unpleasant pets and pet parents, and even dangerous for care givers and pets alike. Fear biting is far more common than biting from aggression, with the majority of bites to groomers and veterinary health care providers come from fearful dogs and cats, not aggressive ones. With aggressive pets, you typically know where you stand from the outset, whereas fear biters can be particularly unpredictable and severe in their reactions.
The first mode of management I would advise for overanxious or fearful pets is pheromone fear management. Pheromones are biochemical messengers that are emitted from animals, emanating and providing a distinct scent that other animals pick up on. Pheromones will vary in scent, depending on an animal’s state of mind and hormone status. Thus, animals are capable of picking up on the stress or fear of other animals (including humans) through scent alone. Likewise, animals may also pick up on another animal’s feelings of contentment by scent.
The pharmaceutical, Ceva, has feline and canine products Feliway and Adaptil, respectively that provide calming pheromones for cats and dogs respectively that can be very effective in managing stress. These products come in plug in diffusers that cover 800 square feet of space, as well as sprays that last 8-12 hours. The sprays can be sprayed directly on a dog’s bandanna, for example, and tied around the neck in preparation for particularly stressful circumstances, including veterinary visits, groomer, thunderstorms, travel in the car, etc. For cats, a feline owner can do the same spraying what are called “nuzzle buddies” that are placed in the cat carriers with the kitty.
I have just order for my clinic, the Ceva fear free clinic kit. With it, we will be getting diffusers for both our cat and dog boarding areas. In addition, at the beginning of the day, we will spray nuzzle buddies and bandannas and store them in plastic sealable bags. As dogs and cats come in, the bandannas will be placed around a dog’s neck, and nuzzle buddies will be placed in each kitty’s carrier. Colleagues of mine that have done this have observed dramatic reduction of veterinary visit stress from even their most fearful patients.
Adaptil for dogs and Feliway for dogs can be purchased online or at most large retail pet stores. Ask your veterinarian if he/she has heard of the fear free clinic strategy and suggest it if he/she not. If they do not wish to engage in it or do not see the value in it, you have the opportunity to take matters into your own hands, as diffusers, sprays, and nuzzle buddies are available for owners to use in the manner discussed in this article.
This segues nicely into my next article, where I will be discussing another simple and safe method of minimizing stress in fearful dogs and cats.
Dr. Roger Welton is the President of Maybeck Animal Hospital in West Melbourne, FL, Chief Editor of the Veterinary Advice and Information Website, Web-DVM, and founder/CEO of Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care.