The Washington Post

Today, more dogs seem to be suffering stress. Here’s how pet owners can deal with anxiety.

- BY CHRIS TAYLOR — Reuters

Arielle Carey has a 7-year-old neutered male American pit bull terrier named Odin who is sweet as pie at home in Atlanta — that is until Odin gets freaked out by people and dogs he does not know.

When Carey’s former community in South Carolina did not allow privacy fencing, she moved back to Georgia. It was not a cheap journey: The move plus additional training totaled in the thousands of dollars. The effort was worth it, though. “He’s so much calmer and more relaxed now,” Carey said.

Odin is not the exception, with dog-owner surveys reporting high levels of dog anxiety.

And that can come with a big price tag. Owners of anxious dogs report spending $400 more a year on care — on a variety of different issues such as vet visits and puppy Prozac.

Pet anxiety seems to have increased since the pandemic, especially as people return to the workplace and routines get disrupted, said Kristen Levine, a pet expert, creator of the “Pet Living” blog (kristenlev­ine.com) and coauthor of the book “Pampered Pets on a Budget.”

The percentage of dog owners who report using some kind of calming product for their pet — such as a toy, treat or collar — more than doubled in two years, to 51 percent in 2020, according to the National Pet Owners Survey from the American Pet Products Associatio­n.

The most common stressors for dogs? Noise (40 percent), separation anxiety (33 percent) and what is called “reactivity,” such as seeing deer in the yard or encounteri­ng another dog (15 percent).

A few of the most claimed health pet conditions include gastrointe­stinal issues, diarrhea, skin conditions and vomiting, all of which “could very well be caused by anxiety,” said Samantha Bell, spokespers­on for the North American Pet Health Insurance Associatio­n.

Different interventi­ons can help — some behavioral, some medicinal. Here are ways to manage dog anxiety and anxiety-related costs:

Catch them early

Once you identify triggers — fireworks, doorbells or losing it whenever you leave the house — taking early action will not only improve your dog’s quality of life but also save money over the long term.

If the condition progresses to something “severe,” reported by 21 percent of dog owners in one survey, then it will probably get only more costly — including the destructio­n of property.

Consider medication­s

In some cases, medication might be an appropriat­e response. When a former dog of Levine’s, a Dalmatian mix named Chilly, had a phobia of thundersto­rms, she used a calming medication, which cost about $40 a month. And another pooch, who suffered from severe separation anxiety, was helped by an antidepres­sant at about the same monthly cost.

Nineteen percent of owners are even considerin­g CBD products as a possible solution to relax their dogs, according to the National Pet Owners Survey.

Behavior modificati­on

Sometimes, smaller fixes can do the trick. Consider an “anxiety wrap,” a calming vest that applies pressure like weighted blankets do for humans.

Experts also recommend pheromone diffusers, which retail online for about $25. Pheromone diffusers work kind of like those plug-in air fresheners, distributi­ng chemicals into the air that are known to soothe pets.

Many use a crate to keep dogs secure and calm jitters — as Carey did with Odin. Or if dogs are stressed out by something like thunder, playing recorded sounds on low volume while doing something enjoyable — such as playing a game or getting treats — can change negative associatio­ns.

Helping with costs

Pet insurance helps with some expenditur­es. As with humans, policies will be more affordable if you take them out when your dog is younger.

Do your due diligence about what a policy addresses and what it does not. Standard dog training expenses might not be covered, although interventi­ons prescribed by veterinary behavioris­ts probably will, Levine said. An expert consult will typically cost in the range of $250 to $300.

Most important, do not hope that your dog’s anxiety issues will magically disappear.

“If the pet is acting in any way that is destructiv­e to either itself or its environmen­t, something needs to be done,” said Jerry Klein, chief veterinary officer for the American Kennel Club. “The cost of veterinary care, replacemen­t of objects ruined, as well as possible litigious concerns, more than justifies asking your veterinari­an for recommenda­tions that are amenable to you and your family’s budget.”

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