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Ways to Calm a Nervous Dog or Cat

Updated on February 25, 2017
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Jessica has over a decade of experience in dog training, behavior, animal sciences, veterinary medicine, and shelter care.

Does your pet get nervous?
Does your pet get nervous? | Source

A nervous pet can be cause for concern for any owner. Pets that are nervous may display bad behaviors, such as destroying furniture or household objects, having accidents in the house, or pacing, whining, or barking. Stressed pets may also act out aggressively if they feel threatened or harmed. Luckily, there are many techniques that can be used to help calm our pets.

Stress and nerves can create problem behaviors.
Stress and nerves can create problem behaviors. | Source

Identify the Stressor

The very first step to solving nerves is to identify what is causing your pet to be nervous. Do they get sick in the car? Does the vet make them shiver? Are baths a scary experience? Perhaps there is a new human or pet in the house. Watching for signs of what triggers the nervous behavior will help you figure out how to solve it. You can also use this to your advantage by beginning to train before a trigger occurs so that your pet’s reaction to it changes.

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Distractions & Training

Turning a negative experience into a positive one is a great way to solve nervous behavior. If your dog is fearful of the bath, start by giving a treat every time they walk into the bathroom. You can then give a treat for going in the tub, and again when water is turned on. Pick a favorite treat or one that is not usually given, such as a piece of hot dog or lunch meat to really make the experience fun. Over time your dog will understand that the bath isn’t so bad! This can be used in other experiences as well, such as visiting the vet, going on a car ride, or meeting new people and pets.

If your pet has anxiety to you leaving, distractions can work in a similar fashion. Be sure to not make your leaving a big deal, and leave on a TV or radio station to a soothing channel. Puzzle toys or chews such as Kongs stuffed with kibble and peanut butter can also help distract your pet from your leaving. Finally, a scented object of yours may help to calm them as well.

Excessive licking can be a sign of nerves.
Excessive licking can be a sign of nerves. | Source

Pheromone Diffusers & Supplements

To aid in training, pheromone diffusers and calming supplements can provide some help. Diffusers work by releasing a species-specific pheromone designed to help promote calm behaviors. They can be used in collar or wall plug-in forms, and are great for easing tension between pets, or when you have to leave the house. Calming treats can also help and can be given before a stressful trip, or as part of a toy when leaving the house. Be sure to check with your vet prior to giving any supplements to make sure there isn’t any interaction with your pet’s health.

Too much too fast can stress your pet!
Too much too fast can stress your pet! | Source

Give Your Pet Space

Pets that live in a very high-energy location such as one with lots of people or other pets may become stressed or nervous if they don’t have their own space. Creating a space can be as simple as placing a crate or bed in an unused bedroom, or having a perch up high for them to hop onto and observe. Any place your pet can get away and relax without interruption is beneficial. Making sure your pet has access to their own food, water, toys and potty areas can also help reduce stress and nerves.

A lack of personal space can make your pet uneasy.
A lack of personal space can make your pet uneasy. | Source

These simple techniques can all help to reduce stress and nervous behavior in your pet. If the problem doesn’t improve, worsens, or you can’t seem to find a cause behind the behavior it is always best to speak with a veterinarian as well as a trainer or veterinary behaviorist. They can help you rule out health-related causes of stress and nerves as well as formulate a training and treatment plan tailored to your pet. With a little patience and love, you can help reduce nervous behavior!

Recognizing Stress

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      Jessica Desrosiers 9 months ago from Vancouver, WA

      Poor pup! Stress and anxiety during times of loud noise (such as fireworks) are extremely common. (My own retriever mix is gun and fireworks shy). Your best bet in that sort of situation is actually a sedative you can get from your vet, or even an allergy medication that causes drowsiness, which can be given a few hours before the noises start.

      In addition to this, setting up a place that is quiet, dark and calm as far from the noise as possible (such as a bathroom in the middle of the house) can help ease the stress. Finally, a distracting chew toy and some light calm music that can drown out the sound can help. It won't stop your dog from being afraid, but will make the overall experience way less frightening and scary.

      If it happens at a time you can't prepare for, then simply sticking close by, moving to a quiet spot (if possible) and offering distractions can help. Even playing some music to drown it out will help.

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      Bodacious Sharlay 9 months ago

      My 11 yr old neutered Golden Retriever has severe, what we call, "Panic Attacks" when he hears gunshots and fireworks. He has had this issue his entire life and it is very difficult to watch him go through these. Theses attacks are very real and bothersome.

      Not only is it disheartening to watch him go through these, it is scary as well.

      Years ago I had a 12 year old fun loving, gentle and vivacious German Shepherd dog.

      He also had these "panic attack" issues.

      Sadly during one of these panic attacks and before my very eyes his heart couldn't take it and he died of a heart attack. The Vet said that at the age of 12 his heart couldn't handle it. My heart was broken.

      Please, if you have any idea of what we can do for my Golden Retriever during the onset of a panic attack, your ideas would be appreciated.

      Thanks