March 2023 Newsletter

This Month's Featured Article

Taking the Stigma out of Anxiety Medication

Up to 80% of dogs and cats are affected by anxiety, with many owners able to successfully recognize signs of anxiety in their pets. Common signs of anxiety can include:

– Hyper-arousal- being unable to settle down/ always on watch
– Barking/growling/biting people/other dogs
– Hiding from visitors
– Hiding or trying to escape during thunder storms
– Destroying the house or trying to escape when left alone
– For our feline friends- anxiety is often expressed in inappropriate urination (going outside of the litter tray), spraying, hiding or anti-social behaviour, and aggression.

However even when pet parents are concerned about their pets anxiety, many are hesitant to put their animals on anxiety medication.
Some common myths about anxiety medication include:

“My pets personality will change”
o Being anxious is not a personality trait; anyone who has experienced anxiety would recognize that they would like relief from those feelings.
o The medication plan is personalized to the individual patient, and just like in humans we need to find the right drug at the right dose for your pet and their individual needs- we want you and your pet to be happy.

“I just need to train them better” or “They’re just being naughty”
o Anxiety is a medical condition, and just as diabetic patients needs insulin, or an epileptic animal needs anti-seizure medication- many animals require anxiety medication to have an improved quality of life, as well as a longer life-span.
o Sometimes having an anxious pet can be frustrating, or even feel overwhelming. In these times remember that your pet is not giving you a hard time- they are having a hard time.

“It’s unhealthy to be on long-term/regular medication”
o Chronic anxiety and stress is proven to shorten our pet’s lifespan, as well as negatively impair their quality of life.
o Depending on the individual patient medication may only be required for situational/occasional use, or may be required daily and long-term.
o Anxiety medications are typically really well tolerated, and any negative side effects are usually only present in the first two weeks of treatment.
 Minor side effects can include sleepiness, reduced appetite, dry-mouth and constipation
 Serious side effects are thankfully rare, and can include seizures, or an increase in aggressive behaviours.

“It’s my fault- I’ve given them anxiety”
o Our pets behaviour is made up of 3 parts:

1. Genetics,
2. Learning and experience,
3. Environmental factors.

Anxiety is very common, and it is highly likely your pet was born genetically predisposed to mental health disorders- it is not your fault.
o With anxiety management and behavioural modification we can help you to ensure you are meeting your pets needs to give them the best quality of life.

Are anxiety medications a quick fix?
Whilst anxiety medications may be a crucial part in helping your pet, unfortunately behaviour management is not quite this simple. At Gawler Animal Hospital our veterinary team works hand-in-hand with our Training and Behaviour Team to achieve optimal results; relying on the 4 M’s of behaviour:

– Management
– Modification
– Medication
– Monitoring

To use the 4 M’s effectively we manage our pets through a step-by-step process:

1. Initial consultation with a veterinarian

– A health check is performed to ensure there is not a physical problem that could be resulting in a behaviour change/unwanted behaviour.
– Medication may be discussed; however depending on the situation we may not start any treatment until the patient has had an initial consultation with our Behaviour And Training Team.

2. Initial consultation with our Behaviour And Training Team

– This is an in-depth consultation that can be performed in the clinic or at your home, in which our training team will explore what the problems are, and how we can manage it.
– Our Behaviour And Training Team will work with the veterinarian to decide if medication is necessary, with mild cases often manageable without medication, or with only situational/occasional treatment.
– We can start recommending Management strategies to set your pet up for success, such as:
o Identifying and reducing triggers
o Stopping any punishments or negative interactions
o Setting up a routine
o Creating a safe space
o Adding enrichment activities
o Learning relaxation exercises
– We may also start a Modification plan, in which we aim to change your pet’s emotional response to something they perceive as a threat.
o Our Behaviour And Training Team use Positive Reinforcement to help change the way your pet thinks, in a kind manor backed by scientific evidence.
o For some animals, a modification plan may not be able to be started straight away as it is very challenging for stressed animals to learn. For these patients we may find it beneficial to start on anxiety medication before starting a modification plan.

3. Medication

– If the owner, veterinarian, and Behaviour And Training Team agree that medication will be beneficial to the patients quality of life, our vets will dispense medication for your pet.
– We will discuss with you any possible side effects, and if you have any questions or concerns our team are happy to chat with you.
– If long-term medication is dispensed an effect may not be evident immediately, and can take up to 6 weeks to become effective

4. Monitoring

– A re-check with our Behaviour And Training Team 6 weeks after the initial assessment helps us to track how you and your pet are going.
– If medication was dispensed we can assess how effective it has been, if any side effects have been noted, and if the dose is appropriate.
– If medication has not been dispensed we can assess how effective our management and modification plan has been, and ensure we do not feel medication should be added to our treatment plan.
– After 6 weeks hopefully you have noticed an improvement in your pets anxiety, however changing the way our pets think and react to the world does take time. How often your pet will need to see the Behaviour And Training Team will depend on the individual, with some owners only needing to reach out if a challenge arises in the future, and others requiring more assistance with the management and modification steps. Our veterinarians will perform a health check on our patients on medication every 6 months to ensure they are managing well on the medication, and modifications are not required.

Managing pets anxiety requires a collaborative effort between the veterinarian, the Behaviour And Training Team, and most importantly the owner- to ensure a happier and longer life for our pets. Together we can make a positive change in these pets lives!

Dr. Olivia Bury


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Gawler Animal Hospital

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