Comfort and care for the anxious pet

By: Mary Genson | Metro | Published June 2, 2023

 Some pets benefit from products such as PetReleaf Edibites Stress Relief.

Some pets benefit from products such as PetReleaf Edibites Stress Relief.

Photo provided by Mike Palmer

 Tess is a rescue who struggles with being reactive. The ThunderShirt quickly helps her feel more secure and relaxed.

Tess is a rescue who struggles with being reactive. The ThunderShirt quickly helps her feel more secure and relaxed.

Photo provided by Angela Tolonen


METRO DETROIT — Anxiety is something that many people are familiar with as it troubles a large percentage of humans, but it is important to consider how anxiety may be affecting pets at home.

There are multiple different types of anxiety that animals experience. Some of the most common ones include separation anxiety, travel anxiety and thunderstorm anxiety.

Laura Wiltshire has been training dogs for about 20 years and has been with Wolverine Dog Training Club for about five years.

“Training is a good source to help alleviate anxiety, and when you train a dog, it actually builds the confidence in yourself, and the dog and you do form a bond,” Wiltshire said.

For rescue dogs, Wiltshire shared the “3-3-3 rule.”

“It takes three days for the dog to settle down, three weeks for your dog to get comfortable and three months for your dog to open up to you and show what their personality is,” Wiltshire said.

Angela Tolonen is the owner of Tolonen Family Pet Shop at 23320 Farmington Road in Farmington. One of the managers at Tolonen Family Pet Shop, Sofia Solis, is experienced in working with pets with anxiety.

“The COVID dogs were almost like a little mini generation of dogs that lived through a good portion of their life without ever needing anyone who was not within their four walls, and I think for a lot of pet parents, it did not occur to them what that experience would be like once they finally got their pet out and about,” Tolonen said.

Anxiety can be experienced by smaller animals as well. For smaller animals such as cats and rabbits, Solis said enrichment is helpful in reducing their anxiety.

Unlike humans, animals cannot use their words to share that they are anxious. However, there are several signs to look for. For dogs, excessive panting, barking or tail tucks are common signs of anxiety. Other animals may be reactive in their own way to people or other pets when they are anxious.

Solis said the first thing owners should do when they notice their pet is anxious is look at the root of the problem. For instance, owners should reflect on if their animal has been given sufficient enrichment to stimulate them.

A product that can help with enrichment is a snuffle mat, where owners can hide treats that the pet has to find.

“It can just be part of their day that they are doing some sort of job for their food, which is actually incredibly rewarding for them. It not only keeps their anxiety down but just really helps their relationship with their human as well,”  Tolonen said.

One of the ways Solis has helped remedy pet anxiety is through CBD oil.

Mike Palmer, the owner of Premier Pet Supply, which has several local locations, said that oftentimes, one of the best things to do is to supplement with a product like CBD.

“They don’t make it so that they lose their functional motor skills, it actually just triggers receptors in the brain to provide calm and make it easier to manage situations, whether that is traveling, visiting the vet or the groomer, fireworks, thunderstorms and things like that,” Palmer said.

CBD is also one of the first things Solis would recommend. CBD is derived from hemp plants but does not cause a “high.”

“It is one of my top recommendations just because it’s not a sedative; it’s not a medication like you would get at the vet. It’s kind of just a more natural way to bring them down a couple of levels,” Solis said.

While there was not a specific brand she recommended, she said she typically mixes CBD oil in her dog’s food. Other CBD options include CBD peanut butter powder, CBD treats and CBD water.

Dogs with high anxiety can potentially benefit from a daily dose of CBD, with higher doses given on more high-stress days.

If people do not want to go the supplement route, thunder jackets are a product that can be used to help reduce anxiety. They are like a compression shirt that works similarly to a weighted blanket.

Palmer, Wiltshire and Solis all recommended using thunder jackets for anxious pets.

“It provides almost like a swaddling effect that you would do for a newborn baby,” Palmer said. “And what that does is essentially provides them the comfort and calm of feeling almost like a warm hug.”

Wiltshire also recommends owners try using pheromones for dogs. Pheromones are chemicals that animals (and humans) emit to signal to other animals. These can be sprayed in a dog’s bandana or through an air diffuser in the home. By smelling pheromones, some dogs become more relaxed.

For anxiety that is situational, Palmer suggested testing out a product before the stressful scenario and giving it time to become effective.

Solis said it is important to remember that anxiety in pets is very common, and the best thing to do is use different resources and reach out for help.

Keeping an open mind and following research from professionals is a good way to make sure your pet is getting the care they need.